SMART Goal Setting and Why Your Bucket List Sucks

You might get mad at me for saying this, but let’s get real here:

Your bucket list sucks.

How can I be so blunt? I don’t even know you! What do I know about your hopes and dreams?

It seems like everyone has a bucket list, a list of things to accomplish or do before you “kick the bucket.” Other people call it a “life list” or a list of “100 things to do before I die.”

Can I say right now that I hate the term bucket list? No one used to call it a bucket list until that movie came out a few years ago.

Anyhoo, there’s nothing wrong with having big dreams and hopes for how you want to live your life. I fully support that!

Here’s a sampling of what I see on a typical bucket list:

  • I want to backpack across Europe!
  • I want to open my own business!
  • I want to find my birth parents!
  • I want to make a million dollars!
  • I want to change the world!

Those are wonderful ideas, and hats off to you if you’ve accomplished any of those things.

Bucket lists are awesome for getting your dreams out of your head and onto paper (or Pinterest), but they are lacking a crucial step:


Without action, you might achieve a handful of your goals out of sheer luck, but you run the risk of being 90 years old and thinking, “I wonder if it’s too late to try snowboarding?”

The best, clearest way for you to take action towards your bucket list dreams is to embrace SMART goal setting.

You might already be familiar with SMART goal setting. It involves reforming your goals into crystal clear, doable objectives.

By making sure each of your aspirations fits the SMART goal setting components, you’ll guarantee that you’ll actually finish your bucket list before…well, you know.


Your goal has to be specific. None of this “I want to get healthy” or “I want to travel more.” Really nail it down; the more specific the better. Try “I want to lose 30 pounds of fat” or “I want to spend a week in Rome.”


If your goal’s not measureable, how will you know if you’ve completed it? Take for instance, “I want to have a successful business.” How will you know if your business is successful? Is it when you make $100,000? A million dollars? When you don’t have to work 70-hour weeks to keep it afloat? Decide what measureable benchmark you’re trying to reach that means you’ve achieved this objective.

(Yeah, that’s me with George Lucas. We’re besties.)


Your goal must be actionable, meaning that you can take action to make it come true. This means it can’t be dependent on other people’s choices. Figure out the steps you need to take to get to your goal. If you’re trying to lose weight, an actionable step might be to run for 30 minutes every morning.


I know, I don’t want to rain on your parade, but your goal must be realistic or else you won’t accomplish it (and then you’ll feel crappy about it). If you want to reconnect with an old friend, but she wants nothing to do with you, then that’s not a realistic goal. This doesn’t mean that your goal can’t be ambitious. Trying to lose 30 pounds in 3 months is ambitious, but it is realistic if you put in the work.


This might be the hardest step in SMART goal setting, but it’s also the most important. If you want to achieve your goal, you MUST put a deadline on it. Treating goals like a bucket list (where you only have to complete them before you die) is setting yourself up for failure. Choose an end date when you want to complete your goal, and then work backwards to plan the actionable steps to get you there. If you want to run a marathon in 6 months, plan your training routine now so you’ll be ready when race day arrives.

FYI, the pictures in this post are from my own bucket list, and SMART goal setting got me there.

Your homework: Take a look at your bucket list and reframe each dream into a SMART goal.

SMART Goal Setting Examples

  • Old goal: I want to get healthy. New goal: I want to lose 30 pounds of fat (specific, measureable) in 3 months (realistic, time-limited) by eating 1600 calories per day and attending 3 dances classes and 2 strength classes at the gym per week (actionable, specific, measureable).
  • Old goal: I want to start my own business. New goal: I want to open a vegan cupcake shop in my neighborhood (specific) by the end of the year (time-limited) and be turning a profit within 18 months (measureable, realistic) by getting a $20,000 loan from the bank (measureable, actionable).
  • Old goal: I want to travel. New goal: I want to spend a week in Rome (specific) for my 40th birthday (time-limited) and be able to save $5000 to pay for the vacation in full before I leave (measureable, actionable) and learn basic Italian through an online program in the year before my trip (realistic, actionable, time-limited).

What helps you achieve your goals? Share your SMART goal in the comments!

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  1. Megan Gann on May 14, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    The SMART method is exactly how I started meditation. I usually do follow this method for goals, but unfortunately my baby steps (starting a business/being self employed, getting driver’s license, etc) have been too small to propel me forward very far. I’m still pushing on, because it’ll never happen if I don’t try, but it’s always good to have a wake up and get back into action.

    Besides, the minute the regular semester ended, I became twice as busy as usual! Exciting, but exhausting.

    • Sage on May 15, 2012 at 9:20 am

      Baby steps count! I wouldn’t have reached any of my goals with taking small (sometimes microsopic) steps. Every little bit gets you closer to where you want to be.

      Why is that when one big thing ends, another big task (or 2 or 3) show up? There’s always something new taking up my time and attention. I should get better about anticipating new projects/distractions.

  2. Cara on May 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    It’s funny, every time I think about creating a bucket list or the 30 things before 30 (missed that one) I fail. Running the Boston Marathon was something I wanted to do and I actually followed this smart goal making process. Perhaps I need to re-evaluate my big goals and break them down into more actionable, realistic and time-sensitive. This is really insightful information, thanks Sage!

    • Sage on May 15, 2012 at 9:17 am

      I had a 30 by 30 list too. I got more than half of them finished before I reached 30, so I’ll call it a victory. I wouldn’t have done any of them if I hadn’t made the list.

      Running a marathon must take a ton of planning, so that makes sense that you made it a SMART goal. (Congrats, BTW!) If you only do one of these things, put a time limit on your goals. Having a deadline helps me get my butt in gear.

  3. xvavaveganx on May 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Yes! You are right, my bucket list does suck (for the most part). There are a lot of vague items but also some specific ones so that was good ha! I’m going to have to go back and revise it and make it more specific. I love your tips for making them more specific and therefore more achievable!

    Oh and I saw the Spice Girls reunion too. 😉 And I may or may not have seen the New Kids on the Block reunion. I can’t believe I just admitted that, ha!

    • Sage on May 15, 2012 at 9:12 am

      Haha, I totally didn’t mean YOUR bucket list! My list sucked too before I got clear about my goals. I know you have a long list, so pick the 3 most important ones to rewrite. Does the Tough Mudder race fulfill one of your bucket list goals?

      I am a HUGE Spice Girls fan! That reunion concert was amazing, cheesy, and fabulous. 🙂 Did you see NKOTB with BSB (Backstreet Boys)? The boy bands of today aren’t nearly as awesome as 90s boy bands.

      • xvavaveganx on May 15, 2012 at 9:49 am

        Haha 🙂 The Tough Mudder will fulfill one of my goals so that’ll be good 🙂

        I saw NKOTB by themselves! It was like two hours of just NKOTB. It was intense ha! My friend’s bro got her the tickets for her bday and she brought me! And the Spice Girls were exactly that! Amazing, cheesy and fabulous 🙂

  4. Angeline Evans on May 14, 2012 at 7:58 am

    This post is awesome! I’m totally with you on the “bucket list” thing. It’s not really useful if you can’t do it in time and it’s not really doable if you don’t lay out what you’re doing. I have a short “goals list” of things I’d like to do and am honing it as I go (adding details, taking things off that don’t float my boat anymore, etc.). I definitely still have a few general ones on my list (go to Europe is one of them :P) but I’ll fill in the details/specifics later.

    • Sage on May 14, 2012 at 8:13 am

      I’m so glad you liked this post! A few years ago I started to get really specific about my goals, and that helped me actually reach them. I have a goals list too, and I also remove/add things as my life changes. “Flexible” should be another goal setting step.

      Vacationing in Europe sounds wonderful. I’d like to see Italy, England, and France. I’m still a little vague on the specifics, but I’ll get there. 🙂