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Introducing: Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

Here at Intelligent Change, we are big advocates of quarterly planning when it comes to setting our business goals. Why? The simple answer is that prioritizing a few goals, rather than trying to juggle many, is better for us on many levels. When we focus on a small number of goals at a time, instead of moving several tasks and projects forward at once, we dramatically increase our focus, chances of success, and, in the process, also protect our mental well-being.

So how do you go about working out which of your goals to focus on every quarter?

We asked ourselves the same question. After reading Traction by Gino Wickman, we were inspired to implement rocks into the Quarterly Productivity Planner to achieve impressive growth. Wickman advocates the The Entrepreneurial Operating System®, a system he developed to help individuals and companies function in a more cohesive and focussed way to aid business growth and help achieve a better life balance and harmony.

Here is an excerpt from the Quarterly Productivity Planner to introduce you to a rocks system we have been successfully using as a team for the 10 years.


Start with creating a clear vision for what you want to achieve and write down a list of milestones you’ll need to meet to get you there. Then, identify your own rocks. These are the three-to-seven goals that are the most important for your vision to become a reality.

Rocks, pebbles, and sand

Imagine you have a large empty glass and are given rocks, pebbles, and sand to fill it. Your task is to fit as much of each element into the glass as possible. What would you put in first? Did you say sand? If the sand goes in first you won’t have much space for the rocks and pebbles. The correct answer is the rocks. You can then fit the pebbles around the rocks, and finally pour in the sand to fill the smaller spaces around the rocks and pebbles.

1. The rocks represent the biggest goals in your life. If the pebbles and sand are removed, the most important things remain and the jar still appears full.
2. The pebbles signify the aims that are important to you, but not essential.
3. The sand symbolizes your least significant objectives and tasks.

Many of us get stuck moving the sand around—managing our inboxes, for example—and then don’t have the time or headspace to focus on the rocks—the projects and objectives that will really move our careers or businesses to the next level.

Focussing on a smaller number of rocks, instead of trying to move all of your goals forward at once, will allow you the time and space to commit to reaching your aims and, ultimately, improve your chances of succeeding. When we try to focus on a high number of long-term goals at once, we can become overwhelmed and struggle to prioritize. We may also spend too much time on the least important tasks, as these will often seem easier to tackle.

Working on three-to-seven rocks at a time is not only more manageable, it also means you’re more likely to stay motivated and excited by your end goal, rather than it becoming a chore.

As you move through the quarters, keep the following in mind:

1. Rocks: Your highest priority goals

2. Pebbles: Important but not high priority

3. Sand: Everything else

Keep, combine, eliminate

Your first step to creating your rocks is to filter your quarterly goals by keeping, combining, or eliminating each one. Take a look at the list of the goals you set for yourself in 2023 and ask yourself which goals are essential and non-negotiable: these go on your “keep” list.

Next, identify goals that can be combined—perhaps wanting to lead on a work project could

be combined with a goal to be more assertive, or wanting more time to learn a new skill could be combined with a desire to manage your time more efficiently. Then decide which of these you want to add to the “keep” list.

Lastly, think about the goals that are important to you but not essential for the next quarter, and eliminate them. This doesn’t mean the goal is forgotten forever—if a goal ends up on your “eliminate” list, accept that this may not be the best time to tackle it and move it forward to the next quarter.

Now take a look at the goals on your “keep” list. Ask yourself which are important enough to become your rocks for this quarter. You should aim to have three-to-seven rocks at the end of this process, and less is definitely more—the fewer the number of rocks, the more time you’ll be able to dedicate to each one.

This may seem harsh, but filtering and prioritizing is an important step. The reality is that you’re unlikely to have the time, energy, or resources to achieve all of your desired goals at once, so by filtering and categorizing in this way you’re able to work out which are the most important to you and increase your chances of success.

Setting SMART rocks

Setting SMART rocks will greatly maximize your chances of success.

Aim for your rocks to be:

(S)pecific

(M)easurable

(A)ttainable

(R)ealistic

(T)imely

Be specific about the result you want. If you aim to increase the turnover of your business this next quarter, state your financial goal clearly. Ensure your rocks are measurable—they should be easy to assess as complete or incomplete at the end of the quarter. Your chance of success will increase if your rocks are attainable.

Be realistic about what you can achieve in the timeframe. While challenging yourself to move outside of your comfort zone can be a positive, setting unachievable goals can lead to feelings of failure and knock your confidence. Lastly, your rocks need to be timely. Ask yourself if you have the time needed to reach your aim in the next 90 days. If not, use this quarter to focus on other rocks and move this one on to the next quarter.

Aiming high and being ambitious is a positive attribute, but, in order to realize your vision, it’s important to ensure that your rocks are manageable. Likewise, aiming too low may hinder your chances of achieving your annual goals.

When selecting your rocks, consider if each one has an 80% chance of succeeding. If your prediction is below 80%, the rock may be too tricky to tackle this quarter. If it’s above 80%, you may be selling yourself short. Aim for your rocks to be challenging but achievable, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful quarter.


This year, introduce new concept into your life and work: mindful productivity. Discover the Quarterly Productivity Plannera smart 90-day planning system designed to maximize your growth, consistent progress, and mindful living.

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