How to Make a Bucket List: 5 Easy Steps to Create a Great One

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Let’s face it, “bucket list” is a terrible name. It’s all focused on how short life can be. You got to get it done before you kick the “bucket” right? The first step would be to find a better name for your bucket list. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to dream. Bucket lists are often presented as big-to-do things, often around travel.

They don’t have to be. Experiences can be as intimate and personal as you would like them to be. They don’t have to visit the Grand Canyon, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, though they certainly could be. They could be as simple as having a super intimate getaway with my loved one. This is the beauty is you get to decide. We don’t have to go by the media-driven ideas of what we’re going to accomplish in life.

That said, why do we need to make a list at all? What if we just took life as it came? The problem is very often what that looks like it’s going to work, going to Disneyland, rinse and repeat. Not that Disneyland can’t be on your bucket list and not that you can’t enjoy work, but it becomes a matter of are we being reactive or proactive in our life?

When we’re reactive, we have far less choice. In reactive mode, we are responding to what life is pitching to us. Yes, there’s a certain excitement to that, but imagine if you got to choose the pitches? How much further would you hit the ball. When we’re proactive we choose the pitch. When we’re proactive we select what is the experience we want to have? How do we want to have it? Where do we want to have it? And with whom?

bucket list

1. Name Your List

Getting away from the scarcity thinking behind bucket list, what do we want to call this list? This list is really about how we want to live life. The experiences that were seeking to have. We could call it

  • Dream List
  • Life’s Experience List
  • My Goals 
  • Achievement List
  • My “Amazing” List
  • Things to Conquer
  • My Life Plan
  • My Wanna-Do List

2. Create Your List

This is a challenge for most people. Why is it so hard? As human beings, we have an innate fear of making choices. Choices mean change. It’s an odd dynamic where particularly when we have a family, we want to keep things a stable as possible for the safety of our family. At the same time change is inevitable so why not embrace it? 

If you’re really jammed up with this try this approach: imagine you’re at your own funeral, what are people saying about you? What is the legacy that you’re leaving behind? Are they saying good father who stayed at home, cooked meals, made sure the house was painted? Or are they saying faithful wife who took her children on exciting trips? 

If you’re still jammed up, you can look up people that you’ve admired. These could be historical figures. Look at what they did. Where did they travel to? What’s was the lifestyle they lived? What stimulates you or inspires you about their lifestyle?

Another way to break through the change challenge is to think of this as daydreaming. Getting off of this is a do-or-die prospect. Get off of once you write it you are committed. You are allowed to change your mind. So daydream a little! Allow your unconscious mind to free flow. You can pick and choose what goes on the list later on. It might be they all seem like horrible ideas once you’re done. Perhaps they all look awesome. It might be somewhere in the middle. What’s important is to let yourself free associate and have some fun here.

 Write your list by hand, old-school style. Even if you are not sure that you remember how to write cursive, write it down. It’s a more creative experience than keyboarding it.

If you want to have fun with this approach, just grab a piece of paper. If you’re feeling a little more serious about it write it in your journal, or in a notebook especially dedicated to this purpose. Studies show that when we write things down we’re 33% more likely to do them.

Once you’ve got your initial list there are a large number of apps dedicated to this purpose. If you want to translate it and digitize it feel free! It also might be helpful to talk about your list with someone, particularly if you’re married for example. Even if you’re not married, working with a coach on this list, when these things might happen, which one is more important than another, is going to increase the possibility that you actually do it. People who speak goals to another human being are 97% more likely to accomplish them.

bucket list

3. How Long a List Should You Make?

How long delicious should be is another classic question. Of course, it’s completely up to you! It’s not like there’s a special number that works. However, creating an overwhelmingly long bucket list that seems unlikely to be tapped may keep you from acting. Similarly, creating a list of things that don’t seem like they’re going to be possible in the near future like let’s say traveling to another solar system also may feel a little limiting. 

You can always change the list. You can make it as long or a short as you want to. To begin with, keep it simple. Some experts recommend starting with 25 items with varying levels of difficulty. The varying levels of difficulty make perfect sense when you think about it. You want some things to be more easily achievable than others. Why? Because you’re going to build on your successes. The more easily achievable goals might be the ones you start with. You will celebrate succeeding and with that victory move forward to more challenging goals. You paragraph

4. Timelines

You may want to put these goals on a timeline. Think of this as a timeline, not a deadline. A deadline implies that you may be dead soon and you don’t want to go there. You don’t want to put any limits on the length of your life, and at the same time, you might die tomorrow so you don’t want to be too slow with this! 

The idea of the timeline is more that you fit these goals in with the natural rhythm of your life to the best of your abilities. For example, if you want to go to the Grand Canyon, you’re probably going to want to make that part of summer vacation. If you want to climb a mountain, not only are you going to want to see where the actual climbing fits in but what are the short-term goals that you’re going to need to achieve to be up to the job? You’re going to want a timeline for all of these things. The goal here is to be successful! Being successful in the achievement of your bucket list will bolster your success in other areas of your life. It also gives you something to talk about cocktail parties lol.

Keep your own aging process in mind. I once had a marathon for example. I put it off thinking I could do that anytime and at any age. Little did I know that having meniscus surgery on both knees would commit me to low-impact exercise for my remaining years. Had to let go of that one! Just wouldn’t be good for the long-term sustainability of my knees. You’re going to have goals that are similar, that are better to achieve while you’re younger, and others that you’ll be able to achieve at any age. Keep this in mind.

bucket list

5. Micro-Goals

As mentioned earlier, there will be some items on your list that require being broken down into smaller pieces. This is going to allow you to create some micro-goals. Micro goals are going to show up more as new habits than anything else. If you want to climb mountain Kilimanjaro, you’re going to need to be fit enough to do it. Becoming fit enough to do it requires developing some new fitness habits.

You may want to create a seasonal bucket list. You want to make sure first of all that you’re actually hitting some of these goals on a regular basis. This is going to keep your excitement and enthusiasm up for the goals that you’re setting for yourself. And as mentioned before there are some items that can only be attained seasonally. If skiing in Vail is on your list, it’s very unlikely you’ll be doing that in the summer for example. 


Here are some questions to help you along :

If you had 6 months to live what would you want to try that you haven’t tried?

What place is in the world of you always wanted to visit?

If money were no object, how would you live your life differently?

What sports have you wanted to do but just been too afraid to try? 

Similarly musical instruments?


Who have you always wanted to meet that you never thought you could?

What do you think the biggest problem is in the world? How would you solve it? 

What do you think the biggest problem in your community is? How would you solve it? 

How would you like to improve your body? Mind? Your spiritual condition? 

Some More Ideas

Go out with some of your friends and have a life-list brainstorming party. This could be in a pub, a restaurant, it could be virtual. There are no rules or boundaries. Everyone just talks about some crazy ideas that you’ve all thought of and see what sticks.

Have a life list party! Decorate the walls with pictures of exotic places, and unusual things that other people have done like walking a tightrope between the world trade centers for example. Challenge everyone to come ready to rock. Set up stations for brainstorming. These stations could be pieces of paper on the wall with different titles on them like:



Things to do

Things to change

Skills to learn

Things to own

And have everybody add to each list anonymously. Then read through the lists and everyone pick items that resonate with them. Create accountability buddies and support one another in accomplishing your dreams.

Remember, this is your opportunity to dream big. Don’t hold yourself back in the dreaming phase. If you’re feeling like you reached a little too far you can always dial it back. This is when it’s really helpful to have a buddy by the way. Whether it’s your partner in life, your best friend, your parents, or siblings, having a buddy who really cares about you will ensure that you don’t dial it back too far.