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Rivers and buckets metaphor illustration: one person sits calmly by a river watching interesting things go by, another gently stresses holding a bucket with an overflowing list surrounded by more buckets on the floor, each with long lists

Rivers and buckets

Too many interesting articles to read? Too many places to visit? Too many projects to work on? Too many podcasts to listen to? Too many interesting things to learn? Try thinking of each as rivers, not buckets.

Oliver Burkeman shared a beautiful and powerful metaphor to reframe the bucket list of everything we want to do but can't possibly get done. There's an endless stream of books to read, programs to watch, and things you may want to get done. Instead of a bucket list to get through, try thinking of it as a river where attractive options drift by. Rather than feeling pressure to clear out the bucket or tick off all the items, instead, you can choose from the river what interests you in the knowledge that more will always come along.

This reframing resonated with me when I considered everything I wanted to read or the emails in my inbox. When you have too many emails, you find you answer the ones that really need answering. There will always be more. Growing up with a scarcity mindset regarding photos, I used to carefully trim each photo I didn't want after a weekend away or travelling. It was a revelation to me to consider selecting the ones I liked instead of worrying about removing every one that I didn't. 

Maybe you do have to get through everything at work, but this mindset doesn't need to apply to your personal life.

Don't beat yourself up. It's impossible to keep up with everything. Consider thinking of areas of your life like rivers, not buckets.

Oliver explains rivers not buckets in "Treat your to-read pile like a river". Or listen to Oliver reading the short essay in the Waking Up app.

Also see: The four pillars of too muchLifetime reads, Tsundoku

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