Pickle Jar Theory


The Pickle Jar Theory was developed by a designer, developer, and author

in 2002.

What is it?

In his theory for effective time management, he proposed the idea of conceptualizing one’s life or time in life as a pickle jar.

The space in the jar is finite, i.e., you have only 24 hours in a day. You have to fill the jar with rocks, pebbles, sand, and water.

If you fill the jar with the sand first, you would be able to fill only a few rocks and pebbles, but if you fill the jar with the rocks first, there would still be room for pebbles, sand, and water.

It depends on how you choose to fill the jar, i.e., use your time.

However, ideally, the jar should be filled in an order that leaves enough space for everything else.

The rocks, pebbles, sand, and water are analogies for critical, less critical, least important tasks and one’s personal life, respectively.

This theory is also called The Bucket of Rocks Theory or The Jar of Life Theory. 

Highly productive people use their time and resources efficiently to get things done before time.

Using this time management theory, one can effectively plan their day, get everything done in due time and still have time to spend with their family or friends.

Why does it work?

  • Helps efficiently manage your time in a day
  • Helps organize work in a schedule
  • Helps prioritize urgent and essential tasks, respectively
  • Eliminates distractions
  • Helps overcome procrastination
  • Helps avoid multitasking
  • Gives time blocks to finish a task that helps get things done before time
  • Boosts productivity

How does it work?

  1. Make a list: The first step of the Pickle Jar Theory is to list down all the tasks at hand. Once you have the tasks, rank them as rocks, pebbles, sand, and water.
  2. Rank the tasks: Rocks represent the urgent tasks that may need to be delivered on the same day or need to be done first. Pebbles represent the critical tasks that are not urgent but still important, e.g., meetings or tasks due tomorrow. Sand represents all the leisure activities. Although they are only distractions in life, they are essential to keep your mind relaxed, including phone calls, emails, social media, etc. Finally, the water represents your family life.
  3. Assign time blocks: Once you have listed the tasks, assign the estimated time to each. The estimation needs to be as accurate as possible so that no time is wasted.
  4. Fill the jar: Start your day with the most important tasks and finish them in the estimated time block.
  5. Keep the margin: The estimated time may often not represent the exact time it takes to finish a task; you also need to keep some time for the sand and water. Moreover, some urgent or unexpected tasks may come in. Therefore, it is best to plan only 6 hours in 8 hours working day to keep the margin for sand, water, and unexpected tasks.


Daniel was recently promoted to a managerial role. He often spent half of his day in meetings and discussions, worked late hours, and constantly felt exhausted and unproductive.

One day, following the Pickle Jar Theory, he started by listing down all the essential tasks for that day.

Then, he assigned the hours he expected to spend on each task. His list looked somewhat like this:

Estimated Time 
Preparing a financial report
2 Hour
Presentation to be delivered today
1 Hour
Social Media
0.5 hours
Check WhatsApp
15 minutes
Call a friend to wish birthday
15 minutes
Analyze data from the previous meetings
2 hours
Daily team meeting
0.5 hours
Weekly team meeting
0.5 hours

He started the day following the tasks in order of ranks, i.e., rocks first, followed by pebbles, then sand and water.

Finally, he observed that he could finish his most important tasks and was still free at 6:00 to go home and spend time with his family.

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