Relentlessly Prune Bullshit

2 min read


A professor walks into a room and sets a glass jar on a table. He places rocks in the jar until no more can fit.

“Is this jar full?”

His students nod.

He then brings out a bag of tiny pebbles and places several in the jar until no more can fit. He fooled the students.

“Now is it full?”

The students nod. Yes, now the jar appears to be full.

The professor then pulls out a bag of sand and dumps it into the jar, letting it fill in the spaces between the rocks and pebbles. The students had been duped again.

Now the jar was finally full.

“This jar represents your life,” the professor says. “The rocks are the big things – your health, your family, your life work. The pebbles are the medium things – your job, your friendships, your hobbies. And the sand represents the small things – running errands, watching TV, scrolling through social media, mowing the lawn. The only way all of these things fit in the jar is if you place the rocks in first. If you start with the sand and the pebbles, there will be no room for the rocks.”

This simple story contains an important message.

There are only a few important things in life. Namely, your health, your family, and your life work.

And each day you can make time for these things, but only if you prioritize them. If you let the sand and the pebbles creep in, you won’t have time for the rocks.

One of my favorite quotes on priorities comes from Paul Graham:

“Relentlessly prune bullshit, don’t wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That’s what you do when life is short.”

I often receive emails from readers who ask how I find the time to blog each day. My answer is that I make it a priority. I sit down and write every single morning for a couple hours before I do anything else. For me, writing is one of my rocks.

My other rocks are family, health, and finances.

I drive to my home 45 minutes away to visit my family at least twice a month.

I also lift weights six days a week.

I try to get outside for at least an hour every day.

I track my income and expenses along with my net worth using Personal Capital each month. The more financial freedom I have, the more time I can spend on my biggest priorities.

I fill up leftover time with pebbles and sand – reading, hanging with friends, playing basketball, dining out, watching Netflix. But only after I make time for the rocks.

Life is too short to be filled with unimportant pebbles and sand.

As Graham says, relentlessly prune bullshit. Don’t let tiny things that don’t matter infringe on time spent on your rocks.

Here are a couple good reads on priorities:

Life is Short – an essay by Paul Graham

Essentialism – a book about priorities and the importance of saying “no” by Greg McKeown

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7 Replies to “Relentlessly Prune Bullshit”

  1. There is still room in the jar for water!
    I think you could use a similar story to convey value of pennies, importance how how there is room for more or change even if you think there’s not

  2. Heard the jar of rocks before but never the Paul Graham quote. Love it. Wish I didn’t wait to do the things that matter but do now and am enjoying life more now! Enjoy reading you blog. Thanks

    1. The Paul Graham quote is one of my favorites. So simple and straight to the point. Glad you’re enjoying the blog Dan, I hope you continue to find value in it.

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