A new kind of bucket list

September 14, 2015
Chuck Bowen
Editor's Notebook
Chuck Bowen

I met Rob Atema on a bus in Southeastern Georgia. It was an early morning in February, and we were on our way to visit the headquarters of Coastal Greenery in Brunswick.

During the ride, Rob told me about his company, Rivertop Contracting, and his arrangement with another landscape partner that let the two firms – both relatively small players in the crowded North Carolina market – bid competitively against the heavyweight regional and national companies.

He also told me a story that I’ve heard many times before about how homebuilding suddenly stopped, and with it his glut of construction work, and how he quickly had to shift into landscape maintenance to stay afloat.

Rob’s story about this realization, and the source of that great photo on the cover, is that he tipped over a bucket in his barn, sat down and thought about just what the hell he was going to do now. It was in that stillness he was able to make a plan and see what he and his team had to do to continue to grow. He made a bucket list.

The bucket list – a list of things you want to do before you retire or die – is fine, but I like what Rob did better. He was able to find a bit of quiet in the middle of a very stressful and uncertain time, and come away with some clear thoughts about what to do next. He didn’t have all the answers, but he had at least a couple of ideas to try.

At this point in the year, you’re going full bore, no doubt trying to make up for either a really wet season or a year that’s been as dry as a bone. It’s been a challenge to get enough crew members and you’re racing to fill up the project pipeline before the end of the year.

So, maybe you already have a bucket list – climb Mount Everest, retire at 50, learn how to juggle – but I suggest you start working on a different kind. Yours might not involve a barn or an actual bucket. It could be your truck, your office, your kitchen table or back patio.

But just as you schedule time to maintain your equipment and make sales calls, you need to make time to sit and think about where your business is headed. Wherever and whenever you can, just find a few minutes of quiet and think about where you want to be, and how you’ll get there. The bucket is optional.

– Chuck Bowen