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I learned a version of this role planning system when I first read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I immediately purchased the planner and would use it religiously.

For whatever reason, or maybe after they merged with The Franklin Institute and became Franklin Covey, they stopped printing the original version of the planner. As us old folks would say, ‘you shouldn’t mess with an original!’. The planner in this blog is a basic version of the original planner, and I intend on working on it some more to make it look pretty, but what I want you to understand for now is how this method works.

I write in my book about an example that a teacher gives his students on the lesson that inspires this style of planning. You may have heard it before.

In the example, a teacher holds up the jar in the front of the class, reaches into a bin and places several large rocks inside. The large stones reach right to the top of the rim, and the teacher asks the class if the jar is full. The consensus is that ‘yes, the jar is full,’ you can’t put any more large rocks in it.

The teacher then reaches into another bin and grabs a handful of smaller pebbles. He pours them in, and the pebbles fill in the spaces in between the large rocks. Once again the teacher asks, is the jar full? This time they all agree the jar is full, no large rocks or pebbles fit.

The teacher then reaches into another bin and grabs a handful of sand. He pours the sand into the jar, filling up the small spaces left between the pebbles and the large rocks, and asks again, is the jar full?
Even though the class knows it’s full, they now hesitate and for a good reason. Before they answer, he grabs a cup of water and slowly starts to pour the water in and sets it down with a grin.

The point of the experiment was not to trick the class into thinking the jar was full when it wasn’t, the point is to show that unless you put the big rocks in first, they would’ve never fit.

This is how we should be looking at the priorities in our lives. Until we identify them and treat them as the large rocks that we see to first, we won’t get to them, or we won’t allocate enough time for them.

You will see this play out again and again in your life. For example, you have an appointment with a trainer at the gym, and you don’t want to go. Instead of making up an excuse, just tell yourself, “it’s not a priority for me at this moment.”

When you say that, and it doesn’t sit well, you know that you didn’t make a decision that was in alignment with your priorities. Going to the gym was a big rock in your life, but you didn’t put it first.

When you set and believe in your priorities, you will more often than not, put in the required effort and make the necessary time for them, because we don’t enjoy the repercussions when we don’t.

So, what are your priorities, and how do they fit with the roles in your life?

If you’re not sure, it best to start by writing down your purpose statement or mission statement. The statement is tied into your ‘why beneath your why.’ Why do you want to live your life this way, and what will living it that way do for you, or create for you?

What you do know for sure is the different roles in your life. Roles like father, mother, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, friend, co-worker, volunteer, manager, coach, etc. The roles are the things you say when someone says, so…tell me a little about yourself.

Those first few things that you say, are the roles that matter most to you. They usually reflect the most important relationships that you identify with, and might even believe you wouldn’t know who you would be without them.
Even though you’re clear about these roles, life has a funny way of overwhelming us and we don’t put the kind of investment in time and energy into those roles that we’d really like to. That’s where this method of planning changes all of that. I call it ‘Role Planning’, although I’m not sure if that was the original name given to it.

With this planner, you start by listing those roles along the left-hand margin of the chart. Starting with your biggest ‘rock’ and most important priority role, and then moving down from there. For each role, you can now clearly identify any responsibilities, commitments, appointments, etc. that you must accomplish this week, or tasks you need to get done.

Role Planner

When you schedule these priorities first, they have a much higher likelihood of getting done.  In the same way, we need to prioritize the muscles, meals and mindset activities that we need to do for ourselves, in order to honor ourselves and offer the best possible version of ourselves to others. As I’ve often said, you can’t pour from an empty cup.

This planner empowers you to start with the things that nourish you, and then prioritize the people you need to nourish. It’s about people, not things, although you’ll find that when you plan like this, you get so many more things done!

Go ahead and try it out, let me know how it works for you and if you have any questions. I hope to publish a better-looking version soon.

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