How to Prioritize Your Bucket List… With a Payoff Approach

Prioritize Your Bucket List

Unless you’re extremely ambitious you will not start, let alone finish, everything you want to do before dying. A bucket list (sometimes called a ‘life list’) is the place to record your life’s goals and to cross them off once complete. With this post & infographic you’ll determine which of your all-too-many bucket list goals to start, by prioritizing them in a practical way.

By the end of this ‘how-to’ you’ll have a bucket list prioritized by payoff (which is super-duper handy as you’ll know which goals are worth the effort). The scales in the infographic below help you rank each goal by time, cost, and passion; the three factors used to calculate payoff (desire moderated by practicality).

A prioritized bucket list lets you pick the top goals; the ones that you’ll want to finish, the ones that will make your heart explode with happiness… except if that happened you’d die and wouldn’t need a bucket list I guess.

Prioritize Your Bucket List by Payoff (Infographic)

An infographic seemed the most fun way to present the ranking scales for time, cost, and passion. These 3 factors (and a little bucket list math) are all you’ll need to prioritize your bucket list by payoff. Keep reading after the infographic for a walkthrough with examples, and some extended learning.

Prioritize Your Bucket List Infographic

Don’t forget to share this bucket list infographic on Twitter. There’s share buttons at the top & bottom of this post.

Extended Learning

This practical-passion approach gives new insight to bucket lists. While the main purpose is to apply practicality to your passion for a goal, the approach also predicts the likelihood of you completing a goal. It’s a mathematical way to represent what your heart has been telling you.

The prioritization of your goals is a call to action: complete your bucket list. Topping any bucket list sorted by payoff (time, cost, & passion) will be 3 types of goals.

  • Low-Hanging Goals. These goals may seem frivolous, but they are so easy to complete that you’ll be returning to your bucket list for fun ideas. Try to incorporate them into your life now.
  • Life Fulfillment Goals. Big things require a big commitment, and it’s worth it. Having these so-easy-to-put-off goals at the top of your list is a reminder to stop procrastinating. Life is too sweet to die with regret.
  • Sweet Spot Goals. A pleasant mix of effort & reward. These goals are at the top because you want them, and you can achieve them (with reasonable effort).

A Walkthrough and Examples

Before You Start

Before starting you’ll need a bucket list. Read A Brilliant Take on How to Use a Bucket List if you want help establishing your goals.

It’s possible to use pen & paper for this exercise but a spreadsheet program makes editing tidier and calculations way faster. Google Sheets is a free spreadsheet application that works well, there are even online help files. For the remainder of this ‘how-to’ I’ll assume you’re using a spreadsheet.

Above is a screenshot of my bucket list organized using a spreadsheet. You’ll see that I have my goals listed in the leftmost column, and then a separate column for TIME, COST, and PASSION. Arrange your bucket list in a similar manner before continuing.

How to Rank Your Bucket List Goals

Step 1 – Time Ranking

Estimate the time it will take you to complete each bucket list goal using the Time Ranking scale (in the above infographic). Enter each ranking under the TIME column of your spreadsheet.

If you cannot apply a time ranking to a goal mark the goal as UNCLEAR.

Time Rank Examples:

Bungee jumping: 1

Bungee jumping only takes a day so I can do this without any significant time commitment.

Learn to knit: 3

I’ll have to rearrange my evenings to learn and practice, but it should only take me a few weeks.

Visit outer space: UNCLEAR

I’m not sure how much effort it is to secure a seat on a tourist space shuttle.

Step 2 – Cost Ranking

Estimate how much it will cost you to complete each bucket list goal using the Cost Ranking scale (in the above infographic). Enter each ranking under the COST column of your spreadsheet.

If you cannot apply a cost ranking to a goal mark the goal as UNCLEAR.

Cost Rank Examples:

Bungee jump: 2

Bungee jumping costs about $200 and I’m lucky enough to be able to afford this without it hurting.

Earn a Ph.D: 4

I don’t have enough money for tuition so I’d need a loan.

Get promoted to manager: 1

The company will pay for my training.

Step 3 – Passion Ranking

Gauge your passion to complete each bucket list goal using the Passion Ranking scale (in the above infographic). Enter each ranking under the PASSION column of your spreadsheet.

If you cannot apply a passion ranking you’re a zombie…

Passion Rank Examples:

Bungee jump: 1

I just want to say I’ve done it.

Visit Japan: 4

I used to live in Japan and have longstanding friends there.

Bond with my brother: 5

There is nothing more important than family.

Step 4 – Move any UNCLEAR goals off the list because they can’t be prioritized. Until they are clear you won’t complete them. Sorry for the harsh news.

Step 5 – Create a column titled ‘PAYOFF’. Add the ranking under TIME + COST, then subtract the total from 11. Finally, multiply that number by the ranking under PASSION. If you have your spreadsheet setup like the example you can copy the following formula:


Step 6 – Sort goals from highest to lowest PAYOFF score. Highlight the goals, rankings, and payoff, then go to “Data” then “Sort range…” Sort by Payoff (column F in this example).

Step 7 – Your bucket list is now prioritized by payoff – a balance of passion & practicality. A high payoff means that the goal is “worth it” (the reward will be worth the effort). Now that you know where to start get out there, and start living your bucket list.

In Summary

Payoff is the way to prioritize your bucket list goals by passion, while moderating that passion with the realities of time & cost. The scales allow you to numerically rank the 3 factors (time, cost, & passion), and the payoff formula lets you calculate the priority. It’s simple bucket list math!

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