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Big Rocks 101: How to Prioritize Your Life

July 29, 2021

5 minute read

Written by Eddie McFarlane

Let's face it, as a contractor, you have a lot on your plate. Not only are you and your teammates slammed with service calls, but you also have paperwork and administrative work to do, too. Naturally, it may feel like you don't have time for the "outside of work" stuff—family, friends, health and fitness, and hobbies--that you enjoy. Yet, it's engaging in those parts of your life that can help you avoid burnout altogether. Don't believe me? Hear me out.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

a cat sitting on top of a metal fence

Because of the busy-bee nature of the contractor's lifestyle, you may often pull the short straw on time, which can lead to an imbalance between your work and home life. And if things aren't going too well with your family, friends, or health, it'll be a challenge to put your best foot forward at work. This imbalance is a cycle of contractors' burnout, and I'm sure it feels all too familiar.

How to Survive Life With A Contractors' Schedule

To hop out of the cycle, flip the priority list; those "outside of work" things deserve prioritization, too. They are your big rocks, requiring just as much (if not more) care and attention as your business.

Top Priorities in Life: Understanding The Size of Your Rocks

Everyone has a set of priorities in life, but their order and choice to tackle them will vary from one person to another. Yet, the same underlying concept is there: we have things that are important to us and we make decisions about which take precedence.

Take a moment to write down the five things that matter most to you. (I mean it! Take out a pen and paper, and give it a try). These are your big rocks.

Now, write down the things you need to do this week. Seeing as it's busy season, I'm willing to bet many of those tasks are related to the high demand of your business this time of the year. You're getting more calls than your team can handle, and it may feel like that's all that matters. Yet, believe it or not, these are your little rocks.

Now, write down the things you'd like to do this week. Maybe you've wanted to try that new burger joint down the street, or pick up [insert your high school sport] again after all these years. These things are your sand.

Now you need to get your big rocks, little rocks, and sand all into the jar of this week's time frame. Yet, if you put the sand in and then the little rocks, your big rocks won't fit. So, how can you make sure that by the end of the week, you're happy with what your jar looks like? The only way that everything will fit in the jar is if you put the uncompromisable in first: your big rocks.

  • What has to go in the jar? Put those rocks in first.

  • What should go in the jar? Put those rocks in second.

  • What would be nice to go in the jar? Put that sand in last.

And so, you prioritize your week's To-Do list with an understanding of what's most important to you at the end of the week.

Prioritize Your Life: Putting Your BIG Rocks First

Your big rocks can include all kinds of things, like health and fitness, family, finances, education, giving back (altruism), business goals/career, and more. While it's easy to think your "need to do's" are more indispensable than these rocks, don't let them distract you from doing the "outside-of-work" activities that bring you happiness.

Remember that cyclical relationship between your priorities and work performance? Prioritizing your big rocks will improve your demeanor, and therefore your work performance too. It's a win-win!

The P-A-R BIG Rocks Action Plan

Let's put things into action. Take a look at your list of big rocks, little rocks, and sand, and enact an action plan to get your big rocks in first:


  1. Decide what categories of priorities make up your BIG rocks (You've already done this step!)
  2. Assign one SMART goal to each category (What's a SMART goal?). For example:
    • If one of your big rocks is health, you set a SMART goal to prepare and eat three healthy dinners per week.

    • If one of your big rocks is family, you can set a SMART goal to eat one meal (for at least one hour) per week as a family.


  1. Schedule your big rocks into your calendar the same way you schedule out your job.

  2. Achieve your big rock goals!

"Don't tell me what you value, show me your calendar"


  1. Check-in with yourself at least once per month on how you feel about your progress in pursuing those big rock goals.

  2. Share your quarterly progress with a peer to keep your big rock goals in check.

Remember: Sunday Family Dinner Night is just as, if not more, important than the HVAC installation appointment at Mr. Smith's on Monday morning. It's possible to do both. You and the ones you love will thank you for it.

Work hard, play often, and take care of your #BigRocks. And while you're at it, join the Toolshed Facebook group for more helpful tidbits from industry pros. Season 2 coming this fall!

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