Saturday Musings - The Bucket Theory

I often find myself talking to my own kids about buckets. These aren’t the regular buckets that you carry water around in but relate more to the short, medium and long-term plans for your life. Over the years, I’ve found that having buckets has been really advantageous in understanding my own direction in life.

Items in the short-term bucket are things such as earning money to put food on the table and a roof over your head. Without this bucket being constantly topped up then you’ll find it a lot harder to get through life.

The medium-term bucket is sub-five years. It has things such as education, training and gaining experience in it. This bucket is all about investing in yourself so that you can become better at whatever you do.

Then there’s the long-term bucket. This covers who you are and why you do the things that you do. In this bucket are items such as character building, relationships, guiding life principles and typically spiritually related issues. There’s only two things that are certain in this world, death and taxes.. This is the bucket that is all about what you would like people to say about you when you die.

Many people get stuck in the short-term bucket believing that if they can just earn more money then all of their problems will vanish. I’ve met a number of these individuals and they’ve climbed the ladder of success to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall. They are very wealthy, have no close friends, disaster of a family and are often very shallow.

Those people that only focus on the medium-term end up starving and having bad relationships. These sort of people are often amazingly smart but incredibly unwise.

I could summarise the “long-termer” in one sentence….They’re so heavenly minded that they’re often no earthly good.” In other words, the people that focus entirely on this bucket believe that it’s a waste of time working to pay the bills and it never occurs to them that skills are worthwhile.

So back to my kids. I counsel them to work a little at all three buckets. There will be times in their life that they may have a focus (eg. Studying) but to never completely neglect any single bucket. They need to live now, develop skills and never forget that character is vitally important.

For example, this week my daughter had a flat tyre. She had no idea what to do so I went out and put the spare tyre on and discovered that it was also flat. In the process I found that the tyres weren’t just flat, she was driving on the metal belts on the inside edge.....not good!

She had to go out that night (urgent friend business) and said that she would just drive the car on the flat tyre. This caused me to relieve her of the car key. This then meant that Dad was the worst enemy in the world at which point I asked her why she was getting so angry at the person that was about to help her.

So here was her problem. The short-term bucket didn’t have any cash in it to fix the tyres, the medium bucket didn’t know what to do with the situation and the long-term bucket of our relationship was taking a beating.

The next day she took a bus to her part-time job (Dad still had the car key) and unbeknown to her I started solving the problem. I managed to get the car to a tyre workshop (that’s a long story) and had three of them replaced plus a general check-up. It was no longer a death machine...which is always good!

When she returned home she was so happy that her car was up and going (short-term). I then took her through (again) some basic car maintenance (tyres, brakes and steering) to help improve her skills (medium-term) and to point out the disaster that driving on a flat tyre could be. We then had a talk about our relationship and that working on the problem is far better than yelling (long-term).

Later that night, this is what she posted on Facebook:

I would just like to take a moment to acknowledge how amazing my father is! I found out my car was more like death on wheels yesterday. And while I was at work today (I took the bus) my dad took my car to a mechanics and got 3 brand new tires and a wheel alignment done for me. Thank you to the best daddy in the world! Even when I yell and scream at you, you always amaze me with how selfless and thoughtful you are xx

This story wasn’t to show how great a Dad I am….trust me when I say that all Dad’s struggle. It does illustrate that working on the different buckets is so important. If I had left my daughters car broken and tried to mend our relationship then my guess is that I wouldn’t have received the above post. After all, what’s the point in talking to a starving man about their character? Give them a meal first dummy!

I find the buckets can be used in many different areas of my life and help me approach problems by considering the implications of the short, medium and long-term. I hope that you find this blog interesting and even share a few of your own experiences. Have a great weekend!


Michael Gilmour has been in business for over 32 years and has both a BSC in Electronics and Computer Science and an MBA. He was the former vice-chairman of the Internet Industry Association in Australia and is in demand as a speaker at Internet conferences the world over. He has also recently published his first science fiction book, Battleframe.

Michael is passionate about working with online entrepreneurs to help them navigate their new ventures around the many pitfalls that all businesses face. Due to demands on his time, Michael may be contacted by clicking here for limited consulting assignments.

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Saturday Musings - Life in Four Buckets

This past week I was talking with my two adult children, Tim and Sarah, about life and how I manage to choose and allocate my time to what I do. I love these conversations and find that they are some of the most precious and special times with my children.

We ended up speaking about goals and how to managing some of the conflicting opportunities that life presents. For example, should you go for money now or education? This is when I began to speak to them both about my buckets.

I think of my life in terms of four buckets. The first bucket is my short-term bucket and it’s for things that put food on the table now. This bucket often has things in it that I don’t like doing but like any job it isn’t all bad. When you don’t have a penny then this is the place that you need to focus on to make sure that you aren’t forced to go on a diet by the bank.

I then have my medium-term bucket. It’s where I go to find projects that may last for a few years or less. It’s the place for things like finishing a degree, writing a book or launching a business.

The third bucket is my long-term bucket. When I look into this bucket I see things that are on my “bucket list”. For instance, I’ve always wanted to learn how to fly and a few years ago I achieved this goal. It was firmly in this bucket. I have a quite a number of life goals in this bucket and when I pull one out to achieve it I end up getting an incredible sense of satisfaction.

Then there’s the last bucket. This is what I call the eternal-bucket. This can sometimes be known as the “faith” bucket but I think that it’s broader than that. It’s about what I’m doing now that will either positively impact generations or develops my personal character. We all have failings that need to be worked on. If you've tried to change something about yourself you will have found this bucket has really hard tasks in it!

In my discussions with Tim and Sara I suggested that they always need to work on all of their buckets. They may need to change their emphasis and focus but keep on nudging all of them.

In other words, you may have to focus on earning money now to pay down a debt but don’t neglect the fact that you may have always wanted to write a book, scuba dive and give some time to your community. You may not have a lot of time but write those hundred words, research online about diving and pay for the groceries of the person behind you in the queue at the supermarket.

For example, I suggested to Tim that he needs to get a part-time job to pay for his living expenses but don’t get a full-time job. Why you may ask? He wants to write a book about his recent adventures so a full-time job would make this more difficult. I also suggested he complete his degree part-time as it may contribute to some of his more long-term goals. Finally, attend church as it’s one of the few places that really focuses the mirror on developing your character.

It will be interesting to see what Tim chooses to do but I’m confident that he’ll make a series of decisions that are right for his own buckets. The problem comes when people don’t make decisions for themselves but let other’s do it for them.

My buckets really help me and I hope that you find the analogy useful in sorting out your own life goals and desires. Have a great weekend!

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