Time management has become one of those over-used terms, in my opinion, and has lost its luster. Many people think that time management an ever-elusive skill or concept that they will never master, and have just sort of given up (kind of like life-work balance, but I will save that for another article!). I think one reason for this is that time management can seem so structured and constrictive, and that can be a real turn off for people. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Time management can be a bit more creative and loose, and yet still powerful and effective. Enter the Bucket Method.
When I speak about productivity, people invariably ask me for the perfect time management system. And generally, I tell them that the perfect system doesn’t exist, as time management is one of those things that is very personal to the user. One person’s dream of a time management system may be the next person’s nightmare. However, I started mentioning this creative concept of time management in a bucket and noticed that it resonated with a lot of people, including attendees in my audiences and my private coaching clients.
Many of my clients ask me to put them on a strict time map type program, where we map out their week and define blocks of time on their calendar with chunks of activities. For example, Mondays from 9-11 they reply to email, from 11-12, they return phone calls, from 1-4, they work on expenses and financials, from 4-5, they work on marketing activities, etc. This type of structured time approach can work wonders for some people. But for others, it can feel like a straight jacket! And then they rebel, which is just human nature when a system feels too confined and you yearn to break free from it.
So how does the Bucket Method work? It’s simple actually (and that’s part of what makes it so powerful, as you don’t need a PhD in time management to implement it!). We all have projects and tasks that we need to tend to. Some of them are deadline driven and some are more open ended. They fall into several major categories (personal, home, business/career, etc.) and can be broken down into smaller tasks. The first plan of action is to dump all of the projects and tasks into a Master Project List. That is what you will use to fill your buckets (some people do this visually, by putting post it notes on a chalk board for example and then choosing those projects/tasks and dropping the post it notes into a “bucket” for a day; others do it virtually by adding these tasks to their calendar on their smart phone).
What the Bucket Method focuses on is choosing a theme for each day (or a few themes, but not a ton of them), and then filling that day’s “bucket” with anything that matches that theme. For example, some business owners use a theme on Mondays of Marketing. Anything on your project or task list that pertains to Marketing can be dropped into that bucket and you can focus on it that day. Some people do errands on a Saturday, so they fill that bucket with all of the errands on that day, rather than scattering them throughout the week. You can choose a few themes for your bucket, but not too many (or it will be a scattered, multi-tasking kind of day, which studies show is not the best use of time and energy).
How do you organize your time within a bucket? However you want! I know that sounds sacrilegious but the key isn’t a strict compartmentalization of projects and tasks each day, but to stick with what’s in the bucket. Interestingly, many people still get a lot more done than they used to without the bucket method. Why? I can only surmise here, but my guess is that they choose the theme for the buckets based on their interests, energy level, and what else is going on in their life and work (maybe even based subliminally on priorities or deadlines without that hitting them over the head as a requirement). It actually allows them to choose what they want to do out of what they have to do.
Sure, some people would just leave a project or task on the Master List that they don’t want to do and procrastinate over it by never filling a bucket with it. But by and large, most people that try this start filling their buckets and getting stuff done! They find it freeing, and that feels very anti-time management, even though it is indeed a time management system. Because when it comes right down to it, we can’t really manage time anyway. What we are managing is the process of filling our time with projects and tasks. And when we feel like we have control over that through the Bucket Method, but not so much control that we feel smothered, then it seems for some people to be just right.