I think I was packing for a trip somewhere when I started going through the mental checklist of what tasks on my plate had to be completed before I went anywhere. These ranged from family to work to personal to house to car to anything really, but in the end, they all came back to three core categories; Have to do, Need to do and Want to do.
Have to do
This is the work that just has to get done regardless of what’s going on in your life, in the extreme – just lost your arm, must get it back on (preferably immediately). But really, it’s the items that above all have to get done – turn off the water before you leave, send out my last status report before the weekend, check in the last bug fix – everything else is not Have to do work, but rather work. Look at your task list on things you need to be doing, the top five is your “Have to do” list, the rest is what’s up next.
Need to do
This is the work that needs to get done, sometimes it bleeds into Have to do (that’s great) and sometimes it doesn’t. Need to do work are items that without getting done, your project (or whatever they relate to will fail). Think of them as anchors, they have to be there. You can have a Need to do Item not be a Have to do item at the same item – “Well I have to sort out this issue with Gary and Jean but what I really need to be doing is reviewing Don’s feature spec to make sure it’s on point” – in that case they are two exclusive items which unfortunately don’t get to adhere to the “kill two birds with one stone” philosophy.
Want to do
Aaah, the greatest category in the world. The Want to do’s go like this – “I have to fix this leaky sink, but I really need to be mowing the lawn before it rains but what I want to do is start building my new arcade unit”. Want to do are the best laid plans that don’t always see the light of day but they are the ideas and dreams that could erase the work in the Have to do and Need to do category so you work on them when you can because the risk could be far less than the reward as they reduce the haves and needs to be done.
And that’s what it boils down to – things you have to do, things you need to do and things you want to do. The value comes in finding the right balance between the three. Some weeks I’ll focus heavily on what I have to do, avoiding what I really needed to do (because of some fire going on) and doing nothing on the wants. But if I keep that pace over the forthcoming weeks, I start to wane as my mind as all these wants and ideas to try out, so I focus a little more on those that I hope will build value into the process and reduce the work that has to be done to achieve the needs and haves.
It’s a balance and right now, I’m doing the want because it helps me see the path to the haves and the needs.