Getting It Done – A Guide To Creating a Proper Bucket List

by Chris on May 3, 2009 · 22 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development


Run a marathon. Get a degree. Write a book. Build a house. Every man has goals. Sometimes our goals are lofty aspirations (make a difference, change the world), sometimes they are simply tasks we need to achieve in order to function better (sleep more, quit smoking). Too often in life we get caught up in our day to day business and time just slips right past us. At the end of each year, we habitually look back and sum up the events of that year, taking stock of what we really accomplished. Many of us could probably sum up 2008 in a few words, something along the lines of I worked a lot, made some money, spent some money, paid off some bills. Now that is all well and good, but did you have childhood dreams about working a lot to pay off bills, and nothing more? No. If that was all you dreamed about as a kid, you probably had a lot of alone time at the playground to think about it. As kids we dreamed about doing something amazing, about having grand adventures. We dreamed about one day becoming men of action, who seized every day as our own and made the most of it. So what has changed? Age is just a number. Sure, you have more responsibility now than when you were a kid, but you also have far more capability. The things you once could only dream of are now within your reach; why not take hold of them?

No matter how grand or trivial our goals, it always feels good to achieve them, and there is a very simple tool that can help you do just that-the bucket list. It has been scientifically proven that if you write down your goals, you are far more likely to actually accomplish them. When you physically record your goals, your mind creates a sort of contract with itself, and nobody likes to let themselves down. Plus, having a physical list lying around that you see on a regular basis serves as a constant reminder of your aspirations, and keeps you goal oriented. So where to start?

The Materials Needed

To start off with, you are going to need a proper medium to record your list on. Don’t just scribble it down on a scrap of paper that’s going to get mixed up with old mail and thrown out. Make this something special, something that you will take care of and look back on years down the road, the roadmap of your success. Keep in mind that your list can potentially be fairly long, and will likely have many additions as you check off items and your priorities change. You also want to remember that for a bucket list to be effective, you need to be aware of it, so buying a bulky leather bound journal that looks like a ship’s log, as appealing as that may be, is really a poor choice since you’re unlikely to have it with you very often. You want something that you can keep in your pocket, or at your workspace, not something that will be gathering dust at the bottom of your bookshelf. While you may consider something like the Moleskine too pricey for your day to day pocket notebook, its durability makes it an excellent choice for storing your bucket list. You need something that will potentially last for decades. Finally, and this the next part goes without saying…write in pen.  Don’t afford yourself the opportunity to erase a goal later just because it is proving too difficult to accomplish.

The List Itself

This is the simplest part of an already simple process. The contents of the list are totally up to you. The idea is to put to paper all the things you ever said you wanted to do. Then think ahead, to the end of your life, and imagine all the things you will be saying you wish you had done, and write those down too. Some argue that having too many things on your list makes you less likely to accomplish as many goals, but I couldn’t disagree more. If the goals you put on the list are truly important to you, as every goal that makes the cut should be, then it does not matter how many there are. Life is short, but not short enough that you can’t get a lot done before the final buzzer. Nothing is too insignificant, as we can take pleasure from even the smallest accomplishments, so don’t leave anything out that is important to you. Want to quit biting your nails? Put it in there. Entertaining the idea of losing a few pounds? Make it official.

That being said, this is not simply a checklist for the day to day aspects of your life you wish to improve upon. Include the big goals, the ones you dream about accomplishing. You know that house you have been dreaming about building? You know the one, with the wraparound porch and the big comfy man-cave in the basement? The first step in the building process is putting it on your bucket list. Tired of your job and considering pursuing a new career, or maybe going back to school? Jot it down. Once you’ve covered the small stuff like diets and the big stuff like building a house, move on to the outrageous stuff, because really, what’s to stop you from accomplishing your wildest dreams as well? Stop thinking about how great it would be to hike the Appalachian Trail in a single attempt and instead put it on your list, and then start training. Want to climb Everest? Not so many years ago there was an unassuming beekeeper who decided he wanted to do just that, and as the story goes, he “knocked the bastard off.” Why can’t you? Just remember, putting things on your bucket list is like signing a contract with yourself. Don’t put things on the list that you know you will never pursue in reality. Doing so just creates another reminder of how you aren’t living the life you wish you were. When something makes the list, it becomes a goal, and you should be working towards accomplishing it from the second you write it down.

Maintaining the List

Once you have compiled your initial list, start working towards checking off the items on it. While it is always rewarding to accomplish goals, bucket list or not, there is something truly special about drawing a line through the goal you have been reading every day for months or years on end. The sense of accomplishment is almost overwhelming, and it also serves as a sort of turbo-boost for your other goals, because you realize that if you can accomplish one, you can accomplish them all. If possible, keep your list with you at all times, or at least somewhere that you will notice it daily and can take a minute to flip through it. Make a ritual of scanning the items on your list, updating yourself on the progress you have made towards achieving each goal. Your list should be fluid, so don’t be afraid to add items to your list when inspiration strikes. Try to avoid erasing items from your list, unless the removal is based on a real change of heart, and not just because you feel you cannot accomplish something and do not want to look at it anymore. Remember, a major part of the reason for keeping a bucket list is to remind yourself of those hard to achieve dreams so that you will stay motivated to reach them.

We are less than half way through the year, with plenty of time left to do some amazing things. Nine months from now, what will you have to say about 2009? For me, it will be the year I earned my Master’s Degree, travelled to 3 different continents, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, went on photo safari in East Africa, and of course, became an official contributor to the Art of Manliness. What stories will you have to tell? After all, we are the writers of our own story. Make yours one worth telling.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a bucket list? What are some of the goals you have on it?

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ben May 3, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Thanks for writing this. I think I will begin my list.

2 Paul May 3, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Very inspiring article. But when I went to write my list I found that there wasn’t much I could think of I wanted to do, and the things I could think of, I didn’t want to write down because I don’t think I could really accomplish them. Man, what a wake up call to my patheticness.

3 Dan Jolt May 4, 2009 at 2:17 am

I don’t really like the idea of having a goal list where you can strike off goals like they are normal errands to be taken care of.

Happyness doesn’t come in list form.

If it’s stuff you “always” wanted to do but forgot, hey, time saved. If you really care about it, there’s no need to put it on a to-do list unless you really plan to do it this year and need to start scheduling some real time towards the goal.

BTW, I don’t really believe in childhood dreams that much, either. Maybe it’s just me, but many of my childhood dreams were about aquiring stuff.

4 Dawsy May 4, 2009 at 2:19 am

Another great article. I started doing this a couple of years ago, and it’s worked a treat so far. In the past 2 years, I’ve had a baby, lived in 2 countries, changed jobs twice (I’m now working from home full-time!), bought a flat, bought a car, walked inside the Great Pyramid, rode a bullet train, kissed my wife atop the Eifel tower, threw a snowball, got my yellow belt in Karate, bought a flat-screen television, learned a new programming language, and knocked a year off my degree. Phew!

There’s really no time like the present, and you’ll be amased how often you’ll start noticing opportunities to knock things off your list once you get started!

5 Apjak May 4, 2009 at 10:45 am

I liked this okay, but I’ve kept a list around for a long time. One thing I’d like mentioned is something I’ve done with my list. I only keep 5 things on it at a time. I think of my alternates, sometimes completing them before thay make it to the list, but there are always five big things always on there. One was to get a Black Belt in a respectable Martial Art. Upon completing it I changed the list. I think of it like Benjamin Franklin once said, “Live everyday like you’ll live to see 100; pray like you will die tomorrow. I just wanted to throw my idea of a “Living List” out there. I know I’ll never be out of goals and the five I have I’m always making plans to acomplish.

6 Brett May 4, 2009 at 10:58 am

Great post Hutch. While I was looking for an image to put in it on flickr, I ran across a pic of someone’s bucket list and this caption, which I thought was interesting:

“Last fall I did an internship in Washington D.C. with a senator. He took us to lunch one day and he told us of a family tradition, where each family member has a list of 100 things they want to accomplish in their lifetime. When they accomplish one of the things they put it on another list, so when they are having a bad day they can look at the list and see all that they have accomplished, The list always has to be 100 long, so when they finish one they have to add another. As you can see I am working on my list, its not that easy, I need to finish it!”

7 Joe Cope May 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm

hutch, as expected, another great article, dude. i’m glad that i’ll be able to accomplish those africa goals with you. as we speak, i’m transferring my list from 43things into my moleskine to make it a lot more accessible on a daily basis, and i’m adding some stuff too.

great job buddy.

8 Wellington Grey May 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm

@ Dan

You’re right that happiness doesn’t come in list form, but I completely disagree about the necessity of a list.

I think it’s *vital* to have a list of your long-term goals. Better yet if you keep it in a prominent place.

Writing down you’re goals is a way to make a firm commitment to yourself that you’re really going to make progress on something, not just think: ‘boy, it’d be nice to do that’.

9 Wellington Grey May 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm

@ Dan

You’re right that happiness doesn’t come in list form, but I completely disagree about the necessity of a list.

I think it’s *vital* to have a list of your long-term goals. Better yet if you keep it in a prominent place.

Writing down you’re goals is a way to make a firm commitment to yourself that you’re really going to make progress on something, not just think: ‘boy, it’d be nice to do that’.
P.S.: Wanted to say great post!

10 jeff May 4, 2009 at 8:06 pm

The only way to change something from an “I always wanted to…” or an “I wish I could…” is to set your mind to it, and writing it down on a piece of paper makes it official.

I’m a junior in college, and this year my roommate and I decided we wanted to drink all 24 styles of Samuel Adams. We made a list and each time we drank one, we triumphantly crossed it off the list. We had trouble finding the last 3, the Imperial Series. So we decided to drive to Chicago (3+ hrs. round trip) to find them. Sure enough, we found a nice liquor store in Wrigleyville that had all three. I’m proud to say that we have finished our quest, thanks in large part that we made it into a tangible goal via writing it down.

11 Arthur P. O. May 5, 2009 at 3:53 pm


Funny you mention that. I too stumbled upon the said picture on Flickr while looking for inspiration for my Bucket list. This blog post jogged that memory.

For the curious:

12 Leo May 7, 2009 at 7:54 am

My goodness.. there are so many things I want to accomplish. Having a list reminds me of the scope of my desired accomplishments. Every time I work on an item from my list, I feel like a kid again.

Thanks for this article! It’s strange how much more real an idea appears to be once it’s in black & white, written down.

13 Adam May 12, 2009 at 1:51 am

this is good, motivation to keep living
real life quests that need to be completed

14 Christatos May 25, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I would suggest two things for a bucket list. One that you need to have, and one that you should put on it.

Requirement: amor fati. If you don’t know what it means, look it up. It helps.

Put on it: Find the one. Just trust me.

15 Dan June 17, 2009 at 5:42 pm

I made my bucket list while I was serving in Baghdad. Its odd how a list of things to do before you kick the bucket could motivate you to stay alive. Instead of having my troopers write death letters, I had them write bucket lists. One of my guys unfortunately lost a leg, before that he had stated in his bucket list he wanted to learn how to snow board. You can now see a one legged man snowboarding all over Colorado. Keep that in mind as you make your list, no matter the setback the goal is still waiting.

16 Kenneth Payne January 25, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I’m the only guy here who knows who the dude in the tub is and what he’s writing.

17 Michael Yates March 29, 2010 at 3:09 am


Care to share this tidbit?

18 Kenneth Payne March 29, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Sure. It’s Rod McKuen and he’s undoubtedly writing a poem.

19 David April 21, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Some of the things on my list would be:
1) Live to see all the rotten corporate CEO’s of America’s thieving major companies and industries that have caused us and the world so much grief in the last 5 years, be sentenced to life in prison or be publicly executed.
2) Visit every country in the world or as many as possible.
3) See all Islamic radicals exterminated.
4) See America go back to being ruled by the majority instead of kow-towing to minorities
5) Fly a jet plane ( with an instructor beside me of course )
6) Sky dive
7) See as many of the modern and ancient wonders of the possible … I’ve seen quite a few already
8) Win a really big lottery to where I would never have to worry about money again
9) Take a world cruise
10) Get even with as many as possible of the jerks who have tried to screw me over during my life.
11) Spend every last cent I have and leave nothing to relatives or charity
12) Finally, When I’m 95, be accused of raping and impregnating a 13 year old girl and I’ll plead ” guilty your honor “

20 Tamara April 22, 2010 at 9:10 am

to the fella with issues on happiness….. being truely happy is usually quiet. Not loud. Learning this road… the end of a life …is unexpected for me and my husband. Thanks for this ….we will have an interesting last year together.

21 Lawrence July 18, 2010 at 12:19 am

Great article. I’ve kind of done one already, but I can see that it needs to be updated. And to the poster named David, you’re obviously under the age of 18 or at least the equivalent, maturity wise. How about putting “common sense” on your bucket list.

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