The first ebook I wrote here at Life Your Way is called How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too, about balancing life as an entrepreneur and work-at-home mom. I still stand by many of the principles in that ebook—because there’s no way around the hard work that it takes to launch a successful business—but it’s due for an overhaul now that I’m further along in the journey and I’ve been through burnout and back.

The main principle, though, is that while you can’t do everything, you can do the things that are important to you. But first you have to identify what those things are.

That means creating non-negotiables—like a daily walk, attending church on Sundays or snuggling with your kids at bedtime—and making the other decisions for your life around those things, like the classic rock analogy.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard this before, but just in case, the story goes like this:

One day a professor addressed his new group of business students. He pulled out a big, wide mouth jar and set it on the table. Next he pulled out a dozen fist-sized rocks, carefully placing them in the jar. 

When the jar was full, he turned to his students and asked, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class agreed it was. 

Reaching into his bag, he pulled out a bucket of gravel, which he began pouring into the jar. He shook the jar a few times to help the gravel fill in the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he asked again, “Is this jar full?”

Because these were smart business students, they ventured, “Probably not?”

He reached back into his bag and pulled out a bottle of water, which he poured into the jar until it was filled to the brim.

Turning back to the class, he asked, “What does this illustration show us about our time?”

Someone answered, “No matter how full your schedule is, you can always fit more!”

“No,” the professor answered. “The point is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never fit them.”

It’s easy to see the wisdom in this illustration: If he had filled the jar to the brim with water at the beginning, he wouldn’t have been able to fit even a single rock in without causing the water to overflow. And our schedules can end up like that if we fill them with obligations that don’t really reflect our priorities.

A Trap to Watch For

On the other hand, a trap that I’ve fallen into more than once—and I know from conversations with other women that I’m not alone—is thinking that scaling back in one area will suddenly give me time for all the things.

If I scale my work hours back by a couple of hours each day, that will give me time to read and play games with my girls, pick up a new hobby, volunteer in a new position, and cook gourmet meals three times a day. Right?!

Clearly that logic is flawed, and if we’re not realistic upfront, it can lead to frustration and discouragement when we feel like our simplifying efforts have failed.

We will always have to choose among many good things to focus our time and energy on the best. And my best and your best will be different, as they should be.

Instead of trying to do all the things according to someone else’s expectations or even our own ideas of a perfect life, I’ve found its best to focus on one at a time. This month I’m working on reading aloud more with the girls and taking daily walks not just for exercise but to clear my head. Although I feel like I’ve scaled back a lot in other areas, I know that adding any additional goals to my plate right now will leave me feeling stressed. Next month, if I find there’s still time in my day or week—or I identify other areas that I can simplify—there may be an opportunity to volunteer somewhere new or pursue a new hobby.

But I’m going to start by seeing how the big rocks I have fit before I try to add any more!

ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS

  1. What are the “big rocks” in your life? What are the nonnegotiables?
  2. Remember your list from the first post in this series? If you had unlimited time and no obligations, how would you spend your time?
  3. Your answer to the question above may have been a single activity (traveling around the world, reading in a comfy chair, etc.). But if you had all the time in the world, what activities (the little pebbles) would you make time for that you’re not currently doing? These could be goals for your health or home management (daily exercise, home cooked meals), hobbies you’d like to take up (music lessons, singing in a choir) or volunteer opportunities (teaching a class at church, serving at a food bank). Make a list of all the things you’d like to make time for or learn to do. Like any brain dump, the goal is to get all of those ideas out of your head (where carrying them around can cause it’s own stress) and onto paper.
  4. Now, look at your list and choose just one or two to work on this month.

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