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Last week I published an anecdote about a consultant who took a position that many of us have from time to time. He explained his interruption of service as the product of having gotten two large projects that exceeded his bandwidth, making him temporarily unavailable to fulfill an existing commitment.

Among many responses, I received the following from attorney Richard Keck, a partner in Macmillan Keck (New York). 

"When training young associates in time management skills, I sometimes refer to a lawyer’s mix of work as comprising boulders, rocks and sand. A boulder is a project so big it can consume one’s entire waking hours for days or weeks at a time with no end in sight. It’s tempting, therefore, to pour one’s self into a boulder non-stop and lay everything else aside until the project is done. However, one’s progress on a boulder is usually not impaired (at least not significantly) if one puts aside some time every day to tend to the rocks and sand. If I would have spent 80 hours this week on the boulder, but instead only spend 72 hours, then that’s only a 10% reduction in effort. I can use those 8 hours to finish several sand projects (100%) and make some progress on the rock projects (say 20-50%). My net loss in effort on the boulder is exceeded by my net gain on the rocks and sand. The boulder client will have no complaint, and the rocks and sand clients will be happy too. If one thinks about filling up a container (representing one’s time), one can put the most in it, leaving the least air (wasted time), by putting in a combination of boulders, rocks and sand. The rocks fill in the big gaps around the boulders and the sand fills in all the gaps around the rocks and the boulders. Most importantly, I should make every effort to touch all my active boulders, rocks and sand every week, or even more frequently as required. Some may call this juggling, but I call it quarrying.

You’re right, Mike. Your consultant made his problem your problem. He needs to learn how to be a better quarryman."

Thank you, Richard, for a very practical solution to this all-too-common problem. I trust that our readers will find it helpful.

Richard is in my sales coaching hall of fame for sheer creativity and determination. A young partner in a large firm, in the mid-'90s he moved from Atlanta to London to support telecom privatization and, with some training from me and almost no institutional help otherwise, manufactured a legal practice out of whole cloth.

Mike O'Horo

If you enjoyed this wisdom, take a few minutes to read Stone Soup, contributed a year ago by another reader.

If you have a topic idea and would like to write a guest post, please send me a note with your concept and a brief abstract of it.