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If there's projects or tasks I've been meaning to get around to doing, could adding a reward or incentive program provide me artificial motivations to completing these projects or tasks?

(In general, can artificial incentives as opposed to natural incentives be a good idea?)

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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Artificial incentives work, but only if you have enough motivation to begin with. If you aren't motivated to do anything productive at all, no incentive will make a big difference. If, however, you are motivated in general, but your motivation is aimed at the wrong things (e.g. you are studying X when you should be studying Y, but you could easily do either), then incentives of any kind can guide your motivation, including artificial ones.

Most of the time, however, the problem is not misguided motivation, but general lack of motivation. This is the case when you're browsing Facebook instead of studying either X or Y. In that case the problem is insufficient brain dopamine levels, not incentives, and you should look at physiological solutions (exercise, nutrition, sleep). Took me a long time to figure that one out, but regular high-intensity exercise can turn you from a procrastinating slaggard into a productive overachiever by changing your brain chemistry.

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Be careful of the extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation problem - see this answer Why am I not motivated in this excellent situation? for an explanation. Basically, research shows that extrinsic rewards actually DECREASE performance for non-trivial tasks, over the long run, and they definitely decrease the intrinsic motivation. Now, this definitely doesn't apply to all tasks, and I'm not sure to what extent it applies to self-assigned rewards instead of really external ones, but it's definitely something to think about.

In my experience, artificial incentives work well for making yourself do things you don't enjoy doing anyway (quitting smoking, studying for a test, etc). However, if I start applying them to things I do enjoy, the artificial motivation decreases my enjoyment - if I act like I have to reward myself to do something instead of just doing it because I like it, it'll become true. Once that happens, in the long run I end up doing less of that task.

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It would work. In world of web apps, new trend is something called "gamification". Where you design your web app so you incorporate some game mechanics to engage users to use your app more and be more happy about using it. In this techcrunch article about gamification you can read about 47 great game mechanichs to get an idea of what I am talking about.

For rewarding you in real life for doing something (1 of the game mechanics), there are much talk about this and I recommend you to listen to this 2 really grate talks on that topic : game layer on top of the world and about future of games

Just try to be consistent with your rewards, and if you fail sometime you are failing just that ONE time (like in game, 1 try can be success or fail), you did not failed somehow catastrophically on a whole, and should try again. Read that first article, there are many interesting game mechanics that could be incorporated in the real world.

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interesting reading, and interesting idea to apply to personal rewards/motivation! –  weronika Oct 31 '11 at 2:00
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Rory's answer makes sense.

But I think it would really help to have clear and written rewards for job's done.

For example, if one of your goals was to do laundry and wash dishes 3 times a week, you can create a list of fun thing's you like to do, and then just change which reward you get.

If you want to get really anal or organized, you can create a reward credit system.

One 1 paper, right all the tasks or jobs you want to get done in a week, and then rate how much effort they are, and assign credit points. Let's say, changing your car's oil is 20 points.

Then on the 2nd page, create a list of rewards, and how much each reward is.

Then on a 3rd page, write down what tasks you did each day, then calculate how many points you earned, then pick how you want to spend them or save them, and then keep track.

Just do what helps you get more done, and feel proud of that!

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Definitely - this is very heavily used, for example, for smokers:

If I get to the end of the week without having a cigarette, I'll treat myself to xxx

You just need to ensure you stick to the rules:-)

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