Why Every Manager Needs to Steal This Productivity Hack From Bill Gates

Bill Gates. Original public domain image from Flickr

No one is exempt from the procrastination monster, not even Bill Gates! That’s why Mr Gates developed a simple but effective ‘4 Buckets’ time-management hack to fight it according to insider information from his former speech writer Chris Capossela.

Beating busywork with buckets

Like many of us, Gates has confessed to feeling compelled to fill every minute of his day with work in order to feel productive. But were those tasks in line with his actual priorities, or were they mostly busywork dictates by others’ needs or minor emergencies? To ensure that his time lined up with his goals, Gates decided to divide his available work hours into four buckets, dedicating 25 percent of his schedule to each. If his schedule got out of whack with this distribution, he made sure to adjust it.

Capossela was so impressed with the results he stole the approach for himself. He “has mirrored this technique and organised his time into four buckets: people (hiring, recruiting, and team management), company strategy, the craft of marketing, and customers,” CNBC reports.

“I found it to be very freeing,” Capossela said. “It’s helped me be more strategic about my time management and ratchet down the tasks that were eating up my time.”

The essence of the idea is to be proactive about setting your priorities and creating a mechanism to check how well you’re sticking to these commitments. Gates’s buckets trick is one way to do it, but other CEOs rely on similar systems.

Or opt for colors if you prefer

Shopify founder Tobias Lütke, for example, colour codes his schedule, using different colours for what Gates would term different buckets. “At one point, I started complaining about blue weeks where every single time slot was taken. And someone said, ‘Well, if you don’t like blue, I can make any colour.’ And I replied, ‘Well, how about we colour based on leverage?’ And that’s just what we did,” Lütke explained in an interview.

By assigning a colour to each type of task — blue for people and red for product, for example – Lütke is able to assess if his schedule matches his priorities at a glance.

“The thing I’m looking for is a balanced week; a week where, ideally, I manage to devote about 30 percent of the time — at least — to the product and then as much as possible to things like recruiting, bigger-picture projects, and one-on-ones,” he went on to say. “If my calendar becomes too external or too much of anything, it’s the first thing we see when we sit down for our priorities meeting.”

Irrespective of your preference for Gates buckets hack or a more visual system like Lütke’s, the key is to proactively decide on how to dedicate your time as a busy manager or working professional. And don’t forget to check, recalibrate and align your time to your priorities on a regular basis!

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