You might be wondering why you’re reading about pickles when you set out to learn how to manage your time. Stick with us, and we’ll show you how the Pickle Jar Theory can change how you approach time management and help you get more done.

We’ve all been there: a busy day of work ahead of you, but you have no idea where to start. Important deadlines, daily administrative tasks, and an overfull email inbox all demand your time and attention. The key is to determine what you have to do for the day and how important each task is. Ditch the unimportant tasks and, from there, you can employ the Pickle Jar Theory.

The Pickle Jar Theory, also known as the jar of life theory or the bucket of rocks theory, introduces a new way to create a schedule that prioritizes your mission-critical tasks while accounting for the time it takes to work on less critical (but still necessary) projects.

Now, let’s delve into the quirky world of pickle jars and learn how everyone’s favorite crunchy snack can help you reframe your workday.

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What is the Pickle Jar Theory?

In 2002, Jeremy Wright introduced the Pickle Jar Theory, which suggests that time, much like the capacity of a pickle jar, is finite. This theory states that to optimize time management, we must determine the relative importance of each task and use their importance to manage scheduling.

"Time management theories have come and gone. I've tried many of these, and most have failed because of the sheer amount of time I need to commit to the theory in order to save some time." 

Jeremy Wright
Inventor of Pickle Jar Theory

Tired of wasting time trying to nail time management? Jeremy Wright gets it, and so do we. The idea behind the Pickle Jar theory is simplicity. You just need to find the tasks that matter and build your day around them. Then, fill in the leftover time in your day with less time-sensitive work. 

Every day, we have urgent tasks with an immediate deadline, like submitting a budget or presenting in a meeting. Then, we have our less crucial tasks, like planning your calendar or responding to emails. 

Of course, all these tasks need to be completed, but the trick is keeping yourself from spending too much time on less important work. Here’s how you can use the Pickle Jar Theory to do just that. 

Understanding the components 

Illustration of implementing the Pickle Jar Theory.

If you found your way here by searching for time management strategies, you might be wondering, “What’s with all this talk about rocks, pebbles, and sand?” These elements symbolize tasks of varying importance that need to be accomplished during your day. 

Let’s look at what these figurative elements mean.

  • Rocks. Representing the most pivotal tasks, rocks are the tasks that have serious consequences if not addressed immediately. These are your biggest goals and most critical projects. Examples of “rock” tasks include completing quarterly planning or preparing a presentation for a big client meeting.
  • Pebbles. Tasks in this category still have substantial benefits and need to be done but are less time-sensitive. These daily responsibilities populate our schedules and support the “rock” tasks. Attending 1:1 meetings and planning your week are “pebble” tasks.
  • Sand. Within the realm of work, “sand” signifies elements that are necessary but don’t immediately contribute to your overall goals. “Sand” tasks include responding to emails and social networking. You still need to do them; you just don’t need to spend much time on them or do them urgently.
  • Water. The “water” element of the Pickle Jar theory symbolizes your personal life. Tasks like working out or picking up your kids from daycare are considered “water” tasks. The water element wasn’t in Wright’s initial theory but was added later by others. We’ve included it here because work-life balance is vital for a successful day.
Sleep deprivation has increased by 31% since 1985 due to longer working hours.


Before we build our schedule using the Pickle Jar Theory, let’s establish the rules of the game.  

  1. Avoid overcrowding your jar. Don’t overload your jar with too many big rocks. Focus on what truly matters to prevent overwhelming your day with too many big tasks. Make sure your most important task makes the cut, but you’ll want to add less than four big rock tasks to your jar.
  2. Include time for personal life. In the hustle of managing your Pickle Jar, remember to dedicate time to your private life. This could come in the form of pursuing hobbies or simply taking a breather. Balancing work and private life is vital for a sustainable time management technique.
  3. Emergency jar. Reserve a portion of your Pickle Jar for unexpected or emergency tasks. A little buffer in your day ensures you can address urgent matters that arise without sabotaging your entire Pickle Jar. Your “emergency time” can just be the 30 minutes you set aside for emails in the afternoon. If a problem arises, you can quickly pivot this time to putting out fires.
  4. Batch similar tasks. Group similar tasks together and tackle them in batches. Task batching minimizes the mental load of switching between different types of activities and enhances your efficiency.

Now that you know the pieces of this puzzle and the rules to follow, let’s work on putting them all together. 

Implementing the Pickle Jar Theory

Illustration of the Pickle Jar Theory with key.

Step-by-step guide to building your schedule

  1. Begin by placing 2 or 3 rocks into the “jar.” These will be your big goals for the day. Naturally, they will take longer than your other tasks.
  2. Next, arrange a few pebbles over the jar and adjust them to fit snugly. Don’t allow too much time to complete these tasks. 30-45 minutes should be plenty.
  3. Following that, add a handful of sand to the jar. Again, these tasks should take around 30 minutes to complete.
  4. Conclude by filling the remaining space with water. Plan time for a lunch break and a few other breaks during the day. 

Example of a daily Pickle Jar schedule

7:00 amWater: Go for a quick run before work
8:00 amRock #1: Complete a presentation for your stakeholder meeting in the afternoon
9:15 amWater: Take a short coffee break
9:30 amSand: Check your emails and Slack messages
10:00 amPebbles: A quick stand-up meeting with co-workers to catch up on tasks
10:30 amRock #2: Finish your budget planning for Q2
12:30 pmWater: Run home to let the dog out and eat some lunch
1:30 pmRock #3: Meeting presenting to stakeholders on Q1 OKRs
3:30 pmSand: Respond to a few Slack messages and coordinate with your team for a meeting later in the day
4:00 pmPebbles: Organize your meetings for the next week, make a few phone calls
4:30 pmSand: More emails and responding to Slack messages to end the day
5:00 pmWater: Pick up your kids from daycare and start thinking about what to make for dinner

Benefits of using the Pickle Jar Theory

When it comes to time management techniques, we’ve tried it all. The Pomodoro Method and Eat the Frog are two examples of time management tricks that work for our team. The Pickle Jar Theory is our new favorite. 

The benefits of the Pickle Jar Theory and time management strategies as a whole are compelling. When you use these strategies correctly, the time it takes to master them is well worth it. 

Let’s take a look at what you stand to gain from becoming a Pickle Jar expert. 

  • Prioritize what matters. The Pickle Jar Theory helps you determine what matters and give those tasks your time and energy. It helps you focus on things that help you reach your goals while leaving time for less time-sensitive work.
  • Visualize your time. The overall theory of the Pickle Jar is that time is a limited resource. This awareness helps you be strategic with how you spend your time.
  • Get stuff done. Knowing when you will tackle each task can make you more productive. According to Parkinson’s Law, the amount of work you have to do will stretch to fit the time you set for completion. With the Pickle Jar Theory, you’re setting yourself up for success by telling yourself how long each task in your day will take.
  • Connect with your goals. Apply the Pickle Jar idea to connect your daily tasks with your bigger goals. This approach helps you achieve your long-term dreams by ensuring your daily actions align with what matters.

The Pickle Jar Theory advocates for a shift in your approach to time management, moving away from a chronological sequence of tasks to an optimized schedule that allows for big and small tasks to be completed.  

Final words: Time tracking can help you execute

Say goodbye to the feeling that there are too few hours in the day. With a clear distinction between tasks and a set time to get them done, even on your busiest day, you’ll accomplish your goals with the Pickle Jar theory. Mastering time management skills and bringing the Pickle Jar Theory into your daily life is the next step. 

Luckily, you don’t have to do it manually. Find a time tracking tool to help you track the segments of your day that should be allocated for rocks, pebbles, sand, and water.

A screenshot of Hubstaff's desktop client

We built our tool to handle our time management struggles and know it can help you, too. Hubstaff is a comprehensive workforce management tool that tracks time and productivity. When used with the Pickle Jar method, a time tracking tool can help you:

  • Understand time allocation
  • Identify time-wasting activities
  • Improve project management
  • Enable accurate billing and invoicing. 

Who would have thought that managing time could leave us craving pickles? If this theory has taught us anything, it’s to optimize your schedule so you have time for a bit of balance — especially if that break includes grabbing a snack from the pickle jar.

Category: Time Management