Wisdom in the Fish Tank

A motivational message from leadership expert Jim Stovall.

My late, great friend and colleague, Dr. Stephen Covey, was among the most influential writers, speakers, and thought leaders of our time. His book, First Things First, should be required reading for anyone wanting to succeed in business or in life.

Here in the 21st century, we are bombarded with opportunities to spend our time doing all manner of things. Some are productive, and others are not. In order to know if we are spending our time wisely, we must know what return we hope to get from any investment of time as time is more precious than money or any other commodity because it can never be replaced or recaptured.

I shared the stage on several occasions with Dr. Covey, and he was fond of using an object lesson demonstrated by an audience member to make a memorable impression. Dr. Covey would bring an empty 20-gallon fish tank onto the stage. It was a four-sided glass rectangle, so it was obvious to everyone present that there was nothing in the tank.

He picked a volunteer from the audience and asked her to fill the tank using rocks that were about the size of softballs and were piled up near the fish tank. The audience volunteer dutifully placed the rocks into the fish tank filling it to the top. When it was clear that she couldn’t get one more rock into the tank, Dr. Covey asked a simple but profound question. “Is the tank full?” The volunteer from the audience and the rest of the crowd agreed that the tank was completely full.

Dr. Covey then handed the volunteer a bucket filled with gravel and asked her to pour the gravel into the tank. Two and one-half buckets later, the gravel filled the tank to the top. Dr. Covey then asked another poignant question. “Obviously the tank wasn’t filled before, but is it full now?” Just as everyone agreed the tank was completely full, Dr. Covey handed the volunteer from the audience a bucket of sand and asked her to pour it into the tank. Several buckets of sand were emptied into the fish tank before the sand reached the top. Dr. Covey inquired again, “So now, is the fish tank full?” The audience members, seeing the fish tank filled with sand, all agreed that the fish tank was completely full, and nothing else would fit inside.

Then Dr. Covey handed the audience volunteer a bucket of water and asked her to pour it into the tank. After several buckets were poured into the fish tank, the water reached the top level, clearly demonstrating that although on several occasions the fish tank appeared to be completely full, it was not.

Dr. Covey then brought out another empty fish tank and asked the volunteer to fill it again, but change the order so the water would go in first, followed by the sand, then the gravel, and finally the rocks. It rapidly became obvious to everyone there that in order to get the maximum amount in the fish tank, the tank must be filled in the right order. In this way, Dr. Covey demonstrated one of the most powerful time management and success tools of all time. “Do the right thing next and the next thing right.”

As you go through your day today, remember the wisdom that can be held within a fish tank.

Today’s the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift. He is also a columnist and motivational speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK  74145-9082; by email at Jim@JimStovall.com; on Twitter at www.twitter.com/stovallauthor; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jimstovallauthor.

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