Why The Ice Bucket Challenge Is a Waste of Your Time

There are many reasons you should not waste your time with the Ice Bucket Challenge. For one, I won’t do it because I don’t like being called out and told what to do. Second, it doesn’t look like a lot of fun (although from what I understand, that’s the point, to experience the momentary loss of muscle control that ALS sufferers deal with on a daily basis).

Those are two small reasons.

The biggest reason of all is that it simply doesn’t matter.

You didn’t wake up on January 1st, 2014 thinking, “If I can only pour a bucket of ice cold water on my head for charity this year, then I’ll have accomplished something really important.” You probably didn’t wake up thinking that on July 1st either, or August 1st, or even two weeks ago.

Then the emails and call-outs started coming.

“Have you seen this?” your friends asked.

“I call you out to do this!” your work colleagues would state in their Facebook posts and Youtube videos about their ice bucket challenges.

Maybe you gave in to peer pressure and did it. Maybe you haven’t. Yet.

If you do it, nothing will change for the better.

If you don’t do it, you’ll actually get further ahead in life.

At a minimum, the Ice Bucket Challenge will consume two hours of your life. There’s the organizing of the ice water, the finding of a bucket big enough to hold the 5 gallons or more that you’ll waste, the recruitment of a ‘dumper’, the further recruitment of the videographer to capture the event for social media, the emails you have to send out to people with the momentous announcement that you’ll be putting yourself through this stunt, the changing of the clothes into your ice bucket outfit, and then the subsequent dumping, hopefully without injury unlike the Campbellsville Kentucky Fire Department that was electrocuted in an ice-bucketing-gone-wrong (if you have more time to waste, you can watch plenty of ice bucket fails on Youtube), and then the changing of clothes and warming up your body, followed by the subsequent calling out of other people and then the tall tale telling you’ll do with co-workers.

That’s a lot of time and energy.

And for what?

Yes, it’s a charity. Yes, money will go to research that might lead to a cure for a disease that affects 5,600 people in America every year. That’s 0.001% of the American population.

But if you’ve done this, why aren’t you marching in the streets for peace in Syria? Surely you hate to see the pain and suffering of innocent bystanders being killed in Damascus?

What about pediatric cancer? Every year 13,500 children in America are diagnosed with cancer. Everyone hates cancer, even more so when it happens to innocent children. But what have you done to fight childhood cancer lately?

What about the humane society? If you aren’t out there volunteering and neutering and spaying animals, what kind of selfish lout are you?

I’m being facetious, of course, but it raises these questions.

What do you stand for?

Where do you draw the line?

What do you sit out?

What really matters?

Jim Collins, quoted in a 2012 Inc. magazine shared twelve questions that a company should ask themselves if they want to go from Good to Great. We can apply three of them to both our careers and personal lives:

First, “What are the brutal facts?”

Second, “What is our 20-Mile March, and are we hitting it?”

Third, “What should we stop doing, to increase our discipline and focus?”

At the beginning of 2014 you set goals. You identified your priorities. Have you accomplished them all? Was one of them to get doused in a bucket of ice water?

How is your progress going on your big goals and dreams? Did you get all of the work done that you needed to get done this week? Could you have used those extra two hours that were wasted getting a bucket of ice-cold water dumped over your head? How does the ice bucket challenge fit into your priorities in life?

Where do you draw the line?


Each week my personal coaching clients are required to send me an email update including both the successes and bottlenecks they are experiencing in their businesses. Three of my clients called me out to do the Ice Bucket Challenge after undergoing their own. All three of these clients also reported being stressed, not getting everything done, and being mired in struggles in both their personal and business lives. Yet for some reason they thought it was a good idea to take two hours from their week, engage in lemming-like behavior to pour a bucket of water over their head for a charity that they did not even know existed ten days ago.

One of them argued it was worth it because it might have brought in a new client.

That’s nice, but wouldn’t two hours of time dedicated to hard thinking, reactivation calls to past clients, or crafting an email marketing campaign have brought in more clients?

Whatever happened to relying on the merit of your message and the master of marketing for getting clients and customers instead of hoping that participation in a charity event might get you a client? That’s akin to playing the lottery and it is not worth your time.

Those are the brutal facts.

The Ice Bucket Challenge does not move you closer to your vision.

The Ice Bucket Challenge – and other activities like it – is something you should stop doing so that you can have more discipline and apply your focus to what matters.

Funny thing, who would have ever believed that our desire to procrastinate is so strong that we’d even sit through the pain of having a giant bucket of ice-cold water poured over our heads? That’s the reality of the situation though, isn’t it? Instead of sitting at our desks and doing the real work, we’ll do almost anything – including getting doused with freezing cold water – just so we can avoid the real work that really matters in life. Such is the ingenuity of our dilly-dallying.

I know what you’re thinking.

“What a selfish jerk! You don’t care about anyone but yourself. My Ice Bucket Challenge was for a good use of my time because it’s for a good cause!”

If you think that, you’re wrong.

What I care about – so strongly that is it is borderline irrational – is that you are using the limited amount of time in your life for the right things so that at the end of the week, the year, and your life you can look back and be satisfied with the legacy you have left.

We’ve never met, and yet I think night and day about how your life can be improved. It’s seven o’clock on Sunday morning and I’m working on this article for you to challenge your thinking on how you use your time. Your success matters that much to me, and that’s why I insist we look at the brutal facts about your decisions and how your actions are either moving you closer to or further away from your goals.

What is your 20-mile march? What is your big hairy audacious goal in life? What does the Ice Bucket Challenge have to do with it? What are the brutal facts about the progress you’ve made towards your big goals and dreams in life? What do you need to stop doing so that you can apply more discipline and focus to it?

Have you written the book that you were born to write? Or are you procrastinating with a million different trivialities that will not matter in three months let alone three days from now?

Have you fully nurtured and grown the family that you have so much love for? Or are you coming home late from work because you wasted two hours doing an Ice Bucket Challenge and thus had to stay three hours late to catch up?

Have you poured all the ice-cold water over your head that you could ever need to pour over your head?

If you were only able to answer yes to the final question, then you need to take a good hard look at how you are spending your time and whether or not you are focusing on what really matters in life.

Are you doing what really matters?

Will the ice bucket challenge improve your life and get you closer to your vision? No. Will it help raise $300 for charity? Maybe. When looking at your participation with utter, brutal honesty, was it the best use of time in your life?


Imagine, if you will, two possible conversations that could take place on this coming New Year’s Eve. You stand around at cocktail hour in small talk with friends.

“Remember,” your friend says to you, “when you took that challenge to pour that bucket of ice water on your head?”

“Yep,” you reply.

“Yeah, that sure was funny,”

“Yep,” you repeat like Hank Hill in a scene from the cartoon, King of the Hill.



Compare that to this conversation you might have if you focus on your priorities, if you sacrifice the minutiae and miniscule matters from your life and have laser-like focus and discipline commitment to what really matters.

“Hey,” a member of your community says, “I know you were really busy this year raising your family and having a really great year with your business, but I just want to thank you for finishing your book. It made a real difference in my life and in the life of all my friends that I referred to it. Thank you.”

Maybe you don’t care about writing a book. That’s fine. It’s just an example of what you can achieve if you stay focused, stop procrastinating, say no to what doesn’t matter, and say yes to what does.

My friend Dave Kekich wrote, “You are responsible for exactly who, what, and where you are in life. That will be just as true this time next year.”

As an ETR reader, there’s no doubt that you have big goals. In a year from now, will you have accomplished them if you keep making the decisions about how to use your time that you are making right now?

At the beginning of 2014 I followed Mark Ford’s advice and set only four goals for this year, one for my health, one for my wealth, one for my social self, and one for my personal enrichment. Nothing else matters to me but making progress on these four items. Combined they are my 20-Mile March.

  1. My Health Goal – To fix my digestive health issues
  2. My Wealth Goal – To do everything I can to support our team at ETR so that we hit a record annual revenue
  3. My Social-Self Goal – To improve 3 specific and incredibly important relationships in my family.
  4. My Personal Enrichment Goal – To finally finish my first book.

These four priorities drive everything in my life. Nothing else matters. I must be ruthless about how I use my time and I make no apologies for it. I will be turning down every ice bucket call-out that comes my way. I will control what I can, I will concentrate on what counts, and I will focus on what really matters to me. Those are the brutal facts about my life, and this focus has been a key element in 2014 being my best year ever for goal achievement. Brutal honesty, discipline and focus works. Following the crowd and wasting your precious time does not.

When asked about his success in building Twitter, entrepreneur Jack Dorsey said, “I’m most proud of the things we decided not to do.” It’s great wisdom from such a young man to recognize the Power of No.

We all have 168 hours in our week. You can’t afford to waste any of them. The keys are to know the Vision for your life, your priorities, and what really matters. With that knowledge, you must – if we’re being brutally honest – be ruthless with your time. How you use your time will be the most important decision you make in your life. Choose wisely. This life is not a dress rehearsal, as the old adage goes.

Be clear about your goals. Know what you are willing to do – and NOT willing to do – in order to succeed.

Know what you stand for and stick to it. Make no excuses, make no apologies.

You still have big projects to finish in 2014.

Be clear about your priorities and let nothing get in your way.

“Regardless of what is going on around you, make the best of what is in your power.” – Epictetus

[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise (Join him on Facebook here) and the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with research of proven methods in your career, in your business and in your personal life. He has created a unique system to show gratitude and appreciation to stay on track for these goals each and every day. Click here to follow the exact 5-minute system you can use to improve your life.]

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  • Andy Gladman

    What a moronic article. The best use we can make of what little time we get on this Earth will always be doing something – however small – to help others. You can go on and on about success and achieving your goals but when you’re dead and buried that’s not going to matter one bit. The only legacy worth leaving is a contribution to something bigger than yourself, like, say, being part of a campaign to help raise awareness and funds for curing a horrible illness. Personal gain and goals should always come second to the responsibility we have to do everything in our power to make the world around us a better place. Because even if you have all the wealth and fame and glory you could want in life, what does that matter if you leave the world no better than you found it?

  • scooter59

    Great article Craig!

  • Jerry Waxman

    You came down pretty hard – unnecessarily – on people’s fun, Craig. When you went to some remote location in Germany to drive a car, was that a waste of time? I don’t think so. We needn’t pretend that doing the ice bucket challenge is going to do much good for anyone – but neither does watching “King of the Hill” on TV. If our entire focus is supposed to be on our goals – well, some successful entrepreneurs, eg Zuckerberg – did the ice bucket challenge.

    Much of the article was pretty good, though. There were challenges to how we use time, and the discussion about focusing on goals (It wasn’t stated as such, but that’s how I saw it) was thought-provoking.

    Personally, I did not do the ice bucket challenge. I sent a little money (quite little) to ALSA – without being challenged. I also send money every month to a charity that helps needy kids. When my own salary barely lets me keep my head above water, I suppose you could say I’m wasting money, but I don’t see it that way. I see it as kind of an investment – and just about anyone who has given regularly to a charity probably knows what I’m talking about.

    In lieu of the ice bucket challenge, I made a video that challenges the watcher to step up and donate a little time or money to a worthy cause of their choosing, and to do it quietly and without fanfare.

  • Anne

    Another excellent, challenging and thought-provoking article. Thank you so much, Craig!

  • rrd

    If you don’t have a sense of humour if you can’t enjoy a bit of silliness and t let go for the hell of it -then you’re wound up too tight to be a person I’d ever want to be around. I know a lot of people who have done the ice bucket challenge and it has been a great thing-they didn’t lose their way . It wasn’t a waste of time -it enriched their relationship with friends, collegues and people they didn’t even know. To have some dogmatic control freak obsessing over something like this out of envy because they didn’t think of it first is a problem they themselves will have to deal with. THAT–my good man is the REAL waste of time.

  • Drewma

    Offended by this article…. If I choose to raise awareness for only 0.001% of the population, that still matters! Not everyone is called or gifted to march through the streets of Syria for peace. You make way too many assumptions about peoples lives and how they should spend their time. Maybe being called out by a friend to support a cause that hits close to home meant the world to someone and made them feel they were making a difference! Maybe? Does that matter to you? My ice bucket challenge took 10 minutes after work and it made the person in my life with ALS quite proud. Maybe you should step outside the box and try dumping water on your head for awareness, maybe you’ll reach someone in the 0.001 percentile that you didn’t think you would. Please share your photos from your peace march in Syria when you have them. God bless

  • Claire

    I did not and likely will not do the ice bucket challenge. It’s just not my thing. Still, I find this article to be exceptionally judgmental. Two hours is not too much time to laugh, to feel like you’ve given of yourself, and to feel as though you are part of something greater than the every day. Sometimes we become so focused on where we want to be that we forget to appreciate the beauty and joy of where we are. Moments like the ALS ice bucket challenge can help with that.

  • kc

    ahhhh looks like this article sparked controversy. And a very good thing that is. Very good take on the subject matter at hand.

  • John Dunlap

    Hey Craig, please pass along my heartfelt personal thanks to
    the subscribers whose “ice bucket” challenge you scorned.

    Regarding your 7 AM Sunday rant: even if this was not history’s worst violation of the Sabbath – the attack on Pearl Harbor comes to mind – it surely was among the silliest. Using your precious, peaceful hours to heap ridicule on people who sacrificed their time and resources for a healing cause!

    This is myopia on the cosmic scale. What you look upon you cannot see. Too bad, because there is great beauty in giving against all odds! I’m sustained by forms of it every day in the nonpareil professionalism and the countless uncompensated exertions of caretakers and friends. I’d never wish my ALS on anyone, but I do wish that you could see what I see.

    All that aside, you are missing the biggest takeaway of the ice bucket phenomenon. To quote “Chris”, a ground-breaking Austin philanthropist,

    “I think it will awaken the potential marriage of relationship-oriented fundraising and social media in general. After all these years in the shadows, ALS certainly deserves this coming out party.”

    What Chris perceived in the ice bucket explosion was underlined in Josh Levin’s essay on the origins of the movement, recently published in Slate:

    “…it’s clear that the year’s biggest viral trend isn’t about any single person. Rather, it’s one of the best examples we’ve ever seen of the Internet’s amazing ability to connect people and spread ideas…”

    As of today, Aug. 27, contributions have topped $94 million. Craig, it is time for you to rethink, and recant. Recommence some positive efforts reflecting credit on ETR. If you can’t, well… go soak your head!

    John Dunlap

    Austin. Texas

  • Donating money to one charity does not in anyway demerit any other charity.. every other concern you listed is still valid and not made any less valid by anyone donating money to help the 30,000 people who live in the US who are currently diagnosed with the disease.

    I got called out, I didn’t want to dump water on my head so I donated the full amount instead of the $10 you are supposed to donate by doing it.. I also donated money to one of my other favorite charities at the same time…

    Your protest of donating money to one charity is not going to strengthen any other cause.

  • Anon

    Yes I agree with most of the comments posted in response to this article… namely, geez, lighten up a bit! What a self-righteous piece of writing this is – I’m all for working towards your goals (I have made 7-figures in direct response) – but this is simply a bit of fun! My two toddlers wailed with laughter as they watched their grandparents complete the challenge – they couldn’t watch it enough times 🙂

    And to say it will take 2-hours of your precious time to complete – NONSENSE! Here’s the procedure:

    1) Turn on a tap, open the freezer to get some ice, then fill the bucket with said water and ice… 2mins.
    2) Walk into the garden and sit on a chair… 30seconds.
    3) Partner takes out phone, unlocks it and starts up video camera… 30seconds.
    4) Opening speech and nominations… 30seconds.
    5) Pour water on head… 10seconds.
    6) Everyone falls on floor in stitches of laughter… 20seconds.
    7) Dry off with towel… 1min.
    8) Send video to facebook direct from phone… 2mins (based on connection speed).

    I make that about 7mins, and certainly no more than 10… correct me if I’m wrong though? So where do you get 2hrs from Craig?

    Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy ETR and your posts, but this one has changed my view on you somewhat… just a VERY strange article and sequence of points, that’s all.