My second job out of college was working in a college access program in Rhode Island. As a college access advisor, I worked in various Rhode Island public high schools, helping my caseload of students gain access to college through things like FAFSA nights, essay writing support, college visits, and a ton of informal counseling and advising.
In my first year, we offered our students workshops around Steven Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens." The students were pretty game overall, and we made it fun for them. What I didn't realize is how many of the concepts taught in that workshop would stay with me for years...decades even.
Years after I helped run the workshops, I modified one of the lessons for the first year seminar course I was teaching at the community college where I worked. This is a cautionary tale of the lengths that a new teacher will go to in order to engage her students. Do not try this at home.
The habit I was teaching was around putting "first things first," and we used an exercise called "Big Rocks, Little Rocks." Basically, you take a container (I used an empty fish aquarium that I bought for this sole purpose) and you fill it up with a bunch of pebbles (I bought giant bags of the florescent rocks that you line the bottom of aquariums with). You fill the box, bin, aquarium (or whatever) nearly to the brim, and then you take three or four big rocks and place them on top. They, of course, extend past the edges of your container. They don't fit. Hmmm...
Next, you empty out this whole contraption, and this time, you put the BIG ROCKS IN FIRST...can you guess where this is going? You then pour all the little rocks on top, and guess what? It all fits! Ta-da! Magic.
The lesson is, of course, that when we're managing our time, it's important to focus first on our big rocks, or our priorities. The little rocks, or all the other stuff that fills our days and eats away at our time, will always find a way to get done. But if you do this in reverse, if you focus on all the little stuff, and then try to make time for your priorities, it won't work; you won't get to those big rocks because the little ones will have eaten up all your time.
After a few years of scrounging around in my backyard for rocks the night before teaching this lesson (why, Karen, why?) I surrendered. I found this video online that does a decent job of replicating this activity.
I lost some of the "wow" factor, but after years of carrying an aquarium and 20 lbs. of pebbles through the hallways on campus, I was okay with that. While I let go of the complicated parts of this lesson, I held on to the nugget of wisdom: put your big rocks first.
When I started to create my plan for how I'd meet my #HigherEdReads goals, I realized I had a big rocks situation on my hands. I had previously been trying to get my professional reading done after lunch, or later in the afternoon. It wasn't working. I'd either have fires that needed to be put out, or I'd be too tired to get over the motivation hump.
I realized that if professional reading was one of my big rocks, I had to put it first.
I made a small shift in my morning routine, getting up thirty minutes earlier on weekdays, in order to make time for my reading. The first week sucked. The second week started slow. By the end of the second week, the power of the new routine had taken over. Along with a few other important practices, I start my weekdays with fifteen minutes of professional reading. Alexa keeps the time for me, I put my phone out of sight so it's out of mind, and I am consistently able to read several pages, or sometimes even a chapter, in that fifteen minutes of focused time.
The fires still get put out later in the day. Those little rocks will always get their needs met. They're really good at wiggling in to your day. The big rocks don't have that luxury. If we want to get them done, we've got to put them first.
I'd love to know if anyone else has had this experience? Do you routinely put your big rocks first? Is your professional reading one of your big rocks?
I write about higher education.