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Vol. 29, No. 5

The MAIN THING, or 'Rocks in a jar'

by Allan Head

This is the tenth article in a three-year series focusing on the leadership of lawyers—things bar leaders ought to know and think about.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing!”

Motivational speaker Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, uses this line to help us focus on time management. He goes further and demonstrates with a large jar that he fills with rocks, and asks, “Is the jar full?” The audience response is usually “Yes.” He then dribbles in some small gravel around the rocks, up to the top of the jar, and inquires again, “Is the jar full?” The audience, having now caught on, responds, “No!” He then pours in what seems like a lot of sand; is the jar full? “No” is again the response, as the audience watches him pour in a quart of water.

And the point of all this is … to show you that in your busy life there is always room to fit more in! Right? Wrong!

The point is that if you put the sand and gravel and water in first, there is no room for the rocks. You can’t put them in last.

We all need to set priorities, the important things in life, and then make sure our lives don’t fill up with sand and water before we realize that there is no room left for “the main things.”

Two lessons

Make sure, as bar leaders, that your year doesn’t fill up with “stuff”—so much so that it doesn’t give you time to accomplish the really important goals that you, your board, and/or your association have consciously set. On an even smaller scale, it happens every day: You arrive at the office with a plan, and unexpectedly your day fills up with “stuff.” One of the most successful state senators I know has a plan written out for himself every day. He follows the plan, dealing politely with stuff along the way, but always focused on accomplishing the plan. You’re right; he’ll probably be governor some day.

Lesson two is, as successful bar leaders, make sure you leave room in your life for another important rock, your family. As I explained to my children years ago, there are some days when the bar may have to come first, but there ought to be lots of days when you make sure that you don’t forget “the main thing”—your family.

Another motivational speaker talks about “climbing the ladder of success, and taking your family with you!” What a great concept. But is it possible to take on more leadership, more responsibility, attend more meetings, and take your family with you? Yes, it is, if you put the large rocks in first. Got it?

I welcome your comments—please e-mail me at [email protected].

—Allan B. Head, chair, ABA Standing Committee on Bar Activities and Services, and executive director, North Carolina Bar Association.