Crystal Balls vs. Rubber Balls: A Lesson in Setting Priorities Effectively

By: Gregg Dedrick, President & Co-Founder of David Novak Leadership

When was the last time you felt overwhelmed with all the things you needed to accomplish? Did stress settle in as you worried about how to juggle all the tasks on your list? Did you wonder what would happen if you dropped something? Would you lose your job? Would a relationship become broken? Would you have a second chance? Learning to set your priorities effectively helps you overcome the fear and worry tied to juggling lots of tasks.

A Lesson in Setting Priorities Effectively

My boss at Pepsi taught me a unique way to set my priorities effectively with a crystal ball vs. rubber ball analogy. Let me explain. My first job out of school was with Pepsi and I quickly learned their approach to discovering the best was rooted in a sink or swim mentality. You were automatically thrown into the deep end when you started, and the management team watched to see who would sink and who would swim. Fifty percent of new hires didn’t survive year one and 50% of year one survivors sank in year two.

I was blessed with a boss who set realistic expectations for me right out of the gate. My boss invited me to lunch at an expensive restaurant and shared advice on how to swim and survive. Here’s how the conversation went:

There are two types of companies you can join: ones where you eat well and ones where you sleep well.  As you can see, Pepsi is a company where you eat well. Here’s the deal: you will always have more work than you can EVER get done. You will constantly juggle lots of balls at work, so it’s important to identify what balls you’re juggling: crystal balls or rubber balls. If you drop a rubber ball, you can come back and pick it up later. However, if you drop a crystal ball, it will shatter and it’s all over for you. Make sure you understand the difference so you can effectively manage your priorities, Gregg.

Because of this experience at Pepsi, I developed a crystal ball vs. rubber ball mindset. I always juggle crystal balls and rubber balls in my life – whether personally or professionally. The challenge is to properly label each ball and then use that information to effectively manage my time. I identified my daughters as crystal balls when they were young, and I turned down jobs with travel during this time. My daughters needed my presence during those formative years and I didn’t want to miss out on something I could never get back.

When I retired from Yum! Brands, my dad had serious surgery. For two years, he was in and out of hospitals, and I spent significant time with him during this part of his life journey. This crystal ball moment with my dad required me to say no to some things. When my dad passed away, I was incredibly thankful that I saw him as a crystal ball, because I would have regretted missing out on the time we shared.

Setting Your Priorities:

What about you? Have you taken time to consider what’s a crystal ball or a rubber ball in your relationships? Professional life? Personal life? If you need some help setting your priorities, then download this guide. It includes an activity to help you think through your priorities and identify each one as a crystal ball or a rubber ball. Goethe provides us with a powerful reminder when it comes to setting priorities: Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least. Let’s identify what matters most so the cherished crystal balls in our lives maintain their beauty and get the attention they deserve.

Were you inspired to make a change based on what you read? Do you know someone who would benefit from understanding the difference between crystal balls and rubber balls? I’d like to invite you to pay it forward by giving the gift of effective time management. Who will you invest in today by sharing this blog and the guide?


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