How (and Why) to Make a Bucket List

What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail? How would you spend the next 12 months if you knew they were your last on Earth?

The answers to these questions are indicative of your inner hopes and desires. It’s nice to imagine what you’d do if you knew your time here was cut short, but it’s wise to be intentional about those same hopes and desires when you have time left to pursue them.

Without getting overly sentimental, life is short. It’s fleeting and fragile, and if you have big dreams, now is the time to chase after them. To help us sort through our own aspirations, we created the Ideation Bucket List exercise — a fusion of ideation practices and the trusty old-school bucket list.

We don’t guide people through this exercise because we are professional dream chasers or because we know how to make a good bucket list. What we do know how to do, however, is move ideas forward. We know how to ideate. We know how to identify our priorities and our purpose, and a bucket list is a combination of all of these. If you want to create an effective bucket list, we suggest treating it as if it were an idea you are pursuing. Ideas require commitment, clarity, and a connection to your purpose — and great bucket lists require the same.

What is a bucket list?

A bucket list is a collection of experiences or achievements that a person dreams to have or accomplish during their lifetime. It’s a list of all of the things that make your hard work, dedication, and persistence worth it. It’s also a 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, which tells the story of two men who meet in a hospital, learn they have a year or less to live, and decide to create a bucket list together.

Why have a bucket list?

Most people don’t know when they’re going to die. As such, it makes sense to begin working on your legacy today. A bucket list provides you with a vision of where you want your life to go (your legacy) and is a destination that will bring you joy and enable you to create joy for others.

The underlying force of a bucket list is the awareness it brings you. Without awareness, you can’t possibly work toward a joyful destination because you don’t even know it exists in the first place. In order to create an actionable bucket list that will actually change your life, you must first become aware. We mentioned earlier that we like to treat a bucket list like an idea we’re pursuing. Here is a four-step idea journey to help you make a bucket list and, in turn, create a more prosperous future.

Step 1: Bridge the Gap

Creating a well-rounded bucket list requires a little exploration of your life. Before you begin your bucket list, think about the way you feel right now, before creating and, hopefully, accomplishing your bucket list. Here’s an example of “before feelings:”

  • Incomplete
  • Fearful
  • Antsy
  • Dissatisfied
  • Tired
  • Disconnected

Next, ask yourself what your needs are. What would make you feel less fearful? More complete? Here’s an example of needs:

  • Be enriched
  • Connect
  • Be energized
  • Gain clarity
  • Be held accountable
  • Be challenged

Now, think ahead to that wonderful moment when you realize you’ve accomplished much of what you set out to do. How do you feel? “After feelings” look like this:

  • Proud
  • Inspired
  • Happy
  • Generous
  • Mindful
  • Intentional

The final component of step one is to bridge the gap between your needs and “after feelings.” What has to happen in order for you to feel generous or mindful? This bridge is what the bucket list is concerned with. You may find some patterns in there and can categorize your solutions like this:

  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Give
  • Learn
  • Adopt a regular exercise practice
  • Prioritize mindfulness
  • Travel

If you like to use tools, we designed the Empathy Map to help you answer and organize the questions above.

Step 2: Mind Map

After identifying your needs and solutions, you’re ready to begin ideating. Ideation is the act of generating ideas. There are a lot of ways to generate ideas, and one we’re particularly fond of is mind mapping. This practice helps connect ideas to one another while helping you generate other ideas.

To generate and connect ideas with a mind map, begin by putting your name in the middle, then around your name write the following six themes: Health & Wellness, Environment, Financial Lifestyle, Growth & Development, Fun & Recreation, and Relationships. These are the six areas in your life which we’ve identified to be the most important to pay attention to in order to create a more prosperous future, but you can identify your own areas to focus on.

Theme by theme, like the example below, write down things you hope to achieve, such as climb Mount Kilimanjaro (Fun & Recreation) or get a coaching certificate (Growth & Development). You can also think about things you want to acquire, like a ski home in Colorado (Environment) or a personal trainer (Health & Wellness).

The more ideas you come up with, the more ideas you should be able to generate and the more connections you’ll make. When it comes to ideation, quantity yields quality.

You’ll see how differentiating by theme can help you spiral into more ideas. Don’t discriminate or judge at this point; the mind map is simply a breeding ground for ideas. You’ll have a chance to edit your ideas next.

Step 3: Dream Storm

Looking at the mind map you drew, write down all of the ideas that warrant a spot on your coveted bucket list. For each experience and achievement, identify the time frame for the dream (the age you hope to achieve it) and who you’d like to accomplish it with.

Once you write down each of your viable ideas (they may not all be worthy of your list) you’ll have successfully created a meaningful bucket list; one that taps into your purpose and helps you fulfill those six important areas of your life.

Step 4: Storyboard

You now have a completed bucket list and it’s time to take action (otherwise, what’s the point of creating it?) To begin, go through your list and highlight the three most feasible dreams at this moment in time. Next, choose one of those dreams to commit to now. You’ll be doing a storyboard on it.

Like a great movie, the frames of a storyboard make your idea come to life. Creating a storyboard helps you think through the completeness of your idea and often allows you to see areas of opportunity with your approach. In the example below, we took one of our bucket list items — to take dad on a trip to Washington, D.C. to see the Korean War Memorial — and mapped out what it would look like, why it will work, and the action steps required to get going.

Download a storyboard to get started here.

Get Going

This is a big exercise. A behemoth exercise. But we promise you it’s worth the effort. Taking the time to ideate on your bucket list will help you think through what matters to you and identify how to go about pursuing your dreams.

Now that you have the tools to do it, get going — your mountain is waiting!

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Like ideating on a bucket list, Exploratory Leadership is all about creating a more prosperous future. For opportunities to learn more about Exploratory Leadership, visit our Events page.

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