The Best Time Management Exercise EVER!

November 21, 2013

If you have a staff meeting and want to do something different then here’s a great exercise that I adapted having watched the great Stephen R Covey do it on stage. You will need a glass vase in a traditional flower pot kind of shape, some sand (play sand not builders) and a number of stones/pebbles. I have attached a photograph to give you an idea of the starting set up.

You will need to experiment with getting the right number and size of stones and amount of sand required. Once you have done this I store the sand and the stones in a re-sealable container so I can use the exercise again and again with different groups.

The exercise starts with all the sand in the vase and the vase standing on a sheet of A4 paper, on another sheet of A4 paper are the stones.  Ask for a volunteer from the group to come and do the exercise and tell them the following:

  • The object of the exercise is to get ALL the stones in the vase as well as the sand and that NO sand or stones can project above the line of the top of the vase.
  • They can touch the stones
  • They cannot touch the glass
  • They cannot touch the sand

The usual first try is to push the stones into the sand but it is clear that this just isn’t possible. There is no way you will get all of the stones into the sand.

Pretty soon realisation is that you have to get the sand out of the vase first, then put in the stones and then pour the sand over the stones, but how do you do that when you cannot touch the glass.

The next idea is usually to take the stones off the paper and use the paper to pick up the vase rather than touch it with your hands. Then pour all the sand onto the table! I don’t allow this as it makes a mess and I state every GRAIN must be accounted for.

After much head scratching someone from the audience or your volunteer realise that ‘they’ are not allowed to touch the glass but they could ask someone else to do it for them. Once this fact has been realised the exercise is usually completed in a few minutes. The paper can be used to make cones that the sand can be poured into. The stones then inserted in the vase followed by a careful pouring of sand. A few taps on the side allows the sand to settle bellow the line of the top of the vase.

So apart from the obvious learning points about listening and thinking creatively, what is the analogy I draw from the exercise? Well the sand represents their day job and all the things that they have to do every day. The stones represent unexpected things and also the problems and issues that they are likely to procrastinate over. The more we put these things off the more impossible it becomes to fit them into our schedule and indeed they often get bigger! The morale of the story is to get the ‘stones’ out of the way each day first (As per Brian Tracey “Eat That Frog”) and if they do that then their usual work fits in around them.

Practise it a few times before you use it but it’s always a popular exercise and one with a very clear message!

Many thanks

Stuart Allen

Trainer & Consultant at MTD Training

(Image by Stuart Allen)


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