The Life List: Why to Have One, How to Create One

I want to introduce you to something that’s been a good friend of mine for more than 10 years.

The List.

Also known as The “Stuff I Want to Do Before I Die” List. A Life List. Some may call it a Bucket List, but my List has been around since before the movie.  I never thought it was such a strange thing to have a Life List until I realized most of my acquaintances don’t have one. I started writing my list in 1999.

We are never too young or too old to be constantly thinking about our goals and what we could be pushing ourselves to do. There are times when you should power down, relax, and enjoy the moment. But between those times, you should be moving yourself forward. Feel free to change directions, turn around, or even sit down and rest, but your actions should be focused on movement.

I’ve never understood people that are ok with “seeing what happens tomorrow.” It is true that eventually life will change you and your circumstances whether you want it to or not, but often if you’re ready with your own plans, you can influence or direct the change yourself.

So back to The List.

What’s in the list?

The short answer is: whatever you want.

Want to…be trilingual? Published in a magazine? Jump from an airplane? Shake the President’s hand? Visit every continent on the planet? Visit the moon? Eat local for 6 months? Own your own business? Sing jazz in a club? Graduate from law school? Adopt a child? Be debt-free?

It’s completely up to you.

How to Start:

I used to keep my Life List in a document on my computer, but now I keep it in a Google Doc online, so I can access wherever creativity strikes me.

So get out that clean sheet of paper, crease open that brand new Moleskine, load up that pearly white Google Doc.

Go on, I’ll wait.


Some tips for The List:

  • Think big, think tall, write it all. Brainstorm. Who’s to judge what is a good goal and a bad goal? Here’s a hint: not even you. Before you hesitate to write something down because “it’s unattainable” “it will never happen” “it’s a stupid idea” – write it down. There are two sides of you: the rational you, which we’ll engage later to accomplish some of these goals, and there’s the dreamer you. Let your dreamer enjoy themselves a little with your List. After all, it’s your life. Write it all down. Don’t judge your ideas right now.
  • If you can do it any afternoon, it doesn’t belong here. Unless it’s a small effort that constitutes a lifestyle change, like taking the stairs everywhere for a year, or drinking a glass of water every day for a month, or writing 2 pages longhand every morning for 6 months, etc., it probably doesn’t belong on your list. This is not a grocery list or the day’s to-do list. It’s goals, it’s dreams, it’s accomplishments, it’s pride.
  • It needs to be measurable. You should be able to recognize when you’ve actually accomplished the item on your list. “Read more” or “be kinder” or “lose weight” are not specific enough, and are definitely not measurable. Give yourself a specific goal so that you can make it easy to identify the goal when you get there.
  • Number them, order them…who cares? Don’t feel the need to order, group or prioritize your List – that’s not what the List is about. That comes later, when you face your fears and start to really attack an item on your list. For now, just let your imagination run wild. I put the date that I added them to my List – I like to look back and see when my bursts of creativity hit me, and also know how long something stays on my List before I accomplish it.
  • Make growing your list a priority. Perhaps not as obvious as accomplishing your goals is making sure you have some! The List needs to constantly grow. When you’re first starting, I suggest adding “Add 2 things per month to The List” as a goal, and that will force you to think about it and make it grow.
  • Talk to your friends and family about The List. While I am definitely not recommending you make your List public, talk to your friends and family about the fact you have The List. Perhaps share 1-2 goals with them that are not too personal. Engage in talking about your dreams and about having goals with everyone! You’ll see that new inspiration as well as encouragement will come out of it. Dreaming is contagious.
  • When you accomplish something, don’t remove it. Date it. The List is not only about your future goals, but it should also be a reminder of what you’ve done and to motivate you to keep accomplishing. Once you achieve a goal, don’t just regale it to your memory – put a date on it, so later you can review some of your accomplishments when you need to.

Want to see some examples of some Lists?

I think peeking into someone’s Life List is a little like giving someone a sponge bath before you even shake their hand – you get a very intimate look into what some of their goals, desires and fantasies are in an instant. Luckily, a few have shared their life lists with you, so you can get that intimate look, and some inspiration for your own Life List.

Calling himself the “World’s Greatest Goal Achiever,” he definitely has some interesting things on his List he created when he was only 15…and he’s crossed a lot of them off!

Living in public? Why not share your entire List, blog about what you accomplish…and even get sponsored to fulfill your Life List? That’s Mighty Girl’s job.

Nicole wants you to know how she’s progressing with her Life List and hopes you’ll give a small donation to help her on her adventures. She’s got some really fun items on her List.

Need some inspiration for populating your Llistist?

Do you have a Life List? Tell me how you fill it up and check it off!

Image by koalazymonkey / CC BY 2.0

3 replies »

  1. The concept of a Life List must have been in my subconscious when I created “The Bluegrass Romance” project- which is my photo-blog that piles all the elements of a Life List into a one year period. (It’s all about finding ways to live life outside the rut and discover more Romance + Adventure in the community we live in). For me, completely one “mini-mission” every week makes me feel alive. Like crossing off one item on a Bucket List. I can’t wait to read all the other Life List links for inspiration. Thanks for bringing them all under one roof, Sara.

    P.S. One of my Life List items not a part of The Bluegrass Romance project is living in Italy…so I better see you there someday!

    • Very cool! I wish I could come public with more of my goals but I’m happy keeping them for me for now 🙂 I think your blog and mini-missions are excellent ways to keep yourself thinking about it and planning! I hope you accomplish that last particular goal 🙂

  2. Great post, Sara! I just found out that I’ve always had a Life List and did not know it 😉 Mine is on a black Moleskine…I can share one of my accomplished goals: attending a GGD dinner:) After three unsuccesful attemps, I made it to the Milan GGD and got to meet you in person. But don’t worry, I already replaced the accomplished task…the list is reeeeeally long

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Director of Product Marketing @ HubSpot. Early hire @ Automattic / Founder World Nutella Day. MBA Alumni Advisory Board @ Santa Clara University.

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