Entrepreneurship In Your Spare Time: The Rocks And Sand Philosophy

A few times in the past, I’ve mentioned that I have a computer consulting business on the side and that I also work full time at my “real” job.

The question most people ask is “How do you find time for these things?” It’s great to earn money from several sources, but it’s often hard to see where the time for all of it comes from. To manage entrepreneurial tasks like these, I use a general philosophy that I’ve often seen repeated by others, the rock and sand philosophy. I was first introduced to it by Stephen Covey’s book First Things First (read my detailed review of it).

Here’s how it works. Imagine that a period of time in your life – say, a week – can be represented with a large glass jar. This jar is filled with big rocks – pieces of contiguous time that can’t be interrupted and must happen during the week – and progressively smaller rocks that represent smaller tasks that are more flexible.

When I look ahead at a coming week, I put in the big rocks first – the large chunks of time. These rocks include periods at work, periods sleeping, and so on. What tasks do you regularly do that eat up a big block of time and must be done to maintain your life?

I eventually move on to smaller and smaller things and keep adding them to the jar – they sink down and fill up the gaps between the bigger rocks. These are things like time set aside to actually write a post, time set aside to fix a computer, time set aside to read my son two books and eat supper with him and my wife, and so on. Eventually, I add sand to fill up the rest of the space. Sand refers to tiny things I can do in a minute or so of spare time that further my goals – things like jotting down a post idea or giving a call to a customer.

What’s great about this is that I find myself discarding the things that are less important. Do I really want to put a rock in that jar that represents a two hour block of vegetation in front of the television? Not really. Instead, I look for other ways to spend that time, even if it’s just reading or maybe spending time getting beaten by my wife at Wii power bowling.

I also look for ways to break down the big rocks. As I mentioned before, I try to use naps to maximize my alertness and make my schedule more flexible. I also utilize a long lunch break at work many days to take care of various tasks – I’ll go somewhere quiet and try to brainstorm ideas or knock off a few tasks that can be done near my place of work. This means I can fit pebbles and grains of sand (small tasks) in the middle of my day.

I usually use Mozilla Sunbird and GTD to keep up with all of the pebbles and grains of sand in my day. Generally, if I’m at home and have free time (outside of my planned periods for reading and spending time with my family), I’m processing the things that need done, a seemingly endless stack of things. Some of them are related to the home, some are related to The Simple Dollar, some are related to computer consulting – I just process them all together, grabbing the next thing to do when one thing gets done.

What’s the end result of all of this? I’m in the best financial position of my life, with several sources of income. I’m also never bored and I feel like my life is more enriched than ever before – the stuff I’m doing is good stuff, rather than just fluff. I enjoy recreation, but I choose things that really bring me joy rather than things that let me vegetate.

Some people describe life organization as being like a prison. I found that it’s made me feel more free – and able to accomplish more and earn more money – than I ever have before in my life.

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