I ate lunch and had a coaching session recently with a really sharp associate in a well-known law firm. During our lunch she asked:

What if I really don’t care to become a partner?

She continued that many of the partners in her firm and other firms did not appear to be happy. I immediately thought of Stephen Covey and said:

Maybe those partners aren’t focused on the big rocks.

Having never heard the story, the young associate looked confused. She told me she wanted to have more “work-life balance” in her life.

Are you striving for work-life balance? Put simply, you will never find it and even if you could it would be incredibly boring. I have never sought balance instead I have sought to live my life based on my priorities.

If you want to strive to spend quality time on your priorities, I suggest you read “First Things First” by Stephen Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill. It is filled with many suggestions I know will help you, including planning your life around your roles. I particularly enjoy Dr. Covey’s story about the “big rocks.”

Dr. Covey describes that when he was teaching he pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, “Is the jar full?”

The students replied, “Yes.” He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. He jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, “Is the jar full?”

This time, the students replied, “Probably not.” Dr. Covey then added sand and asked, “Is the jar full?” By then the students had figured it out and replied “No!”

Finally, Dr. Covey filled the jar to the brim with water and asked his students the point of what he had done. One student replied: “you can always fit more things into your life if you really work at it. “No,” countered Dr. Covey.

“The point is, you have to put the big rocks in first.”

Billable work for clients is clearly a big rock. But, there are many other big rocks that must be put in the jar. Your big rocks likely include being a father/mother, husband/wife, son/daughter, being fit, being active in church/community.

I coached an outstanding lawyer, now 11 years ago. At the beginning of our coaching, we didn’t focus on client development. Instead, we focused on what were the big rocks for her. In our second coaching session she told me hers were:

  1. Family
  2. Her Faith
  3. Her Health and Fitness
  4. Her Work and Client Relationships

From that point on when she was evaluating an opportunity, she considered whether it fell into one or more of her big rocks.

She frequently repeated her version of something Stephen Covey had said:

When you say yes to something that is not a priority, given your limited time, it is the same as saying no to something that is a priority.

If you were asked to list your priorities, what would they be?

P.S. One point I made to the lawyer with whom I ate lunch was simply that it is better to have the opportunity to become a partner and then make a choice than it is to never be considered.