If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you’ve probably been asked about a million times to set an intention for class. I remember reading in some long-lost 2012 issue of Yoga Journal that we should consider doing the same thing as we wake up each morning and set an intention for the day ahead. I decided that was a fantastic idea — and then promptly forgot about it. Back in yoga class, I was being asked to set intentions again and again, seeing great emotional and physical achievements for it, yet scarcely considering bringing that practice into my life off the mat.

It wasn’t until years later, as I was combing the internet for tips on making the most of my time (rule #1 of time management: don’t waste half the day Googling “time management”) that intentions worked their way back into my life. I stumbled onto Zen Habits blogger Leo Babauta’s simplified productivity guide that sourced the wisdom of some of the more popular time management methods out there. The guide teaches readers to select a short list of their biggest and most vital tasks for the week and label them Big Rocks. The idea is to give these tasks the highest priority, and to do them as early as possible and at all costs.

When the Big Rocks are in place, the idea suggested, the small bits of gravel (a.k.a. all the busywork that is necessary in life but doesn’t move us very far forward) will fall into place around them; whereas when we let the gravel lead the way, it fills up all our space and time, leaving no room for the Big Rocks to even make their way into our lives. (That, friends, is how you find yourself spending the entire day doing nothing but putting out fires, answering emails, and never finding time to even touch your actual longterm projects.) The concept seemed vaguely reminiscent of yoga class. When I set my intention for class, I viewed it as committing to focus on that idea above all other emotions or distractions that came up. After all, if I tried to achieve three new poses at once in one hour-long class, I’d find myself frenzied at attempting to multitask and with little progress to show for it.

Soon after my lesson in Big Rocks, life got tough. A close family member died, I was broke, and I was at that super fun, universally-trodden crossroads of Doubting All My Life Choices and Questioning The Fabric Of My Reality. It was hard to think straight, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball for a few months until things got easier. Life was moving forward whether I liked it or not, and I had to find a way to stay as focused and functional as possible until my personal life mellowed out.