There is a good chance that all (or most all) of you have heard the story of the MBA professor and the “Big Rocks,” but just in case you haven’t, here it is again, with its personal relevance to you. Even if you have heard it, it bears revisiting and sharing with others who struggle with being overwhelmed, over-committed and leading on empty:

A professor entered a classroom and placed a large mason jar on the lectern which contained three large rocks. The rocks pretty much filled the jar to the top. He then asked the attentive class if the jar was full. In unison they responded yes, noting there was no way to get another rock in the jar. The professor replied that the jar was not full and added gravel, asking if the jar was now full. He then added, in turn, sand and lastly water, asking each time if the jar was now full. After the water was added, all agreed the jar was full and nothing more could be added without causing the water to spill over the top.

The smiling professor then posed the question as to what the illustration was communicating. One bright student answer that the point was that no matter how full our lives may be, we could always cram in one more thing.  The professor responded emphatically that the point was actually that if you don’t get the big rocks in first, you will never get them in. No way were you going to push the rocks through gravel, sand and water; but if the rocks were in first then one could add the gravel, sand and water.

So then the pivotal question for you as a leader is: “What are the big rocks in your life?” When you ask the average (or not so average) leader that question, his/her answer might well revolve around various aspects of their leadership responsibilities. I have shared this story with many of my coaching clients and we discuss the fact that the truly big rocks in your life have nothing to do with your leadership responsibilities at all.

The truly big rocks are:

  • Your personal time with Jesus
  • Investing quality time with your spouse (assuming you’re married)
  • Investing quality time with your children (assuming you have children)
  • Being a part of a genuine community with a few other brothers and sisters
  • Sleeping adequately
  • Eating properly
  • Exercising regularly

These are the things that will keep you emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy so you can minister from strength and health and not become yet another burnout casualty, whose number seems to be legion.

Let’s assume you work 50 hours a week (most of the leaders I coach work between 50-60 hours a week) and sleep on average 8 hours a night. That leaves 52 hours each week for the big rocks mentioned above. That’s right! Do the math: 168 minus 50 (work) and 56 (sleep) leaves 52.

Think about that for a minute. Every single week you have 52 hours for: Jesus, spouse, children, authentic community, eating and exercising–not to mention fun, friends, hobbies and anything and everything else you truly enjoy doing which replenishes your body and soul. If you don’t actually have 52 hours, one of two things is happening: you are either working more than 50 hours or sleeping more than 8 hours a night. Which do you think it is?  Are you really counting all the work hours and not just those at “the office?”

My fellow leader, is it perhaps time to do a personal audit to determine where your time is truly going and why you don’t have the time you should have, and need to have, in order to steward well the energy and gifts you have been given by paying attention to the “big rocks” so you can be a “Leader Who Lasts?”