What do you want to do or accomplish in your lifetime? This is sometimes called “The Bucket List.” I’m a birder so I prefer “Life List.” Besides, I’d rather focus on life and living it to the fullest than “kicking the bucket” (and the suggested origin of that term is even bleaker). But if you want to create a Bucket List go right ahead. What we are doing is creating a list of all the things we want to do or accomplish before we die.

Note, dearheart, I said “do or accomplish” not own. This is not a shopping list or a wish list or a letter to the cosmic Santa Clause. It’s your Life or Bucket List of what you want to accomplish or do. So you don’t list things, you list actions. To create a shopping list you would need to write “buy a fill-in-the-blank.”

If you find yourself mainly listing things you want to buy rather than do, you should do the Why Exercise and discover what’s driving the need for spree (to paraphrase “Top Gun”). And ask yourself what you are going to do to get those things that seem so important. You may also want to read the book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton* or check out Norton’s TED talk at the end of this post.

Exercise Preparation

It helps to do the Life or Bucket List exercise in a quiet space without distractions or interruptions. If you must do the exercise in a noisy environment, try using headphones and playing music without words at a level that just blurs or blocks most of the distracting audio around you. I’ve also had people tell me that taking themselves to a different environment, like the ubiquitous coffeehouse or cafe/diner, helps stimulate ideas. But you need to not be distracted or interrupted by the wait staff.

  • You need at least 50-60 minutes total to complete this exercise, broken into a 15-minute and 30-minute segment plus break and review.
    You can do this exercise with several hours or even a day between Part 1 and Part II. I recommend not allowing too much time between Part I & II because that is when we start editing our list in minds to match our perception of what we *should* put on our life list instead of what we really want to do.
  • Get a piece of paper and a pen, or open a clean digital screen for writing.
  • Set a timer for 15-minutes. You will need the timer for the second part of this
  • Take a few moments to relax and clear your mind of current worries. Try visualizing or focusing on something enjoyable, possibly your ideal life, loved ones, or favorite hobby. Basically, you want to be in a comfortable, open-minded state.

Exercise Steps: Part 1

  1. Start your timer for 15-minutes.
  2. Now immediately begin listing everything you want to accomplish, achieve, or do in your lifetime.
    Everything, no matter how silly or inconsequential it may seem. Learn to juggle. Write and publish a mystery novel. Climb Mt. Washington. Visit Tuscany. Learn to make tamales. Hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Attend the Chelsea Graden Show. Run for political office. Master origami cranes and fold a thousand of them. Learn Mandarin. Do stand-up comedy. Beat your brother at tennis at least once.
  3. Keep writing for the full 15-minutes. Do not stop writing. Do not edit.
    Write whatever comes to your mind, no matter how trivial it seems or silly or impossible or grandiose or just wrong. If you find yourself repeating goals, that’s fine. Just keep writing. You must not stop for 15-minutes.
  4. When the timer goes off, you can stop writing — or not.
    If you find yourself in a flow, you can keep going and stop when you find yourself having to stop and think of something else to add to the list. The point is to just let all of these dreams, desires, needs, and wishes bubble up and come out. No one will see this list but you (unless you want to share it with someone else).
  5. Once you stop, take a break for at least 5-minutes before doing Part II of this exercise.
    If you want or need to take a longer break, that’s fine. Sometimes it’s helpful to let our minds process the information in the background as we focus on other needs and activities. Just try to get to Part II within 24-hours so you don’t end up persuading yourself to include what you feel ought to be on the list.

Exercise Steps: Part 2

Again, you want to do this exercise without distractions or interruptions, somewhere where you are comfortable and relaxed.

Get a clean piece of paper and your pen or a clean writing screen.

  1. Set your timer for 30-minutes and when you are ready, start your timer.
  2. Once again, start writing down everything you can think of that you want to do, accomplish, or achieve in your lifetime. Keep writing until non-stop until the timer goes off.
    Again, it’s okay if you find yourself repeating items (or even the same item), just keep listing things you want to do, achieve, or accomplish in your lifetime until the timer goes off.
  3. When the timer goes off stop writing — unless you are on a roll, then keep writing until you run out of new things to add to your list.

The reason for repeating the exercise and adding more time is that often it takes a while for our inhibitions to drop and our minds to let go of the programming we carry around that limits what we should want or hope to do in our lives. It may be programming about what we should want to do in our lives or it may be about what we can and can’t do in our lives. Perhaps you really want to sell your artwork or perform in public but you were told you shouldn’t waste time on those pursuits. Or maybe you were told wanting to go to college or become a programmer was a waste of time because you had no chance. Or perhaps you were told mastering a game or learn to tap dance or whatever you thought looked fun but didn’t have a practical application was a waste of time.  The entire point of this exercise is to get it all down — the practical and the impractical, the possible and the impossible, the comfortable and the uncomfortable. You are creating your Life or Bucket List.

Exercise Steps: Part III — Review & Revise

Again, you may want to take a break — short or long — before tackling this part of your Life or Bucket List  I also like to get a beverage of choice, a comfortable seat, and enough uninterrupted time to really think.

  1. Get a fresh, clean sheet of paper and pen or a clean writing screen to consolidate and revise your final list.
  2. Read over your lists.
    Note what appears on both lists. These should definitely go on your Final Master List. Note categories or related items such as “Learning French, Learning Chinese, Learning Italian.” What do they have in common? Ask yourself why you want to accomplish this goal. Is there a deeper desire like world travel or develop work connections in those areas?
  3. Also, note anything that is a specific achievement or external validation goal.
    For example, “Win an Academy Award,” “Write a bestseller,” “Win a Nobel Prize in Physics,” or become a Supreme Court Justice. These are goals that you cannot control. You can do a number of things to improve your chances, but your actions alone cannot guarantee you will achieve the goal. Ask yourself why you want the external validation. Why isn’t it enough to do and master the work? Is it the doing or the recognition that you desire? Would the doing be without value without the recognition? What kind of sacrifices and changes in your life and yourself would you need to make to have a shot at that external validation? Are you willing to make that kind of sacrifice? Is that what’s really important to you? Or is there some element of the goal that is actually the important part?Deep stuff, I know, but the point is that you are wanting to create a list of what you want to do with your life,  things over which you have control. You can learn to become a medical researcher focused on curing cancer, you can’t control whether you actually” cure cancer.” Some things you have little or no control over. Your list should be about what you can do and achieve and accomplish. Perhaps it isn’t the Academy Award that is important but performing in something enduring and that affects people’s perceptions, or perhaps it’s getting recognition for your mastery by your peers? Maybe you aren’t as interested in being a Supreme Court Justice as in influencing the laws and rights of the land? Is there another way you can achieve the true internal validation?
  4. Write your Final Master Life List.
    It’s not carved in stone — and even if it was, stone breaks. (Ask Moses.) As we age and random things happen in our lives, some of our goals and desires change. What seemed terribly important at 25 may be less so at 40 or 60 when it conflicts with something we value more highly.
  5. Look at the items on your list in terms of the values they represent.
    Does it genuinely one of your values? Or is it something others say you should value? The underlying purpose of “HIke the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim” on my Life List was both to experience the marvels of the canyon and to physically challenge myself.  Protecting the increasingly fragile and polluted environment of the Grand Canyon is more important to me now than challenging myself to hike it solo rim-to-rim. On the other hand, I’m glad I learned to juggle every time I have to entertain a child.
  6. Put your Life List somewhere safe and review it from time to time.
    Maybe haul it out for major milestones or birthdays in your life. Check and see how relevant it is. Use it with teh Priority Planning Process to actually focus on what matters to you.


You can also do this for a specific period of time, say 1-year (yes, this is a type of New Year’s Resolutions), 5-year, or even quarterly. But most people come up with a great deal more than they can possibly accomplish in the given period of time so you will need to prioritize your list. Applying the Priority Planning Process to your list helps greatly.

And to really make things happen and accomplish your life aspirations, try the Priority Planning Process.


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