Should I Use The Pickle Jar Theory For Managing My Employees?

Improving workflow productivity is a key objective for many in managerial positions and running businesses across the U.S. 

However, with the rise in workplace distractions and issues that arise with remote productivity management, it is notoriously difficult to improve productivity. Improving productivity can improve your return on investment (ROI) and lead to great success. 

One way of managing your employees is by using the pickle jar theory. If you’ve heard of it, you may be wondering what this theory is, how it works, and if it works to improve employee productivity.

What is the Pickle Jar Theory?

The pickle jar theory is a time management theory employees and individuals can use. Some of the most highly effective people use some sort of time management theory or technique, and implementing it in your workplace can improve overall efficiency. 

The concept is based on the contents of a jar, which holds pebbles, rocks, and sand. 

Here’s how it goes:

If you take the jar and load it with the sand first, then rocks, and then pebbles, you won’t have much room for anything. The sand takes up too much room and the rock and pebbles spill over. However, if you start with the rocks, which are the larger items, then you can fill the empty space with the smaller rocks and finally the sand. 

When applied to time management, the pickle jar suggests that our time is limited. In the concept of time, the jar represents our life. The empty jar is the amount of time that we have to give. When we fill our life or jar with things to do, it’s important to be strategic in how to approach it. If we fill up our time with little things, like the sand, then we will have no time for a more important task (the large rocks). 

Every day, we fill out our time with important things, less important things, and unimportant activities. How we go about our day and the activities we choose to fill our day can easily eat away at our given time. 

Applying the Pickle Jar Theory to Your Employees

The pickle jar theory is a visual metaphor and time management technique that helps people to determine which activities are useful and not useful. By using the pickle jar theory in your workplace or everyday life, you can start to categorize the activities into important vs unimportant and set priorities for the day. 

When you plan tasks through the pickle jar theory, it becomes more clear which tasks are prioritized and what you can do when you have a few hours to spare in the day. The pickle jar theory also applies to other strategies, like deep work, because it starts to look at your activities as more important vs. less important. Deep work looks at your activities as those that need a greater cognitive application or intensity and those that require less.

So how do you categorize your activities? You want to categorize your essential tasks as rocks, your semi-important tasks as pebbles, and unimportant tasks as sand. 

For example, unless your main job is to read emails and provide customer service, reading emails could easily be categorized as shallow work, according to deep work, and a less important task, or sand, according to the pickle jar theory. In contrast, your core job could be considered more important (the rocks) or the tasks that should be completed with the most focus, concentration, and time.

Putting Pickle Jar Theory in Practice at Your Workplace

As a manager, the pickle jar theory is definitely useful for time management in-house and remotely, for both employees and contractors. This theory can be applied on a managerial level or in practical situations. You can present this theory to your employees and ask them to categorize their tasks themselves or you can do this on your own for your employees. 

No matter which approach you take, be sure to work with your employees on their job descriptions so that they can clearly see from the perspective of your company which tasks are prioritized and which tasks aren’t as important. It’s also smart to work on goal setting during this time so that your employees can see progress once the pickle jar theory is put into place. 

Then, build your task list and start to categorize each task based on the highest priority and based on the employees’ core jobs. You may find yourself hung up when trying to categorize urgent tasks too. Consider whether they apply to the employees’ job description and then categorize them accordingly. 

Once the tasks are categorized and your process is set up, then you’ll want to organize the pickle jar-related tasks as themes in your employee monitoring system. In your employee monitoring system, you can color coordinate these tasks and only allow for a certain number of minor, less important tasks or a percentage of work being attributed to these tasks.

For example, if you have a 40-hour workweek employee, then you can allow them the following:

  • 5 tasks, or 15% of time dedicated to less important tasks (sand)
  • 5 tasks, or 35% of time dedicated to somewhat important tasks (pebbles)
  • 10 tasks, or 50% of time dedicated to more important tasks (rocks)

You’ll also want to look at when these tasks are being completed. If your employees are spending too much time on unimportant tasks (sand), look at when they are completing these tasks. If they are completing these tasks first, then ask your employees to start with the “rock” tasks or more important tasks first and see if the numbers shift.

Will the Pickle Jar Theory Work for Your Employees?

The pickle jar theory will work for your employees. Most importantly, they will tell your employees which tasks are prioritized vs non-prioritized and help them build time management skills

When employees are aware of which task is important, the percentage or number of tasks that they can complete dedicated to a certain type of task (more important vs less important), they can build the skills to stop any distraction and move back into important tasks or deep work more regularly. 

If you’re interested in the pickle jar theory as a management skill, then you’ll want a monitoring software to manage the employee time and productivity. 

Consider SoftActivity as your best bet for your employee monitoring system. SoftActivity can provide lots of features for effective time management and productivity management:

  • Real-time user activity monitoring
  • Time tracking software
  • Timesheets
  • Applications usage
  • Software usage
  • Webcam monitoring
  • Keystroke logging
  • Communications monitoring
  • And more!

With some dedication, you can give your employees a productivity boost. 

By SoftActivity Team.

June 20th, 2022