How to build the perfect bucket list for you

Bradley Pope
Dec 30, 2016 · 6 min read

One a recent trip to the Madison, WI area to visit my family we went down to the local pub to be social and say hello to some old friends and acquaintances.

After a quick round of introductions we found that, in addition to happy hour, someone was celebrating his retirement (we’ll call him Mike). In general, when I hear about someone being able to step back from the nine to five and choose what they get to do each day, I get really excited for them and here I was — just landed in the middle of the celebration! What luck!

By the time I made my way over to Mike I was brimming with anticipation to hear about what great feats he had planned. As we started to talk I realized there was something really wrong. He was absolutely terrified of not going to work. He’d done his job for so many years and it had become something of a comfortable routine. He seemed to be neutral on the job and work itself but really enjoyed always knowing what he was going to do every day.

So I shifted over to the possibilities. Think of all the things you’ll be able to do! What are your hobbies? What places are you going to go? Mike was drawing a blank. Evidently a severance package had unexpectedly come up and this day had come sooner than he had thought it would. He’d looked at the finances to know he would likely be okay but hadn’t looked much beyond that. He really had no idea what he was going to do with his time. I was floored and a little sad at the opportunity missed.

My guess is that Mike, like many of us, had walked through a virtual jungle of ideas every day in his working life. Maybe the cashier at Shopko mentioned an online class they were taking on dog emotion and cognition that sounded intriguing. Maybe a friend of a friend described their vacation to Fiji where they hiked up a volcano that sparked Mike’s attention. Perhaps a co-worker mentioned a youtube video of an air balloon festival in New Mexico that sounded particularly uplifting? To the inattentive, these may have simply sounded like interesting things that didn’t apply to them. To the observant explorer leading an expedition for ideas, these are very interesting specimens that should be documented. You wouldn’t dream of going on a trek through the jungle without at least taking your camera right?

It is hard to not bump into new things that may be of more interest when you have more time. Whether they are posts from friends on Facebook, Videos on YouTube or sparks that fly from listening to audio books, the important part is that you capture them!

But how do I capture them without without adding too much clutter?

You may have a bucket list already. I do. I may even take it too seriously. If I put something on it I fully intent to check the box and do it someday. Therefore I don’t give every new enchanting idea or activity I pick up a coveted spot. I need time to research any new skill, place, hair brained activity or extreme race I may want to add to my bucket list.

The problem is when we find out about something that may appeal to us someday, we may not have the time to research it on the spot.

Enter… the limbo list!

While there are multiple meanings for limbo, I like one of Google’s definitions the best, “an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.” This is exactly the type of list we need to keep all those things we captured that need further evaluation. Comfortable amongst their other unsorted peers it is the perfect habitat for these guys to relax and wait for their tryout.

Limbo lists are powerful because they safely park these ideas in a place where you can return to them when you have the proper time. Every bucket list should be accompanied by a trusty limbo list that is plugged into your overall organization strategy.

Here are some suggestions for adding ideas to your limbo list:

  1. Name of activity or potential future goal
  2. Comments (example where did you learn about it)
  3. Date
  4. Supporting URL — paste in the web address if applicable
  5. Cost (fill in later)
  6. Time investment (fill in later)

The most important thing is that you capture the idea. Ideally your limbo list is accessible to you from your mobile using Google Sheets, Excel in Dropbox, OneNote etc. If you have the time you can add the supporting info when the idea hits you. If not, the goal is to make sure you leave enough info or bread crumbs so that you can come back to it when you review your limbo list. If it is a fleeting thought during a hectic time, it could be as easy as jotting down a few words in Digital Next Action (DNA) list that will spark your memory to fill in the details on your limbo list later in the day when you have time.

Easy as that! No potential area of interest will escape you again!

On the flip side let’s talk about proper maintenance of a limbo list so it doesn’t get too ungainly. Culling, refining and researching items on the limbo list is very much a personal preference.

First, it’s important to have the right perspective when you peer over the top of the fence at the variety of things you’ve captured on your list. Make sure that mentally you’ve made the agreement with yourself that these are NOT things you’ve committed to completing or even researching. These are simply things that interested you at a point in the past. As you are deciding which ones to do, it is okay to poke around and only look at those that you really feel like you want to peruse. In other words — this should be really fun!

When I plan for the long game I look at everything in my limbo list at least once a year when I’m setting next year’s goals, especially when I have my long-term goals to reference. Periodically during the year I’ll peruse through it and take a few actions

  • Flag items I think I’d like to tackle sooner rather than later. Make notes and start researching them
  • Spot rouge ideas and activities that I’m simply not interested in anymore and… delete them. Again — there are no commitments on this particular list. One strike and it is out!
  • Move completed items down to the done section and grey them out
  • Get excited about doing an activity after I’ve researched it and (trumpet sound here) move it to the bucket list!

Once these ideas are captured, ideally we use our current spare time to dabble in the areas of those of most interest and vet out the possibilities. Interested in making pottery? Take a course with friends to dip your toe in. Always wanted to try a stringed instrument? Take it out of the limbo list for a few months and see if it resonates with you. Want to hike across the Alps? Pull the idea out of limbo with some smaller local goals and a long weekend somewhere on the trail. Did you LOVE it? Move it to your bucket list or just leave it in limbo and come back to it later.

If you use this approach everything on your bucket list will be catered perfectly to you.

Had Mike used this approach through the years his issue would definitely not be wondering what to do next. He’d be brimming with excitement ready to rip the door off the cage and chase after all his interests. The only problem he would have had is that he couldn’t do them all at once — which is another exciting thought!

Originally published at

Bradley Pope

Written by

As a father, plant athlete and life-long student, I love continuously learning and reflecting on things that contribute to long, healthy, successful lives.

More From Medium

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade