7 Steps to Building Your Best Bucket List

One rainy afternoon an inspired 15-year old boy sat down at his kitchen table in Los Angeles and jotted down three words at the top of a yellow legal pad, “My Life List.”

Under that heading the boy listed 127 goals he wished to accomplish in his lifetime.

Goals as big as fly a plane, explore the Congo River, run a mile in 5 minutes, light a match with a .22 rifle, and live to see the 21st century.

Considered the world’s greatest goal achiever and called “the real-life Indiana Jones” by the LA Times, John Goddard crossed off 111 of his 127 goals.

After a battle with cancer Goddard died in 2013 at the age of 88 ½ years old leaving behind an inspiring legacy.

How did a young boy become so motivated to not only write down a list of ambitious goals but actually set out and accomplish nearly all of them?

Goddard says the spark was lit that rainy day when one of his father’s friends was telling him how he regretted never having done the things he wanted to when he was John’s age.

If you’re close to retirement, I have one question for you:

What will you regret never having done when you die?

Your Bucket List

So many of us have life lists like John that we hope to accomplish during our retirement years but few manage to do what Goddard did.

How come?

Where most bucket lists go wrong is they leave out one key ingredient: intention.

I’ve seen too many people show me their life lists with goals they have no intention of actually doing.

These goals are typically wishes that are fun to daydream about when you’re bored, but actually living out and doing these things is low priority.

Toward the end of the movie Bucket List, after Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson finish climbing to the top of a pyramid in Egypt, Freeman asks Nicholson two questions.

He says, “The ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls go to the entrance of heaven the gods asked them two questions.

There answers determined whether they were admitted or not.”

Question 1: Have you found joy?

Question 2: Has your life brought joy to others?

Today my goal is to help you create a bucket list that drives your life in retirement.

The two questions the Egyptians asked are a good litmus test for what should go on your life list but I think you should consider a few more things.

Do’s and Don’ts of a Bucket List

DO make a list of intentions, not wishes.

Your bucket list needs to be something you actually want to do, not something you want to happen.

Ten years from now when your million-dollar business is still an idea, it won’t be because it wasn’t attainable, it’s simply because you didn’t actually want to put in the work necessary to do it.

Avoid writing down wishes, filter your list with goals you can picture yourself doing.

DO make BIG audacious goals, but not unrealistic.

Goddard’s list is a good example of a bucket list with some audacious yet realistic goals.

Learning how to fly a plane is ambitious but it’s doable if you put in the hours. Saying you’re going to own an NBA team is a pretty unrealistic goal unless you’re willing to put in the work to make 8-9 figures a year.

DO consider your priorities.

Once again this comes down to what’s most important to you.

If family is a priority then write down goals that reflect that like spending time every week with your grandchildren.

The key to sticking to your priorities is to be ruthless with the things that are not priorities in your life.

Consider making a not-do list that you review frequently as well. This will keep you on track to crossing off what’s truly important.

DO make the goals on your list clear and check-off-able.

Travel the globe is a vague goal.

What countries do you want to visit? Better yet, what attractions, sites, and people do you want to see?

Answer those three questions and build your travel goals around them.

DO add small goals to your list.

Lighting a match with a .22 rifle isn’t an enormous goal but it sounds cool and probably looks badass.

Don’t forget to add some smaller goals to your list too.

DON’T add goals to improve your “score.”

Small goals are fine but don’t add things to your list just so you can cross it off and make your overall list appear more accomplished.

Remember, these things need to have meaning to you.

DON’T feel like you have to come up with exactly 100 goals.

Fifty or one hundred, whatever arbitrary number you think your list needs to meet is wrong.

Notice Goddard had 127 goals. Your list should be as long as it needs to be.

However many meaningful goals you can realistically accomplish given the years you have remaining is what should determine the length of your list.

Also consider that John started his list when he was a 15-year old boy.

If you’re 65, don’t think you’ll be able to do everything a young man with a 50-year head start will be able to accomplish.

DON’T forget about the things you’ve already accomplished.

This is optional but I think it pays to reflect on the goals you’ve already accomplished. Write down a few major goals you’ve hit in your life already.

Maybe its countries you’ve traveled to or financial goals you’ve reached. Whatever your past goals you’ve attained put them on paper to remind yourself that you’ve already done some amazing things.

DON’T write down goals that only sound good.

Do you really want to read War and Peace cover to cover?

The same goes for reading all of Shakespeare’s work. There aren’t too many people who honestly have the patience to sit and read these classics.

While there’s nothing wrong with this goal if you do, keep in mind your goals should reflect what you picture yourself actually doing, not what will sound good to a friend.

DON’T depend on luck.

Some goals will require a bit of luck but avoid making a list of goals that rest entirely on luck or other people’s cooperation.

For instance, if you wanted to have lunch with a famous movie star, don’t be disappointed if this doesn’t materialize.

DON’T be stubborn about changing your list.

Circumstances change and so will your life list.

Be flexible and adjust your list according to your priorities and environment.

If for whatever reason you run into money trouble, you may need to remove some of the more financially-dependent items off your list.

Or choose do one or two of them instead of four or five.

How to actually make your bucket list

I hope now you have an idea of the type of goals you should be considering. Now comes the fun part, actually writing out your list.

Step 1: Brainstorm

Find a quiet place you can think. Pour yourself a hot or cold beverage and jot down as many ideas that come to mind. Don’t hold back and don’t filter any of your ideas yet. Get everything on paper.

Step 2: Categorize your goals

There are a few main categories to choose from.

Here are the most common ones you should consider. Obviously add or subtract whatever categories make sense for you.


Skills and knowledge




Relationships and family

Physical feats

Organize your ideas into these 7 categories.

Step 3: Make your official list

Now you should have a lot of ideas on paper.

Take out a fresh piece of paper and write down your official list of goals.

You can break your goals up by category or simply put all your goals in one long, numbered list.

Step 4: Cut out anything on your list that doesn’t inspire you

Remember, the key to making a bucket list you’ll actually do is intention.

Review your “official” list and ruthlessly cut out anything that doesn’t seem like you’d actually do it.

Step 5: Put your list somewhere you’ll see it

This step is crucial.

Too many bucket lists get saved on hard drives or stored in a desk drawer never to be seen again. If you’re serious about doing what’s on your list then make your list prominent.

Stick it on your fridge, bathroom mirror or as your computer desktop background. Anywhere you’ll see it and be reminded.

Step 6: Do one thing in the next week

If you’ve taken the time to follow the steps I’ve laid out then your motivation must be high.

Leverage that motivation and try to knock off at least one thing on your list within the next week. If you can’t finish one thing then at least take some of the necessary steps to accomplishing one of your goals.

This will help you build momentum.

Step 7: Do it!

There’s no substitute for actually doing the work. Once you have your list written down, now you have to do it.

Step 6 was a start but now you have to commit to really living your life in accordance with your list.

Having a bucket list is one good way to establish goals, those things you’ve always wanted to do.

I hope these steps I’ve laid out for you above help you get started with accomplishing some of long (and short) term goals you may have.

To a richer life,

Nilus Mattive

Nilus Mattive
Editor, The Rich Life Roadmap

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Nilus Mattive

Nilus is the editor for the daily e-letter The Rich Life Roadmap and a Paradigm Press analyst.

Nilus began his professional career at Jono Steinberg’s Individual Investor Group, where he published his original research through a regular investment column. Later, he worked for a private equity business and spent five years editing Standard and Poor’s...

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