Mental Wellbeing

The Time Jar and The Marbles of Priority

FoxyblogDo you ever feel like there just ISN’T ENOUGH TIME?  There is too much stuff to do, and never the right amount of time to get it done. For me this can spark anxiety and an overwhelming fear of failure. Time is running out! As well as dealing with daily deadlines, I feel like I need to experience life efficiently – maximise my precious, dwindling hours on earth. Which is a ridiculous notion really, because in reality I have buckets of time…I’m in my 20’s, still a spring chicken with youth on my side.

Sometimes I’m very aware of this and I forget about the pressure of fitting everything in. I feel inspired, my mind is clear and the world is a happy place filled with opportunities. I feel empowered and enthusiastically create well thought-out plans to achieve my dreams.

Then I start gathering obstacles for myself. I see limitations. I recognise that it’s going to be hard, too hard, to fit it all in, to afford the time and energy required. And because it’s way easier than staying focused, I get distracted. I prioritise little things. I waste time by procrastinating and often forget almost entirely about the big, fantastic picture of achievement and success I created for myself. My positive future becomes clouded by a hazy doubt that festers and stings, and eventually makes me back off and admit defeat.

And all of this is entirely in my mind! I worry about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet! These FUTURE hindrances are just projections, illusions in my head. But because of the limiting beliefs I have about lack of ability, resources, talent, guts or whatever, I am making choices and prioritising things in the NOW that swallow up time and definitely DO NOT help me reach my goals!

When I told my therapist about this tendency to self-sabotage and my worry about lack of time, she presented me with a jar and some marbles of various sizes…

“O…Kay..?”…At first I thought her own marbles had gone walkies, and frankly this wouldn’t have surprised me after having spent a fair bit of time wading through my brain clutter, valiantly trying to unspool my disjointed and unorganised imaginings.

But what she showed me, using these simple props, made sense. Sort of.

So, firstly you have to imagine your time as a jar. I found this analogy to be a safe, comforting way of viewing time, especially because I don’t have the Stephen Hawking know-how or patience to understand how it works properly. Apparently my idea of events happening along a linear time line is a faulty construct of my limited, human brain while in actuality everything that has ever existed and ever will exist flows outwardly from this very moment so that all events happen all at once. WHAT?! Yeah…Rather than solve this mind-melt of a mystery I’m going to stick with the nice, simple metaphor of a jar. Here it is:



Then you have to imagine the things you do, your choices, how you wish to spend your time etc., as little marbles. To be more concise, marbles of variable size according to how important they are to you.


So now now you’ve got to try and fit these marbles into your jar, and you pop them in the order of priority. Say I prioritise the less important things in life, like…Reading my Facebook feed, watching Jeremy Kyle (to be fair I DO NOT watch Jeremy Kyle…I watch My Little Pony and Grand Designs, sue me) or trawling through the internet trying to find a slight variation on a cake recipe that doesn’t include eggs. I pop those in first:8

Then I place my medium-importance time-takers, like doing my laundry, tidying my room, doing my grocery shopping,  going through my emails and reading books or blogs about nutrition and mindfulness:


Then I put in my most valuable BIG BALLS of importance, for example: The people I love. My work. My health. My personal projects.


Oh crap…they don’t fit!

But you see, it’s because I put the marbles into the jar in the wrong order! If you prioritise the big, most important ones in first, the medium ones fall into the gaps and then the little ones slot into place easily too:

7Tada! Time management! That’s nice…

But it’s not that simple, is it? I love a good metaphor as much as any girl, but the reality is that choices are way, way, WAY more complex than placing a few marbles into a jar!! There are sub categories to consider – “People I love” = boyfriend, family, friends and colleagues. “Health” = Nutrition, Exercise, yoga, therapy…So then how do you choose between those big marbles? What if work clashes with family commitments, or family commitments clash with being there for a friend. What if fitting in exercise clashes with the need to get enough sleep, or sleeping clashes with trying to fit in deadlines. Sometimes personal projects like painting or blogging go from being big marbles to medium marbles to completely taking over. Sometimes finances or general life-admin needs to come first. And I didn’t even include trying to help make the world a more peaceful, sustainable place, because that’s pretty darn important too!

I guess the main thing to keep in mind is that although the Jar of Time is a simplified metaphor, it helps to identify what the most important things are to you and realise that if you put these things first then the other stuff will naturally slot in around them.  It’s okay to procrastinate from time to time, to snuggle up with a glass of wine in front of the TV or to occasionally Facebook stalk people you used to know years ago…but remember to fit the important stuff in first, they’re the key to real, lasting happiness, achieving your dreams and…well…not loosing your marbles😉