Big Rocks

Living ZTD Month 2: Planning


ZTD, or Zen To Done, has a similar name to the cult-like GTD. It’s no accident, as ZTD takes many of its tenets from GTD. The first two habits, Collect and Process, are straight out of the GTD book. Habit 3, however, is where things start to diverge.

Aimless Wandering

GTD doesn’t espouse any form of goal setting or prioritization, at least not for the day to day management of tasks. That is by design because author David Allen recommends living off flat lists, segregated along (physical) contexts. Of course, he doesn’t advocate aimlessly going through those todo lists but relies on the person’s intuition about what things are more important than others.

This, however, is a chicken and egg problem. If the person excelled at intuitively knowing what is important, much less differentiate important from urgent. At least in the beginning, he or she needs to have some safety net and guide. Especially when you barely have the energy to make a decision on what to do next, you’ll have to have made that decision beforehand. That said, ZTD doesn’t go overboard with prioritizing every task and every list. It all boils down to Big Rocks and MITs.

Big Rocks

This is just a catchy name for the most important tasks for the week. You could also call it your weekly MIT (Most Important Task) but that break the analogy. To best fill a jar with rocks, because everyone loves filling glass jars with rocks, you put in first the big rocks followed by the smaller rocks. And then you pour in the sand that takes up the rest of the space. The big rocks are your, well, Big Rocks, the smaller rocks are your daily MITs, and the sand are the rest of your todos.

The Big Rocks don’t necessarily mean the things you immediately need to get done. They are big because of their importance, not urgency, though at times those can be the same thing. In short, these are the things that need to get done this week, no questions asked. ZTD author Leo Babuta recommends some moderation in choosing the Big Rocks for the week, 4 to 6 at most. There are some methods, however, that find 3 to be the sweet spot. It’s large enough to ensure you actually have something significant going on that week but still small enough to be manageable.


If Big Rocks are your battle plan for the whole week, MITs are for your daily skirmishes. The name says it all: Most Important Tasks. Unlike Big Rocks, which you may schedule for any time within the week, these MITs have to get accomplished during the day.

Again, you choose and schedule only as much as you need and not more, with 3 being the “magic” number. Unlike with the Big Rocks, however, there is a bit more flexibility with MITs. If you manage to finish your 3 for the day, you can also do more from your probably never empty list of todos. But when starting out, it’s best to develop the habit of not going overboard.

When and How to Plan

These two things pretty much encapsulate what’s needed to get them set up. You pick your Big Rocks before the week starts and your MITs before each day starts. The intricacies of the process might trip up those trying to get started on the habit.

It’s important to choose a specific time each week and each day when to do your planning. That might be a personal decision depending on your usual schedule, energy levels, and preferences. Some prefer to do Big Rock planning on Friday before the work day ends while next week’s tasks are still fresh in one’s mind. Others prefer doing it Sunday evening to give a fitting end to the week. Still, others do it very early on Mondays to start the week fresh and energized.

It’s the same deal with daily planning. Some choose to plan ahead for the next day before they call it a day while others prefer to do the brainstorming in the quiet early hours of the morning. It’s really a matter of personal preference, but the critical ingredient here is consistency. Whatever time you choose, you should stick to it every day and week, no excuses.

The planning process is simpler than choosing when to do it. At the start (or before) each week, you take a look at your todo lists and projects and decide on 3 tasks that have to be absolutely done that week. These three, when accomplished, should give you a sense of victory. You then schedule these tasks throughout the week, as early in the day as possible. If they’re pretty major tasks, you should try spacing them out to prevent burnout. If the tasks have deadlines attached, then the decision has already been made for you.

At the start of the day or the night before, you repeat the process but for MITs. Choose 3 tasks that have to be done for the next day that will give you the same sense of accomplishment. It may or may not be the same as the Big Rock scheduled for that day. That’s up to you to decide. What matters is that you schedule these as early in the day as possible to make sure you get to them first before drowning in the busy-ness of the day. Of course, unless you have limited time in the mornings but have pockets of time after work. Just make sure you still have enough energy for those in that case.

The planning process does presume that you do already have a handy list of tasks ready, which means you should have already cleared your inboxes and segregated them. Naturally, the planning process for the week takes longer than the daily ones because you usually have to do inbox processing, Big Rocks planning, and MIT planning for the next day. That is something to consider when deciding when to have your regular planning time.

Join the discussion

  1. andyson

    That is something to consider when deciding when to have your regular planning time.