How’s this for a reality check — we’ve already gone through nearly an entire quarter of 2012.

You probably started January with some business goals in mind for the year. Have you made any progress in these first three months? If not, you need to focus on the big rocks.

If you’ve never seen this analogy demonstrated, picture a large jar sitting next to piles of large rocks, small rocks and sand. The jar represents your time and resources. The rocks represent things you need or want to accomplish in your business. Large rocks signify the most important things (goals), small rocks represent things of lesser importance, and sand signifies things that are least important and just take up time.

Now imagine yourself filling the jar with small rocks and sand. There’s no room left for the big rocks — which is exactly what happens when we fill our time and resources with things that aren’t all that important, while putting aside things that really count.

Business owners often lack focus on priorities and fill their “jars” with too many other things. They rationalize this by thinking they’ll be better prepared to take care of the really big stuff if they deal with the little things first.

An example is delaying working on a critical project by taking a phone call that could have been returned later, allowing a drop-in visitor to interrupt them, or “taking just a few minutes” to check Internet news or read non-critical email. This hurts their business, takes their focus off their priorities, and ultimately causes enormous stress when they find themselves crunched for time to finish the project.

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When people consistently put off dealing with the big rocks, their jars are so filled with other things that they have no time or energy left to devote to priorities. Allowing valuable time to be consumed by interruptions and insignificant things can prevent them from ever reaching important business goals.

Let’s talk more about the rocks and what they represent to your business, time and resources.

Big Rocks — your goals. Your goals are the three to five most important things you want to accomplish in your company within a certain period of time. They may have to do with sales, profitability, improved cash flow, operations, or other parts of your business. It’s helpful to have them in a written format, broken down into major segments needed to attain them (objectives), and action steps with assigned completion dates.

A good practice is reviewing your goals, objectives and action steps twice a week, preferably on Monday and Friday. On Monday, take note of what may need to be done during the week. On Friday, review what’s been accomplished that week to see if you’re staying on-track.

If you consistently find yourself shelving tasks related to goals for later dates, you’ll struggle to reach them. The more you treat goals as priorities and focus on them instead of a lot of smaller rocks each week, you more you’ll move toward the desired outcomes.

Small Rocks — items having less importance. If you were to write down all the various other things you want to accomplish in your business to make it better, stronger or grow, you’d likely have a very long list.

Some of these might seem important. But they don’t carry the weight your goals carry because your goals are the most important things that will move your business in the direction you want it to go. You should only focus on the small rocks after you’ve taken care of what’s necessary in working toward reaching your goals. If you fill your jar with large rocks first, you can decide what room you have left for the small rocks

Sand — all the other things. When thinking of other uses for your time and resources, you could probably come up with a hundred or more things. These should be considered “someday” items and only addressed once the rocks have been dealt with. We’re not saying you should never check the news or latest sports scores — they just shouldn’t push more important things out of the way

If time limitations constantly keep you from working on the most important things, you might try logging your time for a week to see where and how it’s spent. You’ll likely find a lot of “sand” that could be delegated to someone else or done away with entirely. By practicing good time management and prioritizing how you use each day, you’ll start recognizing when things are time wasters and detract from working toward your goals.

Your time is the one resource you can never replace once it’s gone, and you need to use it wisely. So don’t let the less important or insignificant things crowd your day. Begin by filling your jar with big rocks.

Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. They are authors of The Step Dynamic: A Powerful Strategy for Successfully Growing Your Business.