Last Monday I found myself spinning my wheels, unable to concentrate on anything for longer than a few minutes. My daily to-do list had ballooned out of control, and I found myself returning to it again and again, trying to figure out where to fit in my usual workout.
Finally the small, sensible voice of reason in the back of my head cleared its throat and said “Um, excuse me? Sorry to interrupt but, um, the thing is, it doesn’t fit.”
Turns out, it’s not really possible to take on a whole slew of novel tasks, like hand-making holiday gifts, buying and wrapping dozens of presents, general magic-making, indulging in holiday manicures and embarking on a daily writing project – while also getting to all the things on my everyday to-do list: working, parenting, cooking, cleaning, fitness, and, you know, sleeping.
One of the tricky things about the holiday is that the preparation is basically a full-time job, but the rest of life doesn’t actually stop while it’s going on. We still have kids and jobs and homes and bodies that need our attention. It can feel like a personal failure to re-prioritize so that some things get less attention, but it’s really the only way to manage the load.
On the podcast, Sarah and I often talk about the “big rocks.” The metaphor goes like this: if you want to get big rocks, gravel, and sand in a jar, you start with the big rocks. Once they’ve established their places, the gravel can easily fit in around them. And when both the big rocks and gravel are in place, the sand slides effortlessly into the cracks and grooves.
Reverse the order, and you’ll have a jar half full of sand and gravel, with no room for the big rocks. And in life, the “big rocks” are the priorities.
That approach has been a lifesaver for me in prioritizing my days, but sometimes I have to remind myself that my “big rocks” can change over time, especially during an unusual or special situation…like a holiday.
Right now, working out and cooking healthy meals – usually two of my non-negotiable big rocks – are looking a lot more like gravel to me. We’re eating a lot of easy food and while I’m trying to remember to stretch and bend a few times throughout the day, I let go of the idea of formal workouts until after January 1.
On the flip side, baking and crafting, which are very much sand in my typical life, have suddenly become the big rocks around which I structure the rest of my day.
This won’t last forever, and I sometimes have to remind myself that a couple weeks eating differently or not exercising much won’t derail all the effort I put in year-round. And the beauty is that when I prioritize those big rocks effectively, a surprising amount of sand and gravel really do slip into the crevices.
The key is letting yourself mentally let go of worrying about the sand and gravel so you don’t waste time and energy trying to fit them in. If I randomly find myself with time for an afternoon run, fantastic, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it if it doesn’t happen.
As we head into the final stretch of the holiday season, be sure to give yourself permission to reverse the order of priorities in your daily life.
You probably can’t fit it all in, so ask yourself: what are the most urgent things to tackle today?
Those are your big rocks: not forever, just today.