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Games have this fascinating power to invite players to become better at... beating the game. I like how after repeatedly smashing a damn Orc a few times I am magically more efficient at well smashing the damn Orc. It feels like I'm accomplishing something even though nothing is really happening to stuff that actually needs to be finished. But it's the same feeling I get when suddenly I notice I'm understanding a movie in a new language when a year before I could barelly read the subtitles. A year before? That's not very encouraging. Games are constantly reminding me how awesome I am with all them level ups and fancy items. It's not very fair against the feeling of hey 'I'm better than a year before' feeling.

Games have several mechanics designed to encourage you to keep trying:

  • Competition. You can tell who of the people you know are doing better than you. It's a solid number. You have level 85 at Alchemy while Mike has only 40 and you both started playing at the same time. You're the man. Whereas Steve is a loser no-lifer for having level 90.
  • Solid milestones. Quests in games have ponctual objectives. You need to get a sword, talk to someone and collect a number of blue potatoes. What next? There's always a next.
  • Skill level. You know when you got better at something even though you're not sure why. It doesn't take several months to notice some progress.

The list goes on and on but my question is:

Is there any method teaching how to convert life tasks in quests, skills and other concrete numbers that can be compared to someone else's progress? Something that has a smaller gap between achivements but are somewhat universal.

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I'm not going to add this as its own answer because it isn't for general tasks, but rather fitness. Fitocracy.com is a social site that gives you points for various exercises. It also gives quests (like do 100 push ups) and achievements (like bench press 90% of your body weight). You are able to level up and compete against friends. I've been using it for a few months and it's been pretty effective at getting me off my butt. –  Yetti Feb 1 '12 at 19:04
    
@Yetti I think Fitocracy qualifies for an answer here. I'd vote it up. The thing about using game principles to boost productivity is that you need a good know-how in the area, rendering it quite difficult for a tool to cover several areas of expertise or create something simple that works for all of them. Not only does this site fit this question, pun intended, but it also did get a good feedback from mainstream media. –  Renan Feb 2 '12 at 1:06
    
Endomondo for android with a one-click share to Facebook lets all your friends know how much exercise you're getting and how many of those 8 minute miles you can do! –  Gaʀʀʏ Jun 27 '12 at 15:35
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7 Answers 7

up vote 21 down vote accepted

I've read that the most strongly habit forming behaviors are those that dispense random rewards in exchange for repeated action. This behavioral psychology finding is the primary reason why people compulsively check facebook, email, news websites and other distractions even though updates are sporadic, and the content itself is often uninteresting. Eventually, something cool or important comes up when you refresh and it strongly reinforces the habit.

This effect is also why gamers decide to crawl just one more dungeon in search of an epic loot drop, and why some people become completely addicted to slot machine gambling. It's useful for training animals too. Maybe that's the feeling you're trying to replicate in your everyday life.

If you can find a way to incorporate this effect into your workflow, I think you will have a winning formula on your hands. Right now I'm experimenting with a randomized reward scheme in combination with the pomodoro effect. I place special emphasis on the randomized aspect; if people were motivated by steady and predictable rewards then you'd know a lot more people who loved their jobs and always met their weight loss goals.

My current process goes something like this:

  1. Choose a reward that can be dispensed incrementally. For me, this means keeping a wishlist of intermediate-priced prizes on Amazon. These are things I would like to have but that cost more than I'm comfortable blowing on impulse buys. For other people this might be favorite food items or something else entirely.
  2. Do my work using the Pomodoro Technique.
  3. Every time I successfully complete a pomodoro, I roll a d20. For certain predetermined kinds of important but odious tasks, I alot myself a bonus roll.
  4. If I roll 20, I win! I buy myself one item from the wishlist.

I started out with a more complicated system of multiple die rolls and different prize levels, spreadsheets tracking, etc etc. But I've given that up in favor of the system I described above. People came up with KISS for a reason, after all. I like that I don't have to track anything except the stuff I want to buy. I keep my d20 in my pocket at all times both as a reminder to keep working and so that I always have my system with me if I need extra motivation.

The main danger of this system is that it encourages you to stay busy, which may or may not be the same as productive and effective depending on how good you are at planning your day.

My game doesn't really involve anything analogous to quests so maybe it's not what you're looking for. But it has definitely helped me stay productive on days when I otherwise might have just diddled around.

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+1 for innovation and any reason to use a d20 is a good reason :) –  silvermaple Jan 27 '12 at 2:32
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+1 This is genius and needs a name, Variable Reward Pomodoro? Vomodoro? –  Adam Jan 29 '12 at 17:20
    
This is exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. Could you share the article about random rewards in exchange for repeated actions? –  Renan Jan 31 '12 at 19:28
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Much has been written about the psychological power of intermittent reward schedules, but not much I've found from a personal productivity point of view. This blog post summarizes some of the interesting points. I'm pretty sure this book gets into it as well, but I haven't read much of it yet so I can't say for sure. –  jurassic Feb 3 '12 at 19:16
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Relevant google keyword searches would be things like "intermittent reward schedule," "variable reward schedule," "operant conditioning reward schedules," "intermittent reward addiction," or really anything about the work of B.F. Skinner. –  jurassic Feb 3 '12 at 19:20
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Aragorn has suggested an iPhone app (EpicWin), and I would add Task XP and RLRPG for Android Market. The basic concept is the same for all three: You imput your tasks, and upon completion you get rewards (xp, loots, achievements, skill ups, etc.). Of course, you could fake what you do, but if you cheat you're only cheating yourself.

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They had iPhones in LOTR? –  M.K. Jan 26 '12 at 21:44
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@m.k. lol :) Aragorn is the name of another stack user :D Besides, Aragorn would have used Android ^.^ –  silvermaple Jan 26 '12 at 22:06
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You can look at EpicWin Turns your to-do list into a role playing game. It's an app for iPhones that you can use to gain skill ups, xp, loot etc etc.

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Please add more details as to why this article fits this question. It helps readers browse through the answers. A short description and maybe one or two pictures would suffice. –  Renan Jan 24 '12 at 19:00
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As suggested, I am putting this down as an answer:

This site/game is specifically geared towards rewarding exercising rather than tasks in general. So its scope is more narrow than what is being asked, but it is still relevant. It is called Fitocracy. Fitocracy is currently in Beta and invite only, but invites are pretty easy to come by if you are looking. Also, it is free (but you can purchase a hero account to support the developers).

Anyway, it is a social site that gives you points for various exercises. It also gives quests (like do 100 push ups) and achievements (like bench press 90% of your body weight). You are able to level up and compete against friends. Additionally, you can keep track of your progress with bar graphs, which is pretty nice and you get a little star next to your workout to indicate a personal record.

On top of all that you have the social aspect of having other people offer tips,commenting, and giving props to your workouts (like 'liking' on facebook or +1'ing on Google+), I've learned quite a bit about form, different exercise equipment, gym etiquette, healthy diet info, and just received motivation in general from other users.

I've been on the site for 4-5 months now and it is pretty effective at not only motivating one to exercise, but also to try out new exercises. For example, prior to joining the site, I had never done more at the gym than the treadmill and maybe some weight machines. Now I feel comfortable spending a majority of my workout with the barbell or dumbbells. Not to mention that I have gone from exercising maybe once a week to exercising 3-5 times a week.

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There is Pomodorium - a Pomodoro technique based RPG-game.

enter image description here

Here is some explanation: Pomodorium is an attempted gamification of the Pomodoro technique.

The idea of Pomodorium is to use rules of role-playing game in the Pomodoro technique.

It's a Pomodoro technique timer with a game. For every completed pomodori you get 'gold' and there is game character - you buy him/her armors/weapons for this gold. There is a map you can travel through and fight monsters and level-up.

More detailed information how to play could be found in Pomodoro technique RPG style.

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I had to vote this down for the lack of any explanation whatsoever. –  Renan Jan 31 '12 at 19:20
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Um... I made my todo list a game... I have script that interogates my list (strictly my inbox) every half hour to generate a chart - the game I've been playing for some time now is to ground as many of the lines as possible... you can view the current state of the game at http://www.cs.rhul.ac.uk/home/joseph/productivityFiles/inbox7day.jpeg (with a little bit more information at http://www.cs.rhul.ac.uk/home/joseph/)

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You can maintain a tree and level up using Mindbloom(although I myself haven't gotten around to trying it yet).

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I don't think this tool relates to the question. –  Renan Jan 31 '12 at 19:31
    
@Renan To the question "Is there any method teaching how to convert life tasks in quests, skills and other concrete numbers that can be compared to someone else's progress?" a life-goal tracking tool that displays progress in terms of discrete levels and the health of a little game tree seems to fit quite accurately to me, perhaps the fault is with your question. –  kinofrost Feb 2 '12 at 11:01
    
You believe this tool has a method that somehow uses game features to boost productivity. What's the method? What are the features worth mentioning? That opinion of yours would be welcome. –  Renan Feb 2 '12 at 12:48
    
@Renan - I think that there is nothing wrong with this answer. Moreover - for me it looks totally ontopic and candidate for acceptance for best answer. –  multipole Feb 13 '12 at 15:19
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