30 Oct

Big Rocks, Little Rocks: How to Fix Almost Anything

By Stephanie Rasor

There are few topics that the wisdom of Stephen Covey can’t bring enlightenment to.  Recently, I searched for tips on evaluating priorities and Covey’s lesson on big rocks and little rocks turned up.  For those not familiar, the gist is when you make space for the big rocks (key priorities) then the little rocks (everything else) will fall into place.  Though I’ve read his books and watched his videos numerous times (well, some are three decades old) revisiting the rocks bit helped me regain focus and feel ready once again to take on life’s challenges.

Only a few weeks later, the rocks lesson proved again useful for a personal problem.  With all the summer chaos, and heat-induced stupor I completely lost sight of my expenses.  I was way over budget, and I love a good budget, and needed to get to the source of damage.  Rather than examining expenses line by line, straining my eyes and brain, I decided to Covey the problem (yes, I like to use Covey as a verb).  I asked myself “What variable expenses are the big rocks?”  Answer:  Groceries.  I filtered expenses on my two primary food stores, added it up and bam there’s the bulk of my overspending.  How did I forget the big barbeques with home-smoked meats and eight sides; brunches with farmer’s market French pastries, benedicts and mimosas; or the special treats for camping and canoe trips to bribe my family into keeping the fun going?  I’ll continue to blame the heat-induced stupor.  But by focusing on the big rock, I avoided a gruesome analysis and was done in under 10 minutes.  I gave myself a pat on the back and noted in next summer’s calendar to add more to the food budget because I won’t give up barbeques or pastries.

Thinking of more ways to apply this lesson, I noticed that at work we often use the same big rock, little rock approach.  For Rasor, I develop marketing dashboards among other nerdy things I love.  Clients outsource marketing analytics to us because they have piles of data that’s difficult to roll up into a single report to answer the simple questions “what did we spend?” and “what did we get out of it?”.  When our clients aren’t sure where to begin, we ask questions to get to the big rocks.  “What are your biggest marketing expenses?  What are your KPIs and key initiatives?  Let’s start there.”  You don’t have to measure everything right away.  Start small and build.

So next time you find yourself tackling a new problem, remember to start with the big rocks.  We overcomplicate things.  We don’t mean to.  We think of all the possible variables and our heads start spinning.  Look at it from the problem’s point of view, what big rocks will have the most impact?


Learn more about big rocks.