The Delicate Balance Between Want-To and Have-To

The Delicate Balance Between Want-To and Have-To

Organizing tasks is no small effort as anyone who has tried surely knows. While a simple list of tasks suffices for a few days (the good, old To Do list), such lists customarily outgrow their format; there’ll simply be too many items and the list once devised to make our life more structured and organized becomes the very evidence that it isn’t.

However, there is a remedy to this situation and that is to devise some form of system according to which our tasks can be organized. Some common dimensions considered in such undertakings are given in the following:

  • Urgency: Can the completion of this task wait or does it have to be done right now?
  • Importance: How important is the result of the completion of the task for us?
  • Risk: How big is the risk associated with doing the task?
  • Resources Required: How much time and other resources are required to fulfil the task?

After we would have categorized tasks according to these dimensions, we could pick the most important, most urgent, or less risky tasks - which can be very useful. However, the more dimensions we consider in the system, the more complex and potentially unmanageable this system becomes. Thus, it is very important to focus on the dimensions which help us achieve our goals in the best possible way.

I assume here that the underlying goal in trying to organize our tasks is twofold: firstly, to get more things done in less time, and, secondly, to be able to live a happier and less stressful life. I want to argue that, in regards to this goal, the single most important dimension to consider is that between ‘want-to’ and ‘have-to’.

Evidently, there is no other sensible reason for us to engage in an activity apart from us having to do it or us wanting to do it. Unfortunately, it is often not obvious into which of these categories a task belongs.

Take for example brushing teeth. You might truly hate brushing your teeth and consider it an utter waste of time. Thus, come morning, evening and after lunchtime (if it were up to your dentist), the task of brushing your teeth easily falls within the ‘have-to’ category. But ask yourself the question WHY do you have to brush your teeth. If you are a child, clearly because your parents tell you to. But what if you aren’t? Maybe you want to feature a fresh mouth odour, maybe you want to avoid a painful procedure at the dentist, or maybe you want to have beautiful, white and shiny teeth.

You can do this exercise with any other chore of your choice. Think about something you have to do long and hard enough and you will surely discover that you only have to do it because of something you want.

Therefore I suggest here as the ultimate measure to become the master of your tasks rather than be mastered by them to identify their ‘want-to’ distance.  For all things on your lists of tasks you dread doing, think about how they are related to what you want to do.

This doesn’t help you to find out which tasks are important and urgent – but chances are you intuitively know what is important and urgent anyway and thus there is little value in writing this down. However, determining the ‘want-to’ distance of your tasks accomplishes something of far more value: it implicitly but inescapably reveals there are no ‘have-to’s in your life.

With this insight, you can do what you need to do with purpose – the strongest force known to make our lives successful and fulfilled.