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Rebecca Gilmore

Buckets Exercise: A Tool for Discussing Employee Burnout

By | Business Stuff, Miscellany | 2 Comments

Burnout Approacheth


Once upon a time there was an employee who felt … burned out. She approached her boss, who valued the employee but didn’t quite know how to lighten her heavy workload.

To understand what was weighing her down, her kind boss requested a list of what was currently on her large, overflowing, no-way-she-can-finish-all-this-Thanksgiving-sized plate. But beware: by asking her employee to list all those things off the top of her pretty redhaired head, she risked receiving in return a list fueled by exhaustion instead of facts. If only they had a tool that would come to their aid.

As you may have guessed, the employee in this tale is me. Mack is the kind boss helping to address employee burnout. And what follows is how we came up with a tool we call the Buckets Exercise to begin an honest conversation together.

The Birth of a New Tool

Why is this exercise being brought to you by Mack Web?

Even though Mack Web specializes in digital marketing, we have experienced our fair share of ups and downs and learned how to handle those as a team. In addition, connecting with people on a human level is on our “we heart these things the mostest” list. So in Mack Web fashion, we like to share with you what we’re learning. Sometimes that means walking you through how to set the right goals for your digital marketing. Or in this case it means walking you through a tool we created to help take care of teammates who are struggling.

It’s rare for me to meet someone who hasn’t experienced employee burnout, and most of us would say that when it hits, it hits hard. Much like a fighter jet that’s running out of gas, eventually you’ll run on vapors, and when those run out, you’ll crash and burn. Not only is this devastating to the person who is on that downward trajectory, but it can be detrimental to your team. Our hope is that by sharing this exercise (even in its early stages), more teams will have a starting point from which to address potential burnout and prevent that proverbial “crash and burn.”

This exercise provides a framework from which to start. And sometimes finding a place to start is the hardest part.

Why “Buckets”?

Ideally, we should be able to place everything we do for our company under specific categories (or “buckets”) that align with the roles we were hired to fill.

Blue buckets

As it happens, Mack is a very visual person, so what she needed to see to help me talk through my Mack Web workload was a visual representation of all my tasks thrown into large “buckets.” Here are some examples to give you an idea of what this could look like:


  • account coordination
  • project management
  • meetings
  • strategy development
  • content


  • client communication
  • execution calendars
  • meeting agendas
  • new business reviews
  • writing this blog post

It’s a for-sure bet that Mack would have loved for me to bring in actual buckets filled with all my tasks written on individual slips of paper. However, it turns out that I don’t have a bucket fetish, so I couldn’t oblige. Instead I opted for something a little more practical: a Google spreadsheet.

Embracing the Digital Age

I know, I know – snoozarama. But hear me out. As it turns out, a shared Google doc fit the bill because it met my key criteria, meaning I could:

  • easily brainstorm with a single tool (without finding paper and plastic buckets)
  • effortlessly edit or make changes
  • collaborate with another person without physical barriers – anytime, anywhere
  • revisit the exercise should burnout approacheth again
  • share this exercise with others on our team for their own customized use

But Not Everyone Has a Boss Who Cares Enough

Before we get much further, I want to recognize the sad reality that not everyone has a boss who is willing to do what it takes to keep a valued employee happy.

As it pertains to your vocational happiness, this exercise yields the best results if you have a boss who really cares about you and is open to making some positive changes based on what your Buckets reveal. But if you don’t feel that this exercise is right for you to do together (due to personal baggage or professional limitations), that’s okay. You can still do this on your own so that you can benefit from any revelations. Only then can you start working toward bettering your situation.

The Buckets Exercise: Let’s Do This


Step 1: Set Up the Framework

The first thing you do is create the spreadsheet itself. The overall look and structure is totally up to you, but you’ll need these things at a minimum (don’t worry – I’ll explain items 2-5 in a bit):

  1. Name, Job Title, and Date (for review purposes)
  2. Position Goals
  3. Columns for each “Bucket” – don’t forget meetings and special projects!
  4. Columns for tasks to be reassigned and to whom
  5. Warning Signs

Screenshot 1.b

(Click image to see full size.)

A note about your Buckets columns: How you decide to split these up may depend on your company’s organizational structure. But don’t worry too much about getting the column headers right. As you progress with the exercise, you can add or revise columns as you see fit. This is the time to start, not perfect.

Step 2: Review Your Position Goals

What is your role? I don’t just mean your job title (what’s in a title really?); I mean what is it that you were initially hired to accomplish? If your memory needs to be jogged, review that posted job description from when you were interviewing and distill it down to its main purpose in your company. As with everything we do at Mack Web, we like to start with goals.

Start everything with goals.

Recently, we’ve started giving nicknames to each Mack Web position, so as the Accounts Coordinator, I’m “the Glue.” My main goals are to interface with our clients and also make sure our team is pulled together and not falling apart (and the irony that I’m the reason this exercise was created in the first place doesn’t escape me).

Screenshot 2.b

Understanding your Position Goals will give you some guidelines when you eventually review each task that ends up in this spreadsheet. You’ll be able to hold each of these responsibilities up and ask: Is this task helping me fulfill the goals of this position or is it outside of my “scope” and stealing time away?

What is it that you were hired to accomplish?

Step 3: Do a Brain Dump

Think through all that you do on a daily basis and dump it into this spreadsheet. Notice that I didn’t say think through what your job was advertised to be when you were hired. Things tend to change once you’re actually fulfilling a role and as other strengths of yours are recognized by your team. This isn’t fundamentally a bad thing, but being able to see these deviations can help both you and your boss identify crucial patterns (more on this in step 7).

This step is where you jot down everything: big, small, in or out of scope, exciting or mundane. You can either start with your main Buckets columns and place tasks underneath those, or you can just start putting stuff in and organize them into Buckets later. Are you managing a team? Write it down. Are you the one that, for some unknown reason, waters the plants each week? Write that down, too. Don’t worry about repeating yourself – this is the brainstorming part where no idea is a bad idea.

Screenshot 3.b

(Click image to see full size.)

Step 4: Cover All Your Bases

Think your brain dump is complete? Don’t be so sure. Since workflow is dynamic and roles can blend together, don’t just trust your memory or this week’s to-do list. To feel confident that your list is more or less exhaustive, be sure to seek out these other resources:

  • job description (before hiring)
  • performance reviews
  • timesheets (to see how you’ve been spending your time)
  • emails (to refresh your memory on recent efforts)
  • Basecamp, Workamajig, or other team project management applications you may be using
  • work calendar (for recurring meetings)
  • company culture

A note about company culture: Don’t forget to include those activities that are highly valued by your company which translate into recurring tasks for everyone on your team. Most likely you were hired because you are a culture fit, which means you highly value these activities as well, so you may forget that, despite how fun they are, they take time to do during the week.

For example, at Mack Web we highly value learning and sharing that knowledge with others, so we all make time to read the latest industry articles and contribute to the Mack Web blog. We love that this is part of our jobs, but it does take time, so on the spreadsheet it must go.

Step 5: Take a Breather

You have now determined your Buckets and poured your tasks into them. Good work – you deserve a gold star. Now take that gold star and go away for a day or so. Use this time to let the dust settle so that you can return to your Buckets with a fresh, clear mind. During your break from this exercise, be mindful of how you’re spending your time – it may reveal a few more tasks to add to your spreadsheet.

Step 6: Review Your Buckets With a Fresh Mind

Now that you’re back from your break and your mind is fresh, go back into your Buckets and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do my Buckets accurately reflect my job?
  2. Do I need to rename a Bucket or add a few more?
  3. Which of the tasks listed are critical to achieving my Position Goals? (bold these)
  4. Are some of my tasks repeated? If so, do I need to delete the repeats or clarify them further?
  5. Are there tasks in my Buckets that don’t really belong to me? (highlight these)

A note about tasks that don’t belong to you: These are tasks that you feel don’t belong in your Buckets, either because of bandwidth or expertise. Perhaps you were helping out a co-worker one time by stepping out of your role, but then that task stuck. Or perhaps you’re currently in charge of purchasing office supplies, but that really belongs to your Office Manager. Whatever the case may be for why you feel a task doesn’t belong to you, be sure to note the task (and the reason).

Screenshot 4d

Is this task helping me fulfill the goals of my position or is it stealing time away?

Step 7: Identify Patterns

Now that you have everything you do listed right in front of you (don’t faint), it’s time to search for patterns. Remember: there’s a reason you decided to do this exercise – something is amiss with your role and you are feeling overwhelmed. Let’s see if this exercise has shed some light on what those patterns might be:

1. Review your bolded items (tasks critical to achieving your Position Goals). Do you get to spend enough time in your work day to focus on these priorities of your role? If not, what’s pulling you away from these things?

2. Review the highlighted items (those that don’t belong to you) and copy/paste them into the “Task to Reassign” column. Do these tasks have a common thread? If so, perhaps the common thread is that you’re fulfilling a role that needs to be staffed, or you’ve adopted tasks from someone else who is overloaded, or something else. If you aren’t able to identify a pattern, never fear. Your boss may be able to help you with that.

3. Another option that you may want to consider is to indicate those tasks that you absolutely love and those you despise (thanks to my officemate Ayelet for this tip). A potential benefit to this is you may be able to see a pattern that indicates you don’t have enough in your role that you enjoy doing (thus you may either be working out of your weaknesses instead of your strengths, or your interests have changed, etc.).

Step 8: Consider Possible Solutions

Before you send this over to your boss for review, go the extra mile and offer recommendations for reversing any patterns you may have identified. Don’t leave it up to her to fix this  – she’s not a mind reader or a magician. And if she’s willing to go through this exercise with you, she will also appreciate your initiative.

Prepare for your discussion time together by offering some solutions. For example, for those “not mine” items, provide suggestions in the “To Whom” column for who you feel would be better at owning those tasks.

Screenshot 5.b

Or perhaps you feel you aren’t able to focus on your priorities because you spend too much time participating in some of the company culture activities. If that’s a pattern you have identified, then provide your thoughts in this spreadsheet on how you may be able to continue participating in these activities but at a different level.

Whatever patterns come to light, be sure not to ignore them or brush them aside. Spend some time thinking about how those patterns may have developed, what your workload could look like if those patterns were broken, and then bring some ideas to the table for how to break them. This will provide a starting place for your conversation with your boss about how to address some of these issues.

Step 9: Recognize Your Warning Signs


The reason you’re doing this exercise in the first place is because you’re feeling the effects of employee burnout. But wouldn’t it be great if you could smell the smoke before you felt the flames? The best way to do that is to recognize your own warning signs.

Everyone experiences stress differently, and how we exhibit that stress can be just as unique. How do you feel when you’re under pressure? How do you self-medicate? Do you retreat or surround yourself with distractions? If you’re not sure, ask those closest to you – friends, family, spouse, partner, even a co-worker.

Know thyself. And once you do, place these warning signs into this section of the spreadsheet.

Screenshot 6.b

A note about warning signs: Sharing these warning signs with someone else is essential because you may be the last person to realize that you’re heading for burnout – you’re just too close to the situation. For example, if Mack starts to consistently receive emails from me at night, she can approach me and ask how I’m doing because I’ve identified this as one of my warning signs. I also recommend sharing these signs with another teammate because there’s no harm in having a secondary wake-up call.

You may be the last person to realize that you’re heading for burnout.

Step 10: It’s Boss Time

Once you’ve completed this exercise, schedule a time with your boss to go over your Buckets (you will need at least an hour). But be sure to share this spreadsheet with her a few days in advance so that she has time to digest.

Your boss should have a clear understanding of the role you were meant to play since she’s the one who probably hired you (or was involved in the process at some point). She will be able to look at your role from the top down (instead of in the weeds where you are), and her insights will be valuable at this stage.

Begin an honest conversation together.

Remember earlier when I said this exercise works best with a boss who cares? This is the spirit in which to approach this collaborative phase. This is the beginning of an honest conversation about your current role and the holes or problems you may have discovered, with the hope of finding solutions that will help you become a happier employee.

When I went through my Buckets with Mack, she was able to:

  1. Confirm that my Buckets were accurate.
  2. Review my Position Goals and make sure my priorities were aligned.
  3. Discuss any patterns I’d identified and affirm any tasks I’d labeled as “not mine.”
  4. Consider my recommendations for change and give me the power to make those changes.
  5. Become aware of my warning signs and be on the lookout.

Post-Buckets: Now What?

Now that you’ve completed the Buckets Exercise and discussed the crap out of it, now what do you do? You implement and test and see how things go. If one of your recommendations for change doesn’t yield the results you expect, re-evaluate and try something else. And keep the lines of communication open with your boss and your team.

Implement and test and see how things go.

Hang In There

This exercise isn’t a magic pill that will make everything all better. It’s simply a place to start a conversation. Positions evolve over time (as do people), so you may need to revisit this exercise if you sense burnout approaching again.


Since we developed the Buckets Exercise back in April, about half our team has gone through it, and it’s been an eye-opener. Each of us has customized it for our own unique roles and needs, and that’s the beauty of an exercise like this. It’s not a cookie cutter and it’s not rigid. But it does provide a framework from which to start. And sometimes finding a place to start is the hardest part.

What does your team use to address employee burnout? Or perhaps you have some recommendations for us to make this exercise even better? We’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you would like us to share this Google spreadsheet with you, we’d be happy to.

Hashtags: A How-To for Success

By | Social Media | 7 Comments

Part II

As a group, we marketers love us a good “how-to” guide. It’s not that we necessarily want to be told what to do or become automatons (although Ayelet does have her social media minions, but that’s not really the same thing).


A good how-to process can provide a basic framework from which to work, freeing us up to be creative, which is why most of us are in this industry in the first place.

A Brief Recap

Last week Ayelet and I shared Mack Web’s first-ever co-authored blog post: Hashtags in Social Media Marketing: Ally or Enemy? It’s not so much that we’re both equally awesome (that goes without saying); it’s that we have entered into a fellowship and are in search of the best process for developing successful hashtags for our marketing efforts.


In our last post we discussed how our fellowship came to be, a brief history of the # symbol, and how hashtags can be a friend or foe. That’s all well and good (if we do say so ourselves), but wouldn’t it be even better if we also shared with you our checklist and process for ensuring that our little hashtags are on the straight and narrow instead of on the path to Mordor?

Let the How-To fun begin

And all you list-crossers exclaimed, “Huzzah!” Over the course of developing hashtags, we’ve settled into a fine rhythm that takes us from high-level thinking to the hashtag we want to be with forever (or at least as long as the campaign). We haven’t come up with a fun acronym yet (we’re open to suggestions), but we’ve narrowed it down to these five simple steps:

  1. Determine: Goals, KPIs & Longevity
  2. Identify: Keywords & Branding
  3. Brainstorm: Unleash Creativity
  4. Filter: Length, Look & Search
  5. Review: Buddy & Team

So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Step 1 – Determine: Goals, KPIs & Longevity

Start with goals

It’s like a mantra around here. Seriously. Ayelet already talked about it in our post last week. And I don’t think a single one of us will ever be able to delete the sound bite file in our brains of Mack repeating “everything starts with goals.” (We suspect this was implanted without our knowledge during the hiring process, but we lack any evidence to prove it.)

Before you even think about developing a hashtag for you or your client, you must determine why you want a hashtag in the first place and what you hope to accomplish with it. Revisit those high-level business and brand goals you developed for your own business or with your client and make sure your hashtag goals align. If this is still a little fuzzy, we’ll use our own #MackWebLife to, well, unfuzzy things.


The idea behind #MackWebLife was to find a way to share the, well, “life” side of working at Mack Web. But it wasn’t an idea that came out of the blue. Long before we came up with this hashtag, we sat down and decided what we as a company (and a brand) cared about. And as it turns out, the desire to show the human side of our brand is part of our DNA – so much so that we made it one of our brand goals (anything is official once it’s been written with fruit-flavored markers on large post-its).

Driver - human-centric

Before the genesis of #MackWebLife, we’d already been working hard to keep our tone and content as humane (er, human) as possible, but now it was time to take the plunge and show a more day-to-day perspective of what it’s really like at Mack Web.

Group MackWebLife shot

We then discussed what the main vehicle would be for sharing all this Mack Webbiness, and we decided that social would be our platform. Choosing a hashtag to be our sidekick was only natural after that.

As part of this “start with goals” discussion, we considered including “Fort Collins” in the hashtag to have a better chance of getting picked up locally (thinking of more local engagement). But on the other hand, it would exclude our Chicago office or any photos we would take while at conferences. This helped us define our goals even more specifically, realizing we wanted to have a much larger reach and inclusion than just our little city.

Identify KPIs

We know – it may seem like overkill to develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for such a small thing as a hashtag, but how else will you measure the success? We decided that our main social thrust would be on Twitter, so here are the two KPIs we developed for our little hashtag:

1. Increase in conversation and applause on Twitter (replies, favorites)
2. Increase in social media referral traffic to our site from Twitter

MackWebLife on Twitter

Determine longevity

Now that you have your hashtag goals and KPIs established, this part should be relatively easy. Based on your goals, what is the expected lifespan of your little hashtag-that-could?

Round calendar

Since we knew we wanted to cover multiple aspects of working at Mack Web, our various office locations, group activities and more, we understood that this was to be a long-term relationship, meaning we weren’t going to limit the usage of this hashtag to a specific (relatively short) period of time. We wanted to be able to use this hashtag starting today and long into the future. We didn’t want the year, season, or anything else to limit how long we could use it. So we signed our marriage license and headed straight for the altar.

But sometimes we’re not looking for something that serious. We want to have some short-term, campaign-only fun and then part amicably. For example, Stephen Colbert implemented the hashtag #CutDownTheAmazon for his tirade against

Stephen Colbert

Or if you search #WorldCup2014, know what you’ll get? That’s right – only soccer news and commentary from this year’s (not last year’s nor the year before that) World Cup. That’s it. Fini. These are short-term, campaign-specific hashtags, and their days are numbered.


Both long- and short-term hashtags have their purpose in this life – you just need to determine your commitment level.

Step 2 – Identify: Keywords & Branding

Review keywords

Keywords are, well, key to a brand’s SEO health, so it makes sense to go back and review them before deciding on a hashtag. It may not be vital to include a keyword, but your hashtag goals will help you figure that out. (See what we did there? We brought it back to goals. We’re so sneaky.) Either way, we should strive to keep SEO considerations at the forefront of our creative minds.

Here’s what you do: make a short list of keywords you might consider for your hashtag. This exercise will generate some seeds for brainstorming, providing that proverbial first brush stroke on that empty canvas. For our line of work, we might consider:

  • content
  • marketing
  • digital
  • social media
  • SEO
  • optimization
  • search

But for #MackWebLife, we opted out of industry keywords since we wanted a focus that was broader than just our industry. Instead we chose a word that encompasses all those things: life. Again, our goals educated our decision.

TIP: Just like Han, go Solo. Don’t lessen the effectiveness and impact of your finely crafted hashtag (and by extension, your campaign) by combining it with a ton of others. #Multiple #hashtags can be a #turnoff and an #annoyance to #fans. (See what we mean?) Unless you’re on Instagram, that is. Yeah, we don’t get it either.

To brand or not to brand

That is indeed the question. Hashtags need to be short and sweet (more on that in a minute), so deciding to place your brand within the # confines is an important step prior to brainstorming. Some considerations on branding are:

  • name of business
  • product name
  • product type
  • brand tone

There are others, but these are the main ones we consider regularly at this stage. Going back to #MackWebLife, we decided to include our full biz name: Mack Web. We nixed “MW” (we didn’t want to be confused with a kind of German vehicle) and decided against just “Mack,” although our fearless leader probably would have loved the extra attention.

Since we don’t really have a product name we’re trying to reference here, we skipped over to product type: our life (it’s quite the intangible product type, but so be it). We wanted to share our collective Mack Web life with our online community, so that was our desired product.

For brand tone, we regularly strive to be concise and clean and snarky, but we only have so much room. Our brainstorming would help us decide which way to go.

Step 3 – Brainstorm: Unleash Creativity

Go to town

Once you’ve reviewed your keywords and brand parameters, get to it. Brainstorm your little heart out. If you need a little something to get the juices flowing, peruse this colorful and innocent-looking brainstormed list of words related to arachnids:

Spider brainstorming

Or to play off our #MackWebLife example, these are some of the options we came up with:


Step 4 – Filter: Length, Look & Search

When you have a long, long list of possibilities, let the culling begin. We know, you love them all. But to quote Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail (and technically The Godfather): “It’s not personal, it’s business.” And we’ll provide a few ways to make the culling go a lot more smoothly.

Check your length

We all do it: we’ll place at the end of a particularly witty tweet a hashtag that goes against everything we’ve written here, such as #mackwebissoawesome.

Even though this may be 100% true, we would never suggest using that on a day-to-day basis. First, no one likes a braggart. Second, this length is ridiculous. If you are using or even considering using a hashtag this long, stop. You’re taking up a lot of valuable real estate to accommodate this craziness, so the content you actually want to share has to play second fiddle. A hashtag that is too long compromises your tweet content and meta descriptions, challenges the patience of your community, and also provides additional opportunities to misspell something.

How does it look?

Don’t forget that we’re dealing with a lot more than just letters here – we’re making word pictures (so to speak). As you narrow down your options, be sure to type them out in a variety of ways to reveal any unwanted visuals:

  • all lowercase (#mackweblife)
  • all uppercase (#MACKWEBLIFE)
  • main words capitalized but the rest lowercase (#MackWebLife)

Ask yourself: Does it look weird? Is it confusing? Does it spell something you’ll regret later?

TIP: Embrace consistency. Use your hashtag the same way each time – uppercase, lowercase, with campaign-specific content, etc. If you need to spend 15 minutes training your team on the parameters you’ve established, then for the love of all that is good and holy, just do it.

Search, baby, search

Make sure your hashtag is pure. What we mean is that in this wide world of evolved humans, it’s entirely possible that someone out there is using your hashtag (sick, we know). And they may not be using it in a way that benefits your brand.

So save yourself some heartache and search hashtags using a search engine as well as your main social channels (namely Twitter). Start by asking these questions:

  • Is anyone else using it? If so, who are they?
  • Is it too common to be useful to your brand?
  • How is it being used? Has it been used in a negative way already?
  • How recently has it been used in another way?
  • Could the hashtag be misleading or misunderstood?
  • Is it too vague or open-ended that it could easily be hijacked?


Now that you’ve put your precious metals through the crucible and only the purest remain, you’re ready for the final step.

Step 5 – Review: Buddy & Team

Find a buddy

Select a team member close to the project or campaign and do an initial review with her of all your brainstormed hashtags. Don’t work in a silo – she may see things you don’t or offer other options to consider.

Let your team chime in

When you and your buddy get down to your favorites, let the rest of your team provide feedback. But don’t just choose your favorite hashtag and only show them that one, nor should you overload them with your entire brain dump. Select the top 5 (at most 10) that made the cut and present those for final consideration.

TIP: Ditch the dead weight. If you’re currently using a hashtag that isn’t delivering (based on your goals and KPIs), you might as well not even use it. Much like the slowest runner in the group during a zombie apocalypse, just abandon that hashtag and let it succumb to the (undead) order of things.

You want more?!

You sick-o. We thought you might. And we admit that we do not know everything (shocking, we know), so here are a few recommended resources we ran across in our travels:

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so share with us your favorite hashtag tips & tricks and even stories – success or otherwise!