The Future Self: Building a Better Bucket List

I have a problem with traditional bucket lists.

Most people make a ‘bucket list’ at some point in their life. It’s simple in concept; you sit down and make a list of all of the wonderful things you want to experience before you die. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, it’s great to have a list to remind you of all of the things you dream of doing.

The problem is that the ‘bucket list’ that most people end up making is woefully incomplete.

I build my version of a ‘bucket list’ not just as end goals, but as a living document for the direction I want myself to go. An all-encompassing description of what I want to do and what I want to be like.

Unlike the usual ‘bucket list’, I intentionally don’t plan on finishing everything on it. In fact, many of the things on my list can’t be crossed off. Not everything in life can be whittled down to a checkmark.

Also crazy to me is this idea that people only make a list of things they want to do. A list of goals and travel locations and lifestyle milestones does not define a person, and is a very small part of what you actually want for yourself. Having visited the 7 wonders of the world doesn’t fundamentally change your everyday experience.

So my version of a ‘bucket list’ is a description of a new version of my self. Last week I talked about the distinction between your Real Self and your Ideal Self, and this vision document fits in nicely with those concepts: I call it the Future Self.

The Future Self

My Future Self document is a description of where I want to go in the future. It’s not a list of end goals, though that is a part of it, but instead a vision of the type of lifestyle I want to have, the experiences and abilities I want to have, and the type of person I’d like to be.

To be fair, maybe other people have always seen a ‘bucket list’ this way; I’m certainly not claiming that this is an original thought. Rather, I think that most people make the mistake of seeing a ‘bucket list’ one-dimensionally, as literally just a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket, and hopefully I can convince some of those people to broaden their horizons a bit.

Ok, I’ve been going on and on about this for a bit too long now, what exactly makes it different from a ‘bucket list’?

(Slightly) Different Contents

Your Future Self is obviously going to be very personal, and it’s going to take some time for you to figure out exactly what you think it’s best to include. I tend to think about them in terms of 4 broad categories:

  • Goals and milestones to achieve.
  • Knowledge or skills to master.
  • Habits or activities to do regularly.
  • Character traits to embody.

Maybe you don’t find all of those types of things useful to write down. Perhaps you don’t care what type of person you are so long as you reach all of your other goals in life.

That’s ok, if you want to be a narcissistic billionaire go right ahead. But personally I’d rather be a better person than have a slightly longer number in my bank account, and writing that down in a place I’ll revisit keeps me mindful of that fact.

There’s one thing you should be wary of when deciding what to include. For many people, a ‘bucket list’ turns into ‘the 50 places to see before I die’. I hate that for two reasons: first, it will never live up to your expectations (see Paris Syndrome), and second, actually going to all those places is enormously inefficient. In a world where climate change is real and caused by humans, flying halfway around the world to spend a day or two looking at pretty old things is at best a frivolous luxury, and at worst culpable malfeasance. If you’re going to travel, do it efficiently

Prioritization and Planning

If your ‘bucket list’ has 100 things on it, how do you possibly get anything done?

Most people realize that if they have some type of project they’re planning for, things need to be done in a certain order, and some tasks are more important than others. To get anything done you have to organize it in a way that makes sense, sorting both by urgency and by importance.

Treat your Future Self just the same as you would any other project. Plan, prioritize and prepare accordingly.

Pick a few things you’re going to do soon, and lay out your strategy to get there. Add the steps you need to take into your task system and schedule them. Make progress _now _on the things you can do and keep the rest of it around for the future.

If you’re so inclined, set deadlines for certain things, or even schedule them in the far off future. Want to celebrate your 25th wedding anniversary in Paris? Put it in your calendar even if it’s decades away.

Use it to start planning your life intentionally. Don’t treat your life goals the way you’d treat a disorganized project; figure out what you really want and then make sure it happens.

How Do You Use It?

How to use a ‘bucket list’ may seem like an odd topic, but bear with me.

Making a ‘bucket list’ and sticking it in a drawer never to be seen again is a waste of your precious time. If you’re going to take the time out of your day to sit down and dream of what you want to do and be, you should take care to actually move in that direction.

Like I said earlier, the Future Self is a living document, one that you need to look at and update regularly for it to be of any use. Personally I like to review it at least every month, though usually I’ll look it over at least briefly as part of my Weekly Review.

When you review it, don’t just read it and dream of a far-off future. Sure that’s part of it, but make sure you also look at it with an eye towards updating it. Remove things that no longer matter to you and add things that do.

Review it to look for things you can work towards. Do you have some extra time in the evenings to fill? Pick something off your Future Self list and get to work.

Most importantly, review it with an eye towards reminding yourself who you want to be. Take note of where you are now, and if you aren’t moving in the direction you want to make sure you change it.

Get Started

Schedule some time now to get started. When you first set out to writing things down it may take a little bit of time. Set aside a half hour or an hour, and write down a list of things you want to do, things you want to try, and traits you want to have. Reviewing it will take much less time.

Make sure it’s in a place you can access easily. A notebook you carry with you, a saved entry in your favorite note-taking software, or a simple text file you keep on your desktop. You can use whatever works best for you.

If you need some ideas to get started, here’s the current version of mine. Feel free to borrow anything you’d like, but these types of things are highly personal so I expect yours will look vastly different very quickly.