Mike Murphy

During my impressionable youth, I noticed that my mother had a bizarre sense of humor. She would often utter axioms (no doubt gained from living in the swamps of Louisiana) that made absolutely no sense, such as: “You couldn’t pour %^&* out of a bucket if it had a hole in it.” I recall that particular observation, and her wonderful laughter, as I attempted some arguably impossible feat involving Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, playing cards, and other nearby construction materials. Why would anyone want to pour %^&* out of a bucket, I wondered, and continued undaunted on my merry way. Parents do say the strangest things.

However, the use of buckets, for one reason or another, seems to occupy an interesting place in our lexicon. Today, the term “bucket list” has become more well-known than the movie from which the phrase was coined. I know teenagers who refer to their own bucket list who haven’t a clue that Morgan Freeman co-starred in the 2007 comedy-drama, The Bucket List. The concept of the movie was two old guys who decided to create 100 things they wanted to do before they kicked the bucket; and, then they wandered off and did them together. Though the movie met with mixed reviews, it made a lot of money at the box office, and the bucket list concept has become nearly cult status - even for those who know not whence the term came.

So, what are the things you’d like to do before you die? Hike the Grand Canyon? Bicycle across the Painted Desert? Jump out of an airplane? I don’t know if I could even come up with 100 things to throw into my bucket; that’s a lot of stuff to think about. I find it easier to think about all the things I want to do today - or more appropriately, the things I need to do today. The problem is that there is only so much room in the bucket. It is sometimes hard to manage even the daily bucket, much less the monthly or annual bucket.


If your typical day is anything like mine, you have more things coming at you than you have time to accomplish. Your bucket runneth over, so to speak. How is one to manage all the extraneous demands in addition to all the well-laid plans? To paraphrase a former president of the United States, “Just say no.”

Just saying no to demands upon your time may sound much easier said than done. However, consider one more bucket analogy, and you may understand why it’s so important to sometimes say no to those things that you must.

In my former life, working as a delivery guy for a cleaning supply company also carried with it making the cleaning supplies upon occasion. I mixed a variety of chemicals with a bunch of water in a 60-gallon mixing vat and then slowly filled 60 one-gallon containers with the secret recipes. However, what was an even slower process was the rinsing required between various batches of cleaning fluids. Two complete rinses of the large drum were required to ensure no mixing of chemically volatile ingredients. Otherwise, it could look like a sophomore chemistry lab experiment gone bad.

A tremendous work slow-down occurred while waiting for a 60-gallon vat to twice empty into a 5 inch floor drain. The drain valve could only be opened a few degrees, because it was located about 18 inches above the floor drain. Major splashing would wreak havoc with the surroundings, so a trickle rather than a gully washer was required while draining.

Delivery boy to the rescue: I designed an invention which I proudly named Hole in a Bucket. A small hole in the side of a five-gallon bucket placed beneath the vat allowed the valve to be opened nearly half-way, thus increasing the flow rate into the floor drain. This earned me a nickel raise and a renewed confidence of my worth to the company after having recently backed the van into a telephone pole.

The moral of this last bucket story is that sometimes it’s important to divert the pressure in order to manage everything around you more effectively. If you already have a full slate on your To Do List every day, and you gladly accept all new demands upon your time, the pressure simply builds. You don’t accomplish everything you desired, and other people become disappointed because you committed to also come through for them. Sometimes, it is better to simply say no to the less urgent requests and focus on the important ones. Find the hole in the bucket, relieve the pressure, and manage those things that you can.

Publication date:01/31/2011