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Must-Should-Want Method

Learn how to prioritize your tasks and achieve your goals with the Must-Should-Want method.
Shiva Prabhakaran
Writer at Routine
Published on
October 7, 2023

For all of you who wonder at the start of your day: "What is the essential thing to do today?" – a simple to-do list might be a bit overwhelming, and that's where the "Must-Should-Want" method comes in, with its simple priority-setting for daily tasks. 

Other than being productive, we need to focus on our goals and personal growth to attain proper balance in our lives – and that's precisely what this method helps us with. 

What is the "Must, Should, Want" method?

Created by blogger Jay Shirley in 2014, this method comes with a simple goal – make days more productive and enjoyable. So how do we do this? Well, this habit is straightforward – ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What must I do today?
  2. What should I do today?
  3. What do I want to do today?

"Must" focuses on essential tasks that create the most impact. "Should" revolves around tasks that help you build towards achieving long-term goals. Tasks with the "want" label are all about enjoying the day and taking time off from our work goals.

The main idea behind the Must-Should-Want method is to establish a productive day and still allow you to enjoy the things that help you flourish. Being productive is good, but sometimes we make it hard on ourselves, and it takes a toll on our relationships, goals, and well-being. When you integrate this productivity method into your life, you'll also be reminded of tasks that don't exclusively focus on work.

Benefits of the "Must, Should, Want" method

How does this method help you with your day-to-day life? Here are some of the most notable benefits:

  • Sets clear meaning to your day: By grouping and prioritizing daily tasks, you create a structured framework that results in sustainable productivity and sets the course for your day. This clarity produces enthusiasm and focus, building momentum and creating a clear sense of accomplishment.
  • Lesser risk of burnout: With clearly se priorities for each day, you will feel less overwhelmed, which reduces the risk of a much-dreaded burnout. Burnout is still a problem for professionals, as statistics show us that 42% of women and 35% of men from a study of 65,000 professionals burned out quite often throughout 2021. 
  • Keeps your sanity in the daily grind: It's often easy to get lost in the daily grind and forget about cherishing yourself. The "want" label reminds you to focus on your daily well-being.
  • Improves your planning: Day by day, implementing this method will create a routine that will help you maintain a good work-life balance.

"Must, Should, Want" method – The Process

Now that you know of some clear benefits of this method – here is a step-by-step process of its implementation. 

  1. Pick your time in the morning to create a Must-Should-Want list. Your mind is the clearest in the morning – make sure to capitalize on that.
  2. Categorize the tasks in "Must," "Should," "Want" pillars. Be very clear on what goes where and be honest with yourself.
  3. Review what you did and didn't do the next day. Celebrate wins, and don't allow yourself to procrastinate.
  4. Repeat the first three steps each day. It is that simple and by adding this process to your day will make you more productive overtime.

Example of the "Must, Should, Want" process in action

Eric is a financial manager at a highly reputable business. He is a very productive person but struggles with work-life balance. Also, he is passionate about his fitness and would love to hang out with his friends more.

He feels that his work is taking away too much from him, so Eric, on one fine morning, decided to create a Must-Should-Want list for his day. Here's how it looked:

  • must create the monthly finance report for my employer. (Work Goal)
  • should go to the gym after work. (Fitness Goal)
  • want to throw a board game with my buddies. (Personal Goal/Leisure Time)

Once listed, Eric use a time blocking app like Routine to set his schedule.

By clearly setting his work-life priorities for the day, Eric was finally able to feel more motivated to get out of his bed the next day, and over time, he started accomplishing both his work and personal goals consistently while becoming more satisfied in the process.

Bring focus and meaning to your day-to-day life

Most of us suffer from poor prioritisation of daily tasks – maybe it's all in the approach we take? Creating to-do lists is sometimes tricky, but it doesn't have to be. The Must-Should-Want method is perhaps the best for all who focus on daily progress but want to keep personal and long-term goals in mind.

About the author
Shiva Prabhakaran

Shiva is a subject matter expert in communication, marketing, productivity, and learning systems. He has previously contributed to many blogs and newsletters, including Validated, Mental Models, HackerNoon, and several brands. You can find Shiva on LinkedIn or email him at shiva(at)routine.co.

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