The complete picture unfolds

Based on everything we have discovered, it is now time to put it all together and while the Red Urchin application plays a huge role in the implementation of our time and priority management system there is 2 other implementation principles that cannot be captured in an application.

To revise, we have covered:

Now putting it all together to be highly effective humans, our world looks like this!

Red Urchin - Figure 5

There is 2 key strategies that need to exist in the implementation realm of our time management ecosystem and these are…drumroll please…

  • Big Rocks
  • Channels

Big Rocks

The story that guides this implementation principle has been told many times in different ways but here it is explained as first heard and used as a key principle in the Red Urchin system.

There was a Harvard Professor (not sure why they are always from Harvard and was he really a professor) who was standing in front of his lecture room full of students. In front of him on a table he has an empty square glass fish tank about 1 metre (3 feet) wide. From under the table he lifts some buckets full of rocks all roughly the size of grapefruits. He proceeds to place all of the rocks from the buckets and fill up the fish tank with them. When he is finished he asks his class “Is the tank full?”. The students seem to confirm in unison that the tank is full.

The professor then takes out another couple of buckets from underneath the table. These buckets contain gravel and he tips the buckets of gravel into the fish tank all the way to the top of the tank. Again he asks the class “Is the tank full?”. With a few laughs the students seem to agree that the tank is now indeed full. Again, the Professor lifts a couple of buckets from under the table this time containing sand and proceeds to tip them into the fish tank. When they are filled to the top he asks his class “Is the tanks full?”. Now the students have become more than wary of giving a yes as an answer.

The professor reaches again under the table and retrieves a bucket of water and tips it into the tank filling it up to the top. Smiling, the professor asks the class “Is the tank now full?”, the students warily reply yes and the professor agrees with them. “For all practical purposes, yes, the tank is now full. But what is the moral of the exercise?”. After a while a student answers “That you can always fit more in?”. The professor replies “that is one of the lessons and a key principle of time management but the greater lesson here is ‘that if you do not put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in'”

And there you go, the first implementation principle!

If you track back to balancing your life and your tasks and we look at balancing need vs desire, (see Red Urchin Balance) the BIG part of both sections looked at strategies and goals (and we looked at 10’s, 25’s, 50’s and 100’s). This translates simply, if you do not put in the Big Rocks first you will never fit them in. If one of your 50’s is to go scuba diving twice a year, if you don’t book it in and lock it in you will never fit it in due to the noise and small tasks that consume your life. Taking a smaller example, if you want to spend 30mins quality time with your kids twice a week, put the big rock in place and build everything else around it because if you do not put it in first you will never fit it in (sound familiar!). This is what happens with the vast majority of people even if they are fairly structured and good a time management, they forget this one critical implementation principle.


This also is a simple concept that we could (and maybe will in the future) dedicate multiple articles to. The principle is to achieve singular focus at all points in time…sounds strange but in drives two very important outcomes. Firstly it ensures that you focus on and complete your designated task in the shortest possible time and secondly it ensures you are 100% present, in the moment. While these two outcomes are different sides of the same coin it is the type of task that dictates the side.

The principle comes from that of a remote control and of switching channels when required just as you would on a TV. The principle devolves into two distinct working levels that are essential to the Red Urchin system and the effective implementation of our time management principles.

From a high level view, the channel principle is about being in the moment, or environment you should be. For example, channel 2 is my work channel (the numbers are irrelevant), channel 8 is my home channel, channel 10 is my kids channel. For example at 6pm – 8pm at night you may be on Channel 8 (which is your home channel) and so you are 100% dedicated to that channel during that time. That means no quickly going to channel 2 (your work channel) to check email or take a phone call. Similarly, if 1pm – 2pm is your allocated time to complete a work task then you don’t stop to talk with a co-worker about the weekend, you don’t let someone interrupt you or make you switch channels. So when I am at work, I switch to channel 2, I don’t have (or at least try to minimise) long talks about what people did on the weekend, when I am on channel 8, I switch off my blackberry and only check it at scheduled intervals and when I am on channel 10, nothing disturbs my time and I mentally to do not think about anything else (because I have written everything down) and I am completely in the moment.

This achieves two very important goals, the first a life/balance goal and the second an efficiency goal. The life/balance goal is about being present in the moment. There is nothing worse yourself or the people you are interacting with if you are not 100% present in the moment. While this takes practice and diligence over time to become proficient it, we know from experience that it is a critical piece of the balancing puzzle. Switch off your phone/facebook/tv, be ruthless in your application of this and “be” present. It doesn’t matter if it is in a class learning or having dinner with your loved on…be there!

The second goal is simply ruthless efficiency and it is particularly relevant to office or group environments. If you are at “work” be at work and get your work tasks done, if you are reading, read etc. The hardest part of this goal in the office environment, where studies have shown over and over again how much time is wasted in non productive time. If you look at the habits of highly effective, high performing individuals (and we have) a key behavioural trait is they focus completely on the environment they are in. This means cutting short non-focussed activities, closing your office door (or putting up a Do Not Disturb sign), not attending the office birthday celebrations etc. While we know this has an impact on networking or social acceptance,our goal here is effective time management and not making more friends so it is up to you to find the balance that works for you.

Our second or lower level implementation of this strategy is reducing distractions. The singular most important factor why people do not achieve what they set out to achieve, even if they planned and prioritise it brilliantly, is distractions. Not only do distractions take the time of the distraction themselves but you have to take into account the time to refocus or catchup to where you where on the task. Sometimes this can be seconds, other times it is precious minutes. The concept of channels at this level is simply focussing on what you need to do for the maximum time until it is completed. That does not mean constantly checking (or being alerted to) email, answering your phone, being disturbed by random people etc. This is difficult to achieve completely but you can do it. Take small steps, ask people close to you to remind you when you are crossing channels, reduce your distractions and focus on what you need to be focussed on.

Your journey begins here

These implementation strategies are critical to using the Red Urchin application. If you follow the steps in the Red Urchin tutorials (See Starting from scratch and Getting Started) based on the principles and strategies of the Red Urchin system you will achieve the success we outlined at the start (See Red Urchin System). You will:

  • Get “everything” you need to complete in a time period, completed!
  • Not forget to complete important/critical/promised tasks
  • Achieve more in the same available timeframes
  • Use your available time more effectively
  • Achieve things you normally do not “have time for”
  • Achieve all of this with incredible balance and goal achievement