Time Management: The Pickle Jar Theory

Time Management: The Pickle Jar Theory

Stephen Covey, for instance, covers time management theory called the Pickle Jar Theory in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. You fill a large pickle jar with rocks, pebbles, and sand.

When it comes to planning your time, how do you account for all the things not on the list? Planning all your tasks can take a lot of time.

The precious few moments left during the day are often spent on non-essential tasks. These factors combine to make employees at all levels feel overwhelmed.

What’s “The Pickle Jar” Theory?

Imagine an empty pickle jar or, if you are crafty, grab an old large pickle jar. You can fit three pickles inside the jar.

If you do not like pickles, my apologies. Please change “pickle jar” to “pancake jar” as needed. Your pickle jar is now ready. Fill it up with rocks. Fill it all up. 

Despite your perception, I will add a few more anyway. Your pickle jar is almost empty. Isn’t that true? Why don’t you add some pebbles?

It’s time to fill your hand up with as much as possible and raise it when it’s full. Until the jar can no longer be filled with sand, add water. 

This exercise is essential for you all. Like many large rocks, we all have many important obligations in life. Like pebbles, we also enjoy certain activities.

The same applies to sand. Water is a crucial part of our lives. It gets all over the place. It’s not a bad thing. 

To feel fulfilled, we need various objects, from major priorities to rest. “Pickle Jar Theory” emphasizes balancing priorities. All your responsibilities are met, and you make time for everything. 

The Benefit of Pickle Jar Theory in Our Professional Lives

The Benefit of Pickle Jar Theory In Our Professional Lives

In my opinion, the pickle jar symbolizes “work” and “life.” If the jar is filled with small things (water, sand), there is no room for the big things (rocks, pebbles).

Consider how easy it would be to fill our days with emails and meetings at work. Still, if we fail to deal with some rocks, we may not feel like we have accomplished much.

Most people view family as their most precious possession in life, and spending time with loved ones can be crowded out if we are too busy with work. So, this is when the pickle jar theory gives us some meaning. 

Better Division

Pickle jars help us organize the different daily tasks in our lives based on their changing urgency and importance. Our jar size, sand, pebbles, and rocks are all the same. The only difference is the order.

You can schedule all other tasks around these more important tasks in the jar. The rocks represent the most important tasks. It is now okay to turn our attention to the pebbles, the smaller tasks.

Pebbles indicate the task that can wait. Then, we add the sand, the unimportant tasks, and put all the emails, chat messages, phone calls, tweets, and Facebook posts into the jar.

Eventually, they all settle into the crack between rocks and pebbles.

A better division of tasks made it possible to fit all the ingredients easily into the pickle jar.


Pickle Jar Theory provides deep insights into our schedules and gives us a chance to put more effort into completing our most important tasks daily.

After that, it can be easier to meet deadlines and manage our time appropriately. As a result of using to-do lists, the deep understanding becomes even more evident.

When you carefully consider what tasks need to be completed ahead of time, you can fill the most important tasks on your list and treat them as rocks.

Listing Tasks

Preparing an accurate and reliable time estimation is the most challenging part of creating task lists. The average person often plans for one hour for a two-hour project.

You ought to include a time estimate when you create a top-down task or a To-Do list to do this.

The next step would be to prioritize the tasks based on the importance of each task so that you will have the time and energy actually to accomplish them.

Furthermore, a buffer for pebbles and sand would be a great idea. Therefore, it is not recommended to plan for more than 6 hours of work for an 8-hour day.

How Can You Apply The Pickle Jar Theory?

Over a day, one may have to accomplish many tasks. However, one’s day has a finite productive capacity, just as a pickle jar has a finite capacity.

Most people struggle with managing their time effectively and managing their tasks during this stage tactfully. The stress associated with time crunch will go away if one applies discipline and sets priorities. 

When something immediately catches our attention, it is natural to react. We are natural to take a moment to look at a social media feed when we get a notification.

You may want to talk to your colleague for a few minutes if they walk by your desk. People tend to forget that minor adjustments cost more time in the end.

Some people find it hard to regulate how much time they devote to the pleasurable or relaxing activity to not interfere with other important routines.

Prioritizing becomes easier with this time management technique. No matter what, you should start your day with a concrete plan to accomplish those essential tasks.

Once you finish that, you need to figure out how to add the smaller “pebble” tasks in, and on days when it is not possible to do that, a plan to assign or reschedule is needed.

After you have defined your schedule, you let the emails, chats, and calls creep in. Occasionally, it is okay to indulge in those unproductive watery tasks that are calming and mood-elevating at the same time.

Knowing what can fit into the pickle jar and how much time you have is essential. Choosing which items to put into the jar first is up to you.

Put the sand and pebbles in; then, add the rocks at last. If sand and pebbles are put in, then add the rocks at last; you will not have enough room for them.

However, if you fill in the biggest pieces first, the rocks, pebbles, and sand, you will have more time on your hands. 


The Pickle Jar Theory doesn’t just apply to professionals who mistake scheduling their days. The theory also outlines what should be done to avoid making mistakes again. 

Consider that empty pickle jar filled with rocks, pebbles, and sand again. But now, the order of the filling is different.

All the rocks and pebbles are filled in, followed by the sand. All of your components could fit in the jar because the sand traveled between the pebbles and rocks.

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