The Three-Bucket System for Organizing Your Week

It’s Monday morning. You’ve had a fun weekend and are ready to tackle the workweek ahead.

But as you look at your list of projects and upcoming deadlines, you struggle to figure out what you should do when.

Fast-forward to Friday afternoon. You’re wrapping things up and getting ready for the weekend.

But then you look at your to-do list. And you realize that you still have many unfinished tasks.

Ugh! Not the best feeling as you head out of the office for what’s supposed to be some time away from work.

If this sounds terribly familiar, you’re probably asking yourself why this pattern continues week after week.

I know I have.

You probably left your day job to become a freelancer because you wanted more freedom and flexibility. But now you find yourself busier than ever. And always behind.

There are many great solutions to this challenge. But today I want to talk about one simple idea that’s had a profound impact on my business (and sanity!).

It’s something I learned from the legendary business coach Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach. And it’s all about organizing your week into three buckets.

Here are the three buckets Sullivan recommends:

  1. Focus Days. These days are all about production. For writers and copywriters, this is when you focus on client work. It’s when you do your writing, research, outlining, mind mapping, brainstorming and editing for client projects. It’s also when you have client project calls and do your interviews.
  1. Buffer Days. These days are all about preparation, learning and catching up on miscellaneous items. On these days, you shift gears from production to:
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Planning
  • Preparing
  • Practicing
  • Delegating
  • Tying up loose ends (catching up on email, doctor appointments, etc.)
  1. Free Days. These are exactly what they sound like. It’s when you take time off to rest, re-energize, clear your mind and reflect.

Sounds good on paper. But does it actually work?

Yes, it does! I implemented this three-bucket system about 18 months ago, and it’s been a lifesaver! Here’s how I organize my week:

Mondays are my buffer days. I use them to catch up on open items, prepare for the week, plan, read and delegate. This is when my team and I also have our weekly team call.

Tuesdays through Thursdays are my focus days. I use them to prepare course material, write articles and other content, write promotions, hold coaching calls with students in my coaching programs, interview podcast guests and so on.

Fridays are my free days. I take time to do things I normally don’t allow myself to do during the week. For instance, I’ll play golf with a friend, go on a hike or long walk, get a massage, catch a movie, read, relax in my patio, daydream and come up with new ideas.

I’ve found that giving my week this kind of structure helps me maintain discipline. It enables me to be more focused and productive during my focus days. And it reduces overwhelm.

That’s because having just three days of pure production per week forces me to stay extremely focused. Having a buffer day helps me plan better and gives me the breathing room I need to make smarter decisions. It also allows me to focus on learning and getting better at what I do.

And forcing myself to have a free day adds balance to my week. Because even though I’m pretty disciplined about taking weekends off, I rarely do something just for me on those days.

Typically, I’m with my family on the weekends, which is great. But I also need some time to myself outside of work and family.

Why I Do This

Is this system perfect? No.

Does my work spill over into Fridays or Mondays sometimes? Yes.

But here’s what I’ve found:

If you don’t create boundaries, every day becomes a work day. And you end up with zero margin.

There’s no time to make sure you’re on the right path. There’s no time for planning. No time for self-education. No time for tying up loose ends.

No time for personal appointments, reading, relaxing and just enjoying life a little more.

So if you struggle every Monday trying to decide how to allocate your client work … or you always have a long list of uncompleted items going into the weekend … give this approach a shot.

You don’t have to follow the schedule I outlined above. You can assign these “themes” to whatever workdays you’d like. (Maybe Monday works best for your day off. And Tuesday is a better buffer day for you.)

Whatever you choose, let me warn you: it will feel odd at first. And you may not see immediate results. So give it two or three weeks before you decide if (or how) you’ll keep this structure.

What Do You Do?

I’m curious. Do you do something similar today? How does it work for you?

And if you don’t structure your week this way, are you willing to give it a try?

Let me know in the comments area below.

 

 

 

  • Mike

    I try to minimize context switching as much as possible. If I can stack all engagements (calls, mostly) in just 1-2 days, I feel good about holing up with reading and writing on the other days.

    Only answer email at 12p and 4p if possible.

    Ed’s 50-20-50 time management practice helps add margin, which can be nice when the day starts to get away from you, or you get sucked into a task.

    I’ve been having a lot of success scheduling my day’s to-do list first thing. Helps me strategize on how to keep all those plates spinning

    Radical idea: Seanwes swears by the one-week sabbatical every seven weeks to do a big version of Ed’s buffer day idea.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Mike! I’ve heard of this sabbatical idea every quarter or every eight weeks. It’s something I definitely want to do. I’ve done shorter breaks, but I love the idea of a whole week. Making that kind of space is so important.

  • Lisa Rothstein

    LOVE THIS just at the right time. I always have the worry that stuff is falling through the cracks and yet I always seem to be working. I’ll try this system!

    • ME TOO! So glad to have read this post!

    • edgandia

      Thank YOU ladies for checking it out and giving it a try. Let me know how it works for you once you’ve had a chance to implement and work out any kinks.

  • Viola

    Thanks Ed for this informative delegator of time. I have a Monday to Thursday schedule for my lessons, organizing files, etc., catching up on loose papers ( info, phone numbers on scraps of paper), and just sit and relax my mind for a 30 min break. This is what helps me to stay on course. If I don’t then chaos in the house and no one needs that. Hope is stronger than giving up.

    • edgandia

      Amen to that!

  • Lisa Rothstein

    Hey Ed, I downloaded the “capacity planner” and was wondering if there were instructions? Do you fill it in before (as in planning on Monday) or as you work, with your actual time spent?

    • edgandia

      Yep, sorry about that. I meant to include a short video explaining how I use it. We’re working on uploading that to the download page. Will let you know when it’s up there. 🙂

  • Ed,

    I use a similar process. People always ask me how I accomplish so much. Truth be told, I’m a list user. Then while attending coaching school in the 1990’s, learned to:

    — Show Friday as a day off and call what I do on that day “integrity day” (term coined by Thomas Leonard) — the day I catch up. If there is no catching up then my reward is to add it to my free Saturday and Sunday. I also don’t schedule any clients calls on the 4th week of the month.
    — Since I enjoy traveling, I moved all clients to Monday and Tuesdays. That gives me W-T to focus with fewer calls when I’m around or travel 2 months a year while working with clients only on M-T.

    Schedules and a little discipline do work!

    • edgandia

      Love this!

  • sid.

    Ed,
    When do you focus on business development?

    I am trying to carve that out as an extra day or half days on my buffer days. Yet, everyone wants to meet on Wed at the same time.

    • edgandia

      It depends on how you prefer to do that. I prefer batching most of my
      marketing work. So this would be a buffer day activity for me. However,
      if you prefer doing a little (say an hour) each day, then I would
      schedule that time on your buffer AND focus days. But I would schedule
      the more intense marketing items on focus days and the more
      tracking-oriented and research tasks on buffer days.

  • I really appreciate this post and everyone’s input. (Love the idea of an “integrity day.”) Is it scary for a while until everything settles into a pattern? And, Ed, I echo the question of when you do your business marketing. Is that a Monday task?

    • edgandia

      Hi Donna — Great to hear you found this helpful. RE: when to do marketing, great question. It depends on how you prefer to do that. I prefer batching most of my marketing work. So this would be a buffer day activity for me. However, if you prefer doing a little (say an hour) each day, then I would schedule that time on your buffer AND focus days. But I would schedule the more intense marketing items on focus days and the more tracking-oriented and research tasks on buffer days.

  • I just stumbled on this old article on Forbes.com talking about Jeff Walker. He takes “focus days” to the extreme. And it seems to work.

    “Lesson #4: Focus on Your “Unique-Abilities”

    You are you. You are unique. But the key is in knowing what makes you unique. So you must dig deep to find out. Look in the mirror and ask yourself what you do better than anyone else. Your top core competencies. And once you figure out your core competencies?

    I’ll let Jeff tell you; “I take three days a week where those are the only things I do on those three days. So I mean literally — they’re on my calendar. They’re my focus days and my whole team can see them and know the house better be burning down if they’re going to contact me. My goal is to truly focus on my “unique-abilities” during those days. Completely focused, no interruptions, not looking at anything else, no text messages, no Skype, nothing. Then I think if you can focus at that level, you don’t need to do a heck of a lot. It’s like exercising. If you can exercise at a very high intensity, you don’t need to do a ton of it.”

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericwagner/2012/09/11/why-jeff-walker-is-the-400-million-dollar-man-and-7-lessons-you-can-learn-from-him/#322daac4215b