The Bucket and the 80% Rule
Who says you have to do one thing with your life?
You know my opinion, I say it all the time… ask yourself what you want to do with your life, but never expect to find a single answer!
Secondly, always have a complicated answer to the question “What do you do?”. This is a stupid question, a ‘box-thinking’ question, and if you have a simple answer, it means you fit simply into what people can understand.
Be hard to understand, but not at the expense of your own clarity.
We talked in a recent article about being a ‘Renaissance Person’, about being a polymath and someone who adopts a multidisciplinary approach.
It’s not that you are or are not a ‘Renaissance Person’, it is probably more of a scale or matter of degree, between specialised knowledge or a wider knowledge or wisdom.
This doesn’t mean you have to have five jobs at once, but it does mean having a healthy range of interests. The more interests, the better – it’s hard to have too many interests, but you can only deeply explore so many at once.
Enter the Bucket.
The bucket is a brilliant metaphor by my Doohat Labs Co-Founder Scott McKeon, in our book together on advice to eighteen-year-olds. It refers to being able to do a small number of activities at once, and if you imagine a bucket, being able to fill the bucket selectively.
How to use the bucket.
The bucket can only have so much in it at once, as our time, energy, effort and attention are finite. They have a limit, there is a point where we can’t make more of them.
Most buckets start out basic and simply get better over time if we do things right, and go on a lifelong learning and Thousand Doors Journey.
Elon Musk graduated to SpaceX.
He didn’t make it as a teenager.
When he was in third or fourth grade, they ran out of books for him to read in the library at his school. When he was young he tried his hand at creating video games and won a few competitions.
He went on a long journey with his adult-life business projects from Zip2 to X.com, then X.com to PayPal, and then from PayPal onto other gigantic projects like SpaceX and Tesla.
As he went on, learnt about the world and had experiences, he found better and better things to put in his bucket. But, old things had to be removed to make room.
Facebook was not Mark Zuckerberg’s first project
Richard Branson did not start out with an airline. Martin Luthor King did not start out speaking in front of huge crowds, but in small groups of people. The buckets got better over time.
In 2012 I left school and attended university the next year. I didn’t fully love what I did and eventually moved on from university to nonprofit work with From the Ground Up in Nepal.
In 2017 I started a real estate business called Sydney Listings, as I wanted to begin a more full-time, sustainable business to balance alongside my nonprofit work.
The very next year in 2018, the From the Ground Up leadership decided to shut down the organisation because we were having more impact through construction work than nonprofit work, that had grown out of building schools and health centres.
In 2020 when COVID-19 impacted my business, I reassessed my bucket all together and decided that I was going to focus more on writing and experiential learning – birthing both Doohat Labs and this blog.
How the Bucket approach has served me…
This demonstrates just some of my activity spread over these years. You’ll notice the lack of hard stops and the overlap. This has worked well for me, being able to slide in and out of activities with less risk.
But more importantly is how the approach has been on continually improving the bucket, rather than trying to balance and time things.
Growing out of the Bucket
With From the Ground Up, construction work grew out of our nonprofit work. If we hadn’t had to build things, Nick Abraham would never have thought to set up a brick factory and construction company in Nepal. When we compared this company to our previous work, we realised that…
- The construction work was more impactful than the actual school we built.
- We had limited room in our buckets to keep doing the other, less impactful work.
In the same way, I learnt from doing real estate over a number of years that, great as that industry can be, it is not my favourite field to work in and spend time on. So I’ve turned down the volume on its role in my life, and given it less room in my current bucket.
Start with the 80% rule.
It doesn’t make much sense to split your energy, time, attention and other resources evenly across ten different things, if they are incongruent.
A nice compromise might be what I call the 80% rule. This rule dictates that we do maintain one core, centralised focus with our resources. But if we sit closer to the polymath end of the spectrum, we can budget and leave 20% of our bucket free for the new, sporadic, and impulsive.
It doesn’t mean we’ll follow through with all of them, but it allows room for these new things, rather than suppression of a type of person who, try as they may, will never be able to stop being broadly interested and curious, who will continually struggle to say ‘no’ to things!
Don’t be dissatisfied with a weak bucket.
Look at your bucket now. Write it out, draw what is taking attention, effort, time and energy in your life. Audit it. Should that be the case? Should they be this way?
If the bucket doesn’t look impressive and is not how you’d like, be patient. As I did over a number of years, and as someone like Musk did, keep filling it with better and better things first.
Give the things in your bucket competition constantly, to ensure they still warrant a place there.
Who do you think of when you read this? Would this piece ‘open a door’ for someone you know?