Why You Should Ask about Bucket Lists

Pic of a red check markMany of us have a personal bucket list, but what about a professional bucket list?

We fill our personal bucket lists with our dreams: travel to far-away places, adrenaline-filled activities, famous people we’d like to meet.  I get a chuckle out of my kids’ bucket lists, which give me insight into their aspirations, however simple or crazy. A few years back, their bucket lists included ordering room service, riding in a limo, and jumping out of a moving car. As a parent, I could help make some of these happen, once I knew about them. (Note to my kids – Don’t even ask me to help with that last one!)

My bucket list is a jumble of ideas, not well formed except for a handful of professional things I want to get done some day. It includes things like contributing content to wikipedia, publishing a book about the intersection of leadership and parenting, and joining the board of a non-profit whose cause I care about.

By sharing these bucket items with all of you, research shows that I’m more likely to accomplish them. (You can read a summary of this research by Gail Matthews, PhD, published on the Dominican University web site.) In fact, since writing the first draft of this article, I took the plunge into wikipedia! For the Dreamweaver page, I wrote a brief history of how the project started, and I added some ACM publications to the IRIS Intermedia page. I worked on both of these software projects earlier in my career, and it felt good to add to their wikipedia pages.

Leaders can use bucket lists to increase employee engagement with their company’s mission and future. By asking about an employee’s list, we can discuss otherwise unspoken career goals and dreams. Whether it’s traveling internationally, developing code for a 1.0 software release, shadowing an executive for a day, becoming a patent holder, or something else, once you know you can make introductions. You can look for stretch assignments for them to take on. You can open doors!

What do you think of using bucket lists to improve engagement, with your family or your employees? I’d like to hear from you!


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5 thoughts on “Why You Should Ask about Bucket Lists

  1. A very good idea. Everyone has a list or two in their heads, but concretely putting “maybe one day” in your head onto paper brings the subconscious desires forward. Further it makes you realize that the clock is ticking. Just like a to do list, it puts you into action. Sharing it takes it a step forward and implies commitment to work towards that goal. Many years ago, in my first job BP research had a very interesting career development package. I was young, did not realize the significance of this but they asked the employees to create a bucket list and share it for career development. I am glad I kept the material as it is helping me now. I wish other places I worked use a similar approach. Hopefully they will read your blog.

    1. How wonderful that BP Research took this approach, and that you’re brushing it off and using it now, many years later. I look forward to seeing you accomplish the amazing things that I’m sure are on your professional bucket list, Umit!

  2. Here’s one more reason to ask staff about their professional bucket list: unforeseen positive consequences. Years ago, in the early days of the Web, I was managing the Web team for a software company. One of my team members told me that he wanted to be an Information Architect, and neither one of us was entirely sure what that was. After some research, it became clear that if I reorganized the team, I could create the position that he wanted. So we reorganized. The team became more effective, and the hopeful team member became an excellent IA, and he’s still on that career path.

    1. It’s nice to hear from you, Mary Ann. Thank you for sharing your experience. I love how knowing this one team’s members aspirations gave you ideas and insight for improving the overall team. Fantastic!

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