Did You Know Having a Bucket List Could Increase Your Productivity?

Key Takeaways:

  • Refocus on what’s important
  • Prioritization increases capacity
  • Inspire yourself and those you’re mentoring

How often do you spend a little time thinking about (or pursuing) items on your bucket list? Do you even have one? Most of us have some things we’d like to do or accomplish in life, and some actually write a formal list on paper. Others have a list in their head. Often, the bucket list resides in our personal lives, but having one in our professional lives can make us better leaders.

But before we explore that, do you realize that, by definition and logic, if you have a bucket list, you’re thinking about dying? That may seem morbid. But in fact, it’s a good thing to think about what you want to do before you die.

In their 2016 “Book of Joy,” the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu instruct us to consider our own mortality. They rightly contend that this will bring a sense of urgency, perspective and gratitude. Author and pastor Andy Stanley (2014a) similarly tells us that “priority determines capacity.” He points to an ancient Jewish text (Psalm 90) that says, “teach us to number our days” in order to achieve wisdom. “Numbering your days” is thinking about how long you have to live — just as the bucket list has us thinking about specific things that we want to do while we’re still alive. This can be powerful in helping us focus attention both at home and work.

Stanley also challenges us to “compound our minutes” (2014b), noting:

  1. There is a cumulative value to investing small amounts of time in certain activities over a long period. (e.g., exercise; spending time with family; mentoring a new coworker or student)
  2. Neglect is cumulative as well. (e.g., exercise; personal finances; not spending time with family; not sharing your life experiences; not fulfilling leadership opportunities when they arise)
  3. There is no cumulative value to the random things we opt for over the important things. (e.g., surfing the internet; micromanaging instead of delegating)

But if we’re attentive to the limited time we have, we can use it more effectively, and we can accomplish things that really matter. And as leaders, we simultaneously model this approach and behavior for others.

So how does all this come together?

A bucket list reminds us that we have only a limited amount of time here on this earth. Again, that’s not morbid. It’s simply a fact of life. So by holding that in mind, or even occasionally giving it serious thought, we can begin to be more deliberate about prioritizing the most important things in life. That prioritization allows us to say “no” to items of less importance, allowing us to free up time for what really matters. As noted, this increases focus both at home and the office. Prioritization increases capacity.

So do you want to get more done? Do you want to increase your capacity? Make a bucket list. Try having one for home (personal life) and one for work (professional life). Write down those items that are most important — ones you really want to accomplish. Then, start numbering your days. Follow the advice of the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu and Andy Stanley. Consider your mortality. I think you’ll be glad you did. If you’re mentoring someone, teaching a class, or leading a team, challenge them with this idea as well.

I might add: There’s a potential added bonus: you just might have some fun (and have time for) checking off one or two of those bucket-list items as well.

For additional reference / reading:

Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. New York: Avery, 2016.

Stanley, Andy (Nov. 15, 2014). Time Of Your Life 2 - At Capacity. Available at: https://youtu.be/mIsnLZqmk_4

Stanley, Andy (Nov. 15, 2014). Time Of Your Life 3 - Compounding Minutes. Available at: https://youtu.be/YomJ6TUXChM

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.