How I Plan my Year with Rocks and Sand

When I was six my mum had a friend who had a beautiful hourglass filled with sand and I would flip it and, resting my chin on my hands, stare at it for hours. It was mesmerising. I used to imagine that each grain of sand was a second and I would try to count every second until the sand ran out. I was of course desperate to have my own hourglass – but we were a traditional 1970s working-class family and that sort of purchase was an extravagance beyond us. And so my dad – who was and is magnificent – helped me make my own version of an hourglass with two plastic buckets, some string and a wheelbarrow full of sand that we nicked from the beach.

I have always has an obsession with time. And growing up, I always associated time with sand. I would lie on the beach and let the sand filter through my fingers, counting, counting, counting. I would walk through the wet sand and each grain that stuck to me represented a little piece of time.

And then I discovered rocks. And I discovered that time is actually not all about sand. Time is all about rocks and sand. Rocks first and sand second.

Imagine you have a beautiful glass bowl and the space in that bowl represents the time you have available to you this year. And imagine that there are lots and lots of little tasks you need to complete (100s of emails and 30 minute meetings and commutes and lunches and cleaning the house and time with friends and pick ups and drop offs and loads of washing and presentations at work and visits to you mum and pitches to clients and the gym and ….) – let’s call this the ‘Sand’. And imagine there are some incredible big goals you would love to achieve this year (a 6 day hike across central Australia, learning to surf, living in Bali for 7 weeks, re-designing your entire business model, writing a book and…) – let’s call these the ‘Rocks’.

If you fill your glass bowl with all of the Sand first then – if you are lucky – there might be a little bit of room at the very top of the bowl for a few Rocks.

But, if you fill your glass bowl with the Rocks first and then you pour in the Sand, the sand is so small and fine and granular that it will find its way into the spaces made between the rocks, and you will get to do both.

Rocks first and Sand second.

Here’s how I plan my year:

1. At the start of each year I download a one page calendar spreadsheet – or you can use a physical annual planner. Either way, you want to see your year on a plate.

2. I have 3 Rocks every year and 2 buckets of Sand that I want to fit into my annual glass bowl. I colour code my Rocks and my Sand and I batch them into my annual calendar across the year.

Colour coding different types of tasks in my calendar allows me to see at a glance how my year, month, week and day is structured and whether I am integrating all of the parts of my life that are most important to me. I balance out my colours so that I am productive, stay on task and to ensure that I maintain momentum.

Batching is the process of grouping like tasks together and then blocking out slabs of time in my calendar to complete each batch of tasks in one efficient chunk of time.

3. My 3 Rocks and their colours are:

GREEN – rest, leisure, holidays, me time

ORANGE – family and friends

BLACK – business and life strategy, planning, growth, goal setting

4. I schedule the 3 Rocks into my annual calendar in the following order:

GREEN – Life is busy. Work is busy. By the time you get to February the front end of the year is already filling up. Before you know it, it’s June and you are looking at your calendar thinking ‘How the hell do I find 2 clear weeks for a holiday?’

To avoid this mid-year stress, or any sort of time crisis to be honest, the very first Rock I consider every year is GREEN. I grab a GREEN pen and I lock my holiday periods into my calendar across the year. Last year for example I spent 7 weeks in July and August living and working in Bali – this was locked into my calendar in concrete right from the start of the year so that no-one and nothing could derail my plans.

I live in Australia, so I always GREEN batch from Christmas Day through to mid January for a solid beach break.

I love hiking, and each year I do at least 1 multi-day hike. I tend to research and book this while I am lazing away in the sun in January, and then I lock it straight into the calendar as GREEN.

I also batch out every single Monday and Friday for the year as light GREEN, which means they are days for me and not for work unless a particularly juicy piece of work comes along that looks so magnificent that I decide to say ‘yes’ – it’s all about making time to allow me to have a choice.

ORANGE – Second on my list of Rocks is batching time and experiences with my family. When my kids were little this tended to overlap with my GREEN Rocks (family holidays and school vacation time), but now that my kids are young adults and living their own lives, it’s best to try and bribe them to come on a family holiday with me to Bali all expenses paid.

I also lock in ORANGE experiences with my kids (paid for by me, also a bribe), like concerts, paint-balling, and go-carting.

While I am happy and satisfied that I have had career success, time invested in my people and living shared experiences is what I most value. Life is busy. Work is busy. If I don’t carve out ORANGE family time right at the start of the year, then it just makes it that little bit harder to happen.

BLACK – My third Rock is batching the BLACK. I batch in time across the year to work on personal and business strategy and growth – I do much of my BLACK work in January and in October every year.

In January I batch in at least a week of BLACK and work 4-5 hours a day on setting work and personal goals, mapping these out, prioritising them and then locking them into my calendar (as RED Sand or GREEN Rocks).

In October I batch in 4 days of BLACK to business plan with my business accountability girls. Where possible we combine this with a hike, so this often doubles as a GREEN Rock. Throughout the rest of the year I schedule in half a BLACK day twice a month.

Once I have the big Green, Orange and Black Rocks locked in, it’s time to go granular and fill up the rest of the year – my glass bowl – with the Sand.

5. The 2 colours of my Sand represent the following:

RED – My daily high value tasks – tasks which are at my skill level and revenue generating – are batched into my calendar in RED from 8am-1pm on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This is when I do my operational, revenue generating work which is either implementing and working against the strategies I developed during a BLACK batch, or just business as usual tasks.

YELLOW – My daily low(er) value tasks – not revenue generating but tasks which must be done – in the afternoon on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for my process driven and admin work.

My year is a matter of Rocks and Sand. It’s colourful. It’s well planned. The Rocks take priority. The Sand fills in the gaps and there is always plenty of time for it. The bowl feels balanced and integrated and flexible – I can always take out a few rocks, add in some new rocks, decrease or increase the amount of sand or even increase or decrease the size of the bowl. It’s all in the planning.

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Design & Deliver A Dream Life
With Kate Christie

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I am an executive coach and small business coach specialising in time management, productivity, goal setting and life by design.
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Grief and loss taught Kate—a top lawyer turned time management expert for global businesses—life is too short. You need to set then chase outrageous goals. Now.
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At its heart, this book is about sharing my story so that you know you aren’t alone – that there are many women just like you who are reflecting on what’s next.
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