One of the first managers that I ever had was a tremendous leader.  I thought that he was great as a leader because he was a good motivator, he was knowledgeable, and he genuinely cared about the people on his team. I was in my first role out of college and he sat me down and walked me through a concept that would continue to be a methodology for the way I think in my personal and professional lives.

To help illustrate the concepts that he taught me, the diagram above shows three circles.  For the purposes of this post, think of those circles as buckets.  In each of those buckets you could place everything that could happen to you in your daily life, including all of the things that you think about throughout each day.  Think about the buckets as follows:

  • Bucket #1:  In bucket one, place those things that you have total control over.  These are decisions that you consciously make everyday.  For example, the clothes that you chose to put on this morning, the food you purchase from the grocery store, what time you leave the house for work, etc.
  • Bucket #2:  In bucket two, place those things that you think about and can influence but don’t have total control over.  I use examples from friends and family here.  My friends and family might call me for advice on a matter and I can influence their decision by giving them my thoughts.  Ultimately, though, the decision is theirs and what they decide to do is up to them.
  • Bucket #3:  In bucket three, place all of the things that you have no control over whatsoever.  These are things like the weather, traffic, sporting events, television shows, and the stream of items on your Facebook newsfeed that you have no control over whether they are posted or not.

The buckets are drawn to the above scale because people tend to think about things in these proportions. I have met people that spend a significant amount of time thinking, worrying, and contemplating things that reside wholly in the third bucket, the things that they have no control over.  Comparatively speaking, those people spend very little time deciding how they are going to actually spend their time, what they will wear to work, or what to put into their bodies, the things that they have complete control over.

The same comparison can be drawn to people I have met in my professional life.  I have met many people that spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about third bucket stuff, and it doesn’t get them very far because they are worrying about things that are completely outside of their control.   I have noticed something else as well.  I have noticed that some of the most successful people I have had the privilege of working with believe that the first model should be flipped.  They all look at the buckets in the following proportions:

Since my first manager outlined this concept to me, I have found that making this change in how I think is not easy. There are so many instances throughout each day where second and third bucket things can overwhelm me. But, by placing an emphasis on those things that I have complete control over, I am able to prioritize things properly, hold myself accountable for decisions I make, and eliminate wasted time worrying about things that are beyond my control.

For leaders, here are three areas where sharing this view with your team can help make things easier by improving productivity and streamlining the decision-making process.

  • Hiring: By taking this approach to an interview you can be an active listener and learn a lot about the way candidates think.  Are many of their answers related to third bucket things like the markets or competitors, or are they giving thoughtful answers that help you gauge their own character and how they can impact the overall business?  Someone that gives a lot of third bucket answers in an interview often times gives you third bucket excuses when things don’t go well.
  • Learning and Development: Training programs can often seem overwhelming and hard to quantify.  By taking a step back and outlining exactly what you would like the team to be able to do at the end of a training program, you can outline all of the controllable actions that will be needed to accomplish your goals and then train accordingly.
  • Talent Evaluations: When evaluating someone, keep in mind what they can and can’t control.  Employee evaluations can be tricky, and by focusing only on controllable actions you can streamline the conversation.  By starting the year with clear goals you can continue to have conversations with your team around things that they can impact, making it easier for everyone to understand expectations and impediments.

The three buckets of control and how you use them in your daily life can be a challenge for everyone. By making a conscious effort to focus on those things that you have complete control over you will be able to set clearer goals, evaluate your own successes more effectively, and give those around you clearer direction in your personal and professional lives.

To read more articles that reference the “3 Buckets of Control,” start here.