Pickle Jar Theory

Make Your Schedule Work. Leave Time for Fun!

The Pickle Jar Theory - Make Your Schedule Work and Leave Time for Fun!

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Think carefully about which tasks should go in your pickle jar.

"Pickle Jar Theory" uses the analogy of an empty pickle jar to think about how we use the fixed amount of time available to us each day. If we think of it as we plan our schedule, we can get important work done while still leaving time for the small things that make life fun.

Imagine a Huge Empty Pickle Jar…

First, forget about time management altogether, and just imagine that you have a huge empty pickle jar (think of the largest pickles you have ever seen). Now, imagine filling the jar with golf balls. And, when you get it to the point you think it can hold no more, try adding another golf ball or two.

Even though it seems full, you're not done yet. You're going to now squeeze in a handful of marbles. Give your pickle jar a shake and as the golf balls and marbles start to settle and create more room, add in a bit of sand. Now, fill your pickle jar to the tip-top by adding back in some of the pickle juice.

What This Means

Now, back to time management.

Sure, this analogy seems simplistic, even elementary. But think of it like this: each of us has many large priorities in our life (represented by the golf balls), as well as things we like to do (the marbles). We have other things we have to do, like the sand. And finally, we have time stealers, the things that simply clutter up our lives and seem to seep in everywhere: pickle juice.

Consider your order of priorities and apply the obvious symbolism here. In doing so, you filled the pickle jar starting with golf balls and put the pickle juice in last, and were able to achieve a (to some extent) a balanced mix of tasks.

However, if we fill our jar with pickle juice first, there's no room for anything else unless we're happy making a real mess!

Looking at the pickle jar, it becomes apparent that balance is needed to address priorities and to make time for things we enjoy doing, all the while working to remove the unnecessary clutter. Sure, you may need all of the "objects" in the pickle jar, from the golf balls to the enjoyable activities, if you're going to do your job well and feel fulfilled. The theory takes this into consideration and shows just how we make time for everything and how everything simply "fits" where it is supposed to fit.

And, just as important, it shows the importance of "not sweating the small stuff" – or the sand and pickle juice.

Applying Pickle Jar Theory

So think about your own daily to-do list. Chances are you have something scheduled every half hour or every hour, Monday through Friday. And perhaps even your weekend is filled with activities with your family and friends.

Now, take a closer look at your daily to-do lists. How much time is wasted lingering at the office water cooler catching up with colleagues, returning emails that do not require a timely response, and so on? And, does your schedule allow for problems that may occur at the office or something unexpected that may require your immediate attention?

Is there a time in your schedule that is wasted? Are there ways to manage your time that will make you more productive? Give your schedule or to-do list a very, very honest look and ask yourself these questions.

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Now, apply the Pickle Jar Theory.

Would you benefit from setting aside time first thing in the morning to determine what the day's "golf balls" were? Try scheduling in times when "golf balls" should be addressed or completed and let the lesser priorities, the unexpected things that seem to just pop-up, fill in the gaps left in the pickle jar.

According to the Pickle Jar Theory, by using this approach you will better manage your time and have more of it. And, the good news is that you will have the time needed to get everything done while still having more time for the activities you enjoy. You will complete your "golf balls" and feel more relaxed as your schedule actually begins to flow better.

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Comments (4)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi chileon,
    Welcome to the Club and great to hear that you love our resources. I also love when we make that realization that we can do things differently, and find a tool to help!

    Come on over to the Forums and introduce yourself. We'd love to meet you. If you have any questions, just let us know as we are always happy to help.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago chileon wrote
    I always try to schedule but somewhere aling the line i get off track then vom back again. Its not easy for me to do something i was never used to doing. Good news is i know i need it and thats a great start. Love your resources
  • Over a month ago ChristianAffiliat3 wrote
    The pickle jar theory does explain why my life has been such a gooey mess. :) Awesome analogy!
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