Manage time using ‘Pickle Jar Theory’

I love all kinds of pickles–sweet dill pickles, pickled beets, gherkins, capers, pickled eggs, pickled cauliflower, green tomato pickles, bread and butter pickles, “stackers,” and especially my mother’s homemade pickles.
According to legend, pickles have been spicing up otherwise bland meals for more than 4,000 years, when the people of Mesopotamia first preserved cucumbers.
And people have been eating pickles ever since.
Cleopatra, who reigned from 51 B.C. to 30 B.C., ate pickles because she believed they would make her more beautiful. And the fathers of our own country–George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—both were big pickle fans.
In fact, our continent is named after a pickle dealer. When Christopher Columbus sailed halfway around the world looking for the new world, he brought pickles for their vitamin C content in order to protect his crew from scurvy.
The pickles came from a pickle dealer named Amerigo Vespucci. Thus, the name of our continent–America.
Today, pickles remain a popular food. According to, the official website of Pickle Packers International, Americans eat more than 20 billion pickles a year–enough to reach to the moon and back TWICE!
Obviously, we all like munching on pickles. But I never associated pickles with the way I spent my time until about eight years ago, when I ran into the “Pickle Jar Theory” of time management.
“Time Management: The Pickle Jar Theory,” an article by Jeremy Wright, begins with, “There’s something about a nice crunchy pickle. . . . As a wise man once said, ‘It’s like a taste explosion in your mouth!’”
But Wright goes on to say, “This article really has nothing to do with pickles, nor does it have anything to do with eating.”
It turns out that the “Pickle Jar Theory” is about the jar, not the pickles. It uses the analogy of an empty pickle jar to think about how we use the fixed amount of time available to each of us every day.
Imagine you have a large empty pickle jar. Then fill the jar with small rocks. When you can’t fit any more rocks in, fill the empty spaces with pebbles.
Next, pour sand in to fill the tiny spaces remaining. And finally, pour water into the jar.
Rocks are our most important priorities. Pebbles are the things we love doing. Sand is the things we have to do. And water is tasks that simply clutter up our lives.
The “Pickle Jar Theory” is designed to put balance in your life.
As you plan your day, begin with your rocks. That way, whatever else you do, you will finish your most important priorities. Be sure to distinguish carefully between rocks (top priorities) and sand (little time-consuming tasks).
And always save some time for fun and enjoyment–the pebbles.
Finally, let go of the water. No need to overfill your pickle jar. Your life will be in better balance without the meaningless clutter of busywork.
So, if you always have too long a to-do list, why not join me in trying the “Pickle Jar Theory” in the New Year?
Just as pickles spice up your dinner, this approach to time management is sure to add some spark to your days.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at