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power points

Consultant and former New York Times columnist Adam Bryant argues every moment of your day falls into one of three categories: want, should or need.

You essentially are making decisions on how to use each moment based, implicitly or explicitly, on completing an intention that begins “I want to …,” “I should …,” or “I need to ….” (A close cousin to the last one is: “I have to ….”)

If you accept those buckets, he suggests you can use them to better organize your life. You can start by creating a pie chart of your life based on his categorization. “How much of your typical day, week or month falls into each of those three categories? How much of your job is spent doing the things you want to do – ideally creating that state of flow in which your skills and talents are well-matched to the task at hand – versus the things you just muscle through because you should do them or need to do them?” he asks in Strategy + business.

There is no right mix. It can depend on the nature of your work and the stage of your career. Mr. Bryant suggests in our 20s and late in life we can indulge in more of what we want to do. But in our 30s to 50s, raising a family and building a career, that is less likely, with more shoulds and need-to-dos. That could relate to why people in those age groups tend to be less happy.

Mr. Bryant says the pandemic lockdowns gave people time to consider the meaning of life and prompted many to quit unrewarding jobs as they devoted priority to what they “want.” Commuting was viewed by many people as more of a “should” than a “want.” Now, as some CEOs are calling for less – or even no – remote work, he says those executives “are starting to sound like they want to revisit the want-should-need equation and remind people that work is called work for a reason …. The bosses are back in charge, and they’re less interested in what you want to do or whether you are feeling a sense of purpose in the work that the company is paying you to do.”

Because of that, it may be even more important for you to prepare the pie chart he recommends and figure out whether your life has an acceptable want-should-need balance.

Productivity author Cal Newport looked at this equation from the standpoint that in some cases you have more choice than you believe if you just become more selfish. He says it’s easy to feel like it’s impolite to prioritize work that’s important to you above other peoples’ demands. “Sustainable production of valuable work, however, requires a dash of selfishness,” he writes on his blog.

Executive coach Melissa Gratias, coaching a client – a professor, a busy department head and committee leader, and wants to write a new book – says the client told her how students and colleagues continually asked for “a minute,” which she accommodates. “She wants to be there for people when they need her,” Ms. Gratias observed.

But the client also mentioned a colleague who closed his door until noon, to focus on his work. That colleague was the most prolific writer and researcher she ever worked with, helping scores of people both in academic circles and practitioners.

“Are you saying that he helped more people by being less available?” Ms. Gratias asked. The client’s answer – an important productivity insight for her and all of us – was “yes.”

So add some selfishness to the want-should-need triad.

Quick hits

  • Deb Liu, chief executive officer of, says a career myth to jettison is that asking for a promotion is gauche or unseemly – or unwise, because the answer will be no. Your manager can’t help you get what you want if you don’t articulate it. As well, asking allows you to gain valuable information – whether that’s a road map to the next level or a sign it’s probably time to move on.
  • Men tend to speak more abstractly than women, new research finds. Because previous research suggests people associate abstract language with power and leadership, by being socialized to communicate more concretely women may sometimes seem less like leaders, business professors Cheryl Wakslak and Priyanka Joshi advise.
  • How much should you rehearse a presentation? If the stakes are high – the outcome affecting your job or your team – or this is the first time you are presenting the material, or you are nervous, you need to prepare more, Maegan Stephens, an executive coach with Duarte presentations specialists, says.
  • Ten-year dreams can be helped by five-minute actions, argues Atomic Habits author James Clear. Ask yourself where you want to be in 10 years and what can you do in the next five minutes to contribute to that outcome.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.