The Want-To-Do List

I recently decided to remove the word “should” from my vocabulary. Should is a word that, in most cases, is used to describe a sense of reluctant obligation.

“I should stop eating so much chocolate”

“I should go to work now”

“I should make more time for my family”

See how disempowering those statements are? If we substitute the word “want” see how things change.

“I want to stop eating so much chocolate”

“I want to go to work now”

“I want to make more more time for my family”

Suddenly these same phrases become strong statements of intent. We go from seeing these actions as things we are obliged to do, to things we desire.

We also begin to ask ourselves the next question – do we really want these things?

When people say “should” they often don’t want the thing they are shoulding about. If we say we “should go to work” then maybe we don’t want to go to work at all. But we don’t address that question of what we want because we remove our own agency from the question. We make it about what is expected of us, not what we desire.

Should, therefore, removes our agency and power, masks our true desires and prevents us from addressing what really motivates us.

If this seems like an odd thing to talk about on a creativity focused blog then perhaps some explanation is necessary.

Creativity is strongly linked with autotelic activity. We express creativity best when our motivation is intrinsic, when the activity itself is what we are driven to do. When we remove that independence of thought and action, when we place the motivation in the power of an external factor, then we are less creative. It follows, therefore, that we can bring out greater creativity by making the focus of our daily lives autotelic.

Hence the “Want-to-do” list.

Many of us use a to-do list to get our tasks done. I’m proposing a subtle change. Instead of a list things we have to do we make a list of things we want to do. We focus our energy on our desires.

When we do this I expect there will be two different outcomes.

On the one hand we will feel a greater sense of agency and urgency. A list of chores is something hanging over us waiting for our attention. A list of things we want to do is a set of opportunities to make our life into what we want it to be.

On the other hand we will find that a lot of what we feel we have to do is not what we want to do, or at least seems that way.

Try this out – take your to-do list and reword it as a want-do-to list. Try expressing each task as a desire.

For instance, imagine you have the laundry to do; try saying “I want to do the laundry today”.

How does that sound to you, when you say it? Do you feel like you mean it? Do you really want to do the laundry? Probably, at least initially, it’ll taste like a lie. But ask yourself; do you want clean clothes? Do you want to look good when you step outside? Do you want to feel good sleeping in freshly washed sheets? If you can say yes to those questions then surely you also want to do the laundry! Doing this chore now becomes a pathway to your end-result desires.

On the other hand you may have a task on your to-do list that you can’t find a way to wanting to do! Now here we have a great opportunity to consider why you don’t want to do this.

Broadly speaking I find that when I don’t want to do something it’s because of one or more of the following:

  • I feel incompetent
  • The task is not challenging
  • I don’t understand why I am doing it
  • There’s something else attached to the task that is worrying me and I’m trying not to think about that!

If you have something on you to-do list that you really don’t want to do then you must address why. If you feel incompetent, maybe ask for help. If you find the task too simple, how could you alter it to be more engaging? If you don’t know why you’re doing it then maybe it doesn’t need to be done at all? If there’s something connected that’s bothering you then you need to figure out what that is and fix that. If you can’t turn a to-do task into a want-to-do task then you may want to seriously consider not doing it at all.

If you want to win a race then you have to want to train. If you want to lose weight then you have to want to eat healthily. If you want to have a great relationship with your family then you must want to make the changes needed to make that happen.

It may seem, at first glance, like this is some kind of trick. After all, the tasks don’t change immediately. But I find that when I ask myself what I want to do, not what I feel I should do, I change. I become more focused, clearer in my thinking, stronger in my convictions and I have more fun.

So that’s my tip for the day – don’t make a to-do list. Make a want-to-do list.


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