Big rocks and fish gravel

category icon Posted in Academics, Campus Life

“If you want to fit all the rocks in this glass mug, what will you put in first?”

This is a question asked by Jane Dorman in my first-year seminar. She lifted a empty mug with some rocks in her hand, and said “what are the options to fill this mug with all the rocks that we have?”

“Let’s try to put in the little fish gravel first,” she started putting the clearly blue gravel into the mug until it was half full. I wasn’t really paying attention to it at the beginning because I thought it was just something fun in her class. “Then I am going to put my big rocks in,” she said. The big rocks were put on the bottom of the mug, and there was so much space between all those rocks. Because of the weight, rocks were trying really hard to stay on the top of the edge until some of them started to fall right after she put them in. All those rocks are too anxious to go back to where they were. They couldn’t all fit in that situation when the mug was half filled with little tiny fish gravel.

“Now let’s try to put our big rocks in first.”

Even from the corner of the classroom by the door, I could hear the clear sound when the rocks hit the glass. All the rocks went in this time since there wasn’t fish gravel in their way, but still, there was a large space between rocks. “Then we can pour out gravel into the mug.”

When the fish gravel came in, the color of the mug turns to be clearly blue all of a sudden. The space between rocks were filled with little fish gravel, which was not something that rocks can handle if they come in last. The fish gravel and all of the big rocks perfectly filled the mug.

“This is just like your time management,” she raised the mug with rocks high, “the big rocks are going into the mug first if you want all of the rocks to fit in there.”

I felt refreshed when I finally thought about this rock case. The example was all about the rocks, but what to put in first and next really make a huge difference when all the rocks need to come in. Little fish gravel can and needs to come in after the big rocks in the mug because the rocks are not flexible as the gravel is; also, gravel can be anywhere if there was just a tiny space left.  It is that same to think about the things that we plan to do. Big things are always first priority on the to-do-list. Therefore, when the big part is well done, we have time to work on the other small tasks that are less important. In the end, all the parts can be finished.