The Work-Life Buckets: A practical method for time management.

December 14, 2020

This year has been a challenge for most of us especially working from home. I am sure many of you felt the level of productivity you are at. For me, it was NOT acceptable.


A while back I asked the LinkedIn community how they are tackling the challenges of time management in the new normal: COVID19. Many valuable responses came through. I decided to try the methods mentioned and unfortunately, they did not seem to work for me. Exactly like many blogs, vlogs, YouTube videos, etc…. those methods worked mostly for the people who created/adapted them and finally found his/her own way. But, what about someone like me who didn’t fit into any of the methods?

“One size does not fit all”

With the hope to help as many people as possible, I am going to share my method. It might be a collection of methods or parts of others, I am not sure, but this is what made my time productive and flexible at the same time.

Before I share my time management method, I urge you not to assume that it would work 100% for you. Think of it as a buffet invitation – you have a dozen food options, you choose what you want to eat and then you add your own salt and pepper to make it good for you. The same applies here, the ideas presented are the buffet from which you can select what you like, and then add your own salt and pepper to make it yours.

Here it goes:

  1. Decide how many hours of Work, Family, and Me Time, you want to put in:
    • I put in 8 hrs. for Work, 6 hrs. for Family, and 2 hrs. Me time. A great start for Work-Life balance.
  2. Decide when you want to start your day and when you want to go to bed:
    • I start at 06:00 due to the nature of my work in different time zones.
  3. Group the day in virtual buckets of 2 hours each.

4. Each bucket is good for 90 minutes of activity and 30 minutes of break or buffer (just in case something needed a bit more time to finish).

5. Set alarms for:

    • 05:55 (to be able to start at 06:00)
    • 07:30 (to know when to stop)
    • 07:55 (to be able to start at 08:00)
    • 09:30 (to know when to stop)
    • Etc…

6. Create a To-Do list by adding all the tasks that you choose to do. This is a continuous task list on all levels, Work, Family, or Me time

    • I use Microsoft To-Do. It synchronizes all my devices so that when I add another task, it is listed on every device.

7.Group the To-Do list in two categories:

    • Urgent: date and time deadline – add them on the list with deadlines, and
    • Important: Important for the business, for your leader, and for you – add them on the list without deadlines.

Using the Urgent/important matrix would be of great help especially for less important and less urgent tasks.

8. Be ready to be open minded and disciplined.

Let us go through a typical day.

You start your day at 06:00; you look at your To-Do list; you choose one Urgent (date and time bound) task and start working on it. If completed move to the next Urgent one. If you have none left, then choose an Important task and work on it.

Your 90-minute alarm goes off. You stop working and take the planned break. If you feel that the task needs a few more minutes, go ahead and finish it and then take the break, this is what the 30-minute buffer is for.

If interruptions come knocking on your door, such as family, you stop and attend to those requirements. This means that you lost a bucket. However, with this method, it is easy to swap buckets.

You can replace the work bucket with the family bucket and just keep going.

With this method you would always be putting in the planned amount of Work time, the planned amount of break time, the planned amount of Family time and Me time regardless of the interruptions. Remember you have control over the buckets, and you can shuffle them the way you find most suitable for you.

The challenge

Now the challenge lies with the following:

  • Discipline
  • Categorizing the urgent and important tasks

There are methods to face these challenges such as hiring a coach, consultant, and/or mentor. Once these challenges are dealt with, the next step is to focus on one bucket at a time. If you are in the Work bucket, do not think about the Family or Me time; if you are in the Family bucket, do not think of Work and Me time, etc… unless a more urgent and important task presents itself.

Let me give you an example, I started doing the end-of-month accounts at 08:00 the other day. My wife then had an urgent family call and she could not walk our son to school. So, I stopped and completed the urgent task of walking our son to school. I had time left when I got back, but instead of resuming work, I replaced the Work bucket with the Family bucket and continued spending time with family. So, I did the accounts at 10:00 and everything else just fell into place.

In fact, knowing that you are in ONE bucket helps you reduce self-induced distractions and facilitates the swapping for more flexibility.

This means when I am in the work bucket, nothing else distracts me, when I am with family, I am with family, body, mind, and soul, I am present, I am aware.


How would you make it yours?

What do you think about this method? What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it? How much salt and pepper would you add? How would you make it yours?

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