Have To versus Want To

I’m good at wrangling stuff, but not as good at wrangling tasks. I tend to get overly ambitious with my To Do lists. Like many, I stress out about all my perceived commitments. I have discovered that sorting tasks into two groups, “have to” and “want to,” helps me a lot.

I’d say that if you have to do something, it’s something that, without which, you would literally die. Fortunately, most of these things are automatic, such as your heart beating, breathing, immune defenses, etc. There are a bunch more things that, if you stopped doing them for a whole day, would cause discomfort and also possibly damage: off the top of my head I can think of sleeping, eating, drinking, blinking, and urinating. Fortunately, we naturally remember to do those things (more or less), so they don’t need to be on a list.

So then what are the Have Tos on a To Do list?

Have Tos are tasks that, if they don’t get done, the consequences would be unacceptable to me.
–I have to go to work, or else I’ll lose money, my clients will be annoyed, and it would hurt my business image.
–I have to be there to meet the school bus, or else my daughter will freak out, and I’ll get an angry call from my ex.*
–I have to take my medication, or else I start hearing the voices again. (Just kidding)
–I have to walk the dog, or else there will be a big stinky mess for me to clean up.

Of course, if I were horribly ill, and couldn’t do these things, I could ask for help; but if it’s an ordinary day, they’re non-negotiable.

Then there are the Want Tos. Some of them aren’t much fun. I want to clean the kitchen, to scoop out the litter box, to tackle the pile of paperwork on my desk. If I don’t get to them today, it’s going to make my life a bit more difficult, but the consequences aren’t dire. Changing these tasks from Have To to Want To helps me take ownership of them. No one else is forcing me; I’m choosing to do them. For me, at least (and I know I can be kind of oppositional), that makes the task seem more pleasant. This also helps keep the Have To list short and manageable.

There are many things that people perceive as Have Tos that are really Want Tos. You don’t have to make dinner. You could order a pizza or microwave something. You don’t have to do laundry; you could wear a dirty pair of pants. You don’t have to return that library book; just renew it online (and if you can’t do that, you can pay a few cents in late fees). You don’t have to clean the house to spotlessness before your mother comes over; it can be an opportunity to improve everyone’s manners and boundaries!

For me, the challenge is to give more importance to the less useful but more desirable Want Tos: I also want to make art, do yoga, read a book, watch a movie, and play with my kid or pet. In the interest of trying to make sure more of these things happen, I don’t separate them from the other Want Tos on my list. Not doing these things also has negative consequences: a lack of yoga leaves me with tension in my body and mind; if I don’t play with my kid today, she’ll feel rejected. But I can live with those for a day.

What do you think about Have Tos and Want Tos?
* But she’d be fine – the bus stop is about 50 feet from her dad’s house.

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