Productivity hacking part 2: want, can, have

Posted by Rob Kendal on 10-Jan-2017 15:30:19

In part 1 of our productivity hacking article, we talked about the system we use at CreatedRed Media, The 3 T's of superior productivity. Now, in the exciting conclusion, we'll be introducing another method that works for us and helps us squeeze the most out of every minute - the Want, Can, Have method.

The holy grail of productivity

Ahh productivity. It's a topic in itself really. Plus, there's a weird sort of irony in spending time talking about something that will help you achieve more, without actually contributing to physically achieving more...

But being productive, being able to maximise the work you get done, is the careful combination of focussing on the things that matter most, the things that drive you forward, whilst taking care of the necessities.

Indeed, if you talk to anyone who practices supreme productive habits, you'll start to notice a pattern that looks familiar: they have learnt to identify what matters the most and pursue that, whilst either filtering out the noise, or delegating the less vital, but necessary tasks. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is particularly useful for this

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Blog article header for productivity hacking part 2 - Want, Can, Have systemIntroducing the Want, Can, Have system

The Eisenhower process is really useful and very effective. Also, our 3 T's productivity system is great at helping you decide on what time to dedicate to which tasks, how to leverage your support network and team, and what tools to employ to hit your work goals.

Another system we like to use is the Want, Can, Have approach, a combination of three questions:

  • What do I want to do?
  • What can I do?
  • What do I have to do?

Let's explore how the system fits together and works, before showing you a quick flow diagram to make it work for you.


Of course, the first question looks really simple, because it is. Do you want to do whatever it is that's cropped up? It's unrealistic to want to do everything that comes along, but actually having a vested interest in what you're doing adds some weight to the decision - you're going to perform best on tasks that you want to tackle.


The 'can' portion of the decision is a little more difficult as it's really a question of time and physical ability. For example, you might only have 30 minutes to spare after lunch, so there's no way you can write a 2000 word blog post or have a meeting with a client at their offices across town, for all you are physically capable of doing this work.

Similarly, you might have lots of time to spare, but can't work on the new client proposal because you need input from other team members or access to documents that they have.


Thankfully, 'have' is a little more simple again, it just depends on your position. For business owners, this is likely to be looking at business goals and important elements that are often legal in nature. For instance, you have to complete tax returns and pay your staff, so when these items come around, you'll want to answer 'yes' to those.

If you're an employee, then it's likely your 'have's' will be more along the lines of instructions from managers. Still, it's up to you to decide if you, and only you, have to do it - can it be shared or passed along perhaps?

Making the system work

The key to the system is to find the balance balance between the answers to the Can, Want, Have answers above and use the results to decide on what should be tackled next and how to tackle it.

We've condensed this into a handy flow diagram for you to help you make a decisions quicker. We'll start with the Have, because this will dictate how much flexibility you have: 

The CreatedRed Media Can, Want, Have system to increase productivity at work

How does it work in practice - give me some examples!

OK, so it often works best to see a real-world example fed into the system to understand how to apply the process to any situation.

Example 1 - late afternoon blogging vs. website development

Scenario: you're building a website and the deadline is fast approaching. However, you're stuck on a very complex development task and you need other team members to help out, but they're all busy right now. It's late afternoon and you've only got 1.5 hours until it's time to leave the office for the day.

This is one of those scenarios where we have a good chunk of time left in the day (1.5 hours), but perhaps not quite enough left to dig into a complex task before close of business, especially since your supporting team can't help right now.

You can't sit around for 1.5 hours twiddling thumbs and you want to maximise your time, so you can plug the scenario into the system:

  • Does the development have to be done? Yes it does - big project, looming deadline.
  • Can I work on the development task(s)? Not alone and I can't get support right now.
  • So we naturally arrive at the 'Explore other options' point. A good option at this point might be to work on a blog post, which you should be able to finish with 1.5 hours left in the day.

Example 2 - reconciling your accounts vs. attending a networking event

A common task for business owners or senior directors. The networking event is important because it brings in new business, but making sure your accounts are in order is vital to avoid fines from HMRC and to see how your business is performing financially.

However, you can't do both, but both need doing. What should you do? Let's use the Can, Want, Have system to decide how to proceed.

  • Do you have to attend the networking event? Not necessarily, but in this specific case, you've not been for a while and it's the last event for a month. So our answer is yes.
  • Can I attend the networking event? Well, yes you can. However, those accounts also need doing and they can't be delegated. So, in this case, the answer is actually, no.
  • We've arrived at the 'Explore other options'. You might have to send a replacement networking attendee, such as a senior manager, or send on your apologies and book in more networking events in the future to make up for missing this one.

Maintaining optimal productivity is about consistency

Bear in mind that this is not a perfect system. Sometimes you have a number of conflicting items that all need addressing and we all have the same number of hours in the day. If lots of Have's pop up at once, this might mean you have to work longer, or sacrifice the lesser of the evils, but the idea is to get to a stage where you have fewer of these conflicts converging all at once.

Being able to remain consistently productive is a habit, just like anything else. By employing a system, either like ours above, or the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, or another that you like the look of, and trying to be religious about using it to streamline your work, you'll naturally start to trim out what's not working and focus on what is.

And remember, if possible, to track your time, certainly on the big things and project work. Review this every week or month and you'll start to see patterns emerging of where your biggest time sucks are and how you can improve this to increase productivity at work.

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Topics: Guides & Infographics

Written by Rob Kendal

Rob has enjoyed a rewarding career in technology, from IT infrastructure through to software development, working with clients such as Virgin Holidays and the NHS. He understands the needs, challenges and logistics involved in making technology work for business and how to market it effectively.
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