Three Priority Buckets

Years ago I read about a concept that changed what I believe I can accomplish at any given time. It gave me permission to choose my focus, acknowledge that I’d fall short, and be okay with that. It freed me. 

Today I want to share the framework that I’ve developed over the last several years.

There are seven priority ‘buckets’ in life:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Hobbies/Recreation
  • Physical health
  • Mental/spiritual health
  • Work
  • Sleep

Family: Marriage, kids, and family of origin. It also includes maintaining your household. 

Friends: New and old friendships, developing friendships, and your network.

Hobbies: Any activity done for leisure or pleasure. Includes extra-curricular activities, learning, reading. 

Physical Health: Eating nourishing foods, exercise, hydration, supplements, body care, massage.

Mental/spiritual health: Includes meditation, religion, reflection, journaling, therapy, coaching.

Work: Your job or your company. How you spend your time, what cause(s) you contribute to, often how you earn income.

Sleep: Self explanatory! But in this context, sleeping an adequate amount of hours for your body to be rested. 

You can pick three buckets 

That’s it. At any one time you are only able to do three priority buckets (from the list of seven) well. That means that other things slide. That’s part of the deal. It’s not a problem and it doesn’t mean that anything has gone wrong.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you completely ignore certain buckets. Many people maintain all their priorities are important, the key here is that you can only do three of them really well. The other four will not be executed to your standards and that is totally okay. 

I like to think about the metaphor about keeping all the plates spinning —

The three priority buckets that you choose are plates that you give the most attention to and they always spin excellently, you’re always ‘feeding’ them.

While the other four buckets sometimes slip and you give them just enough attention to keep them going. Again, the bucket choices aren’t forever. But it is for now and this is a way to give yourself the gift of focus and kindness.

Contemplate: What could happen over the next year if you gave yourself the gift, the permission, to focus on just three areas AND you were kind to yourself in the process? 

Our priorities are fluid and they will change over time. There are seasons for everything. Sometimes those seasons are long, and sometimes they are short. 

So many of us feel pressure to do all the things, and do them really well. Society tells us that’s what successful adults do.

Women especially are expected to take care of themselves, maintain a career, be available for their family relationships, be an amazing friend, maintain their appearance/physical body, take care of others, etc. It is simply not realistic and so many of us burn ourselves out trying. 

Here’s the interesting thing — doing three buckets really well is all of our realities.

It’s not a choice. It’s a fact of life. And when we try to argue with that, we suffer.

When we tell ourselves that we should be the best mom and a great daughter, workout five days a week, talk to our best friend every day, meditate and journal every morning, make excellent dinners, work 40-60 hours a week, and sleep eight hours a day, it just doesn’t work. The math doesn’t add up.

It is unrealistic and we set ourselves up for a lot of frustration, disappointment, and failure.

The failure here is not failure as in “I failed again”, it’s failure as in “I let myself down again because I had unrealistic expectations for myself that I couldn’t possibly live up to, and I don’t want to do that to myself anymore”. 

What if you took a different approach? What if you acknowledged that there are seasons of life when you can, for example, go all in and focus on building your business, sleeping, and working out, because you know sleeping and working out (physical health) will support your body in all the work you’re doing.

That’s it.

That means that you don’t also expect yourself to wake up early, meditate and journal, cook everything from scratch, talk to your family and friends as much as you want to.

It might mean that you make one hour a week available for therapy and/or coaching (you contribute a little but not as much as you want — you dedicate enough to keep the mental health plate spinning). You might also dedicate an hour or two a week to a hobby and your relationships. You might feel like you want to do more but you know that you physically can’t. And you don’t try to argue with that reality. 

The important thing here is that you consciously choose your buckets.

That you don’t set a ton of unrealistic expectations that let life happen to you. You choose how you spend your time, like your reasons, and have your own back on them. 

Choosing to narrow your focus may be disappointing, for yourself or for the people around you.

Here I would ask: Who are you letting down by saying yes to everything? You? Do you want to keep choosing to let you down?

TRY: I encourage you to give three priority buckets a try — commit to choosing three buckets for one month as an experiment.

To choose your three priority buckets ask yourself: What do I want to focus on in this season? You may get to choose all three or you may have life circumstances that dictate some of them. But remember that you have choice. 

Check in often.

Ask yourself:

  • How does it feel to put down all the expectations?
  • How does it feel to let other people down so I can choose yourself?
  • How does it feel to give myself the gift of focus and go all in on three things for this season?
  • What do I want to start doing?
  • What do I want to stop doing?
  • How can I love myself today?

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