Gamify Your Productivity: The Ultimate Geek Guide to Getting Stuff Done

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ryan McRae.

In most video games, especially in the roleplaying game (RPG) and adventure realm, you go on quests, gain skills, find gear (sometimes magical!), and get new abilities by leveling up. They quickly show us what we need to do, how to do it, and gives us rewards when we complete the quest. It’s no wonder we can spend hours and hours deep in a dungeon, but when the gaming console is turned off, we wonder: why can’t I be this productive within my REAL life? Why are so many things left undone?

Here’s how we can take our system of being fantastic in a fantasy realm and put it to use in our real world.

Let’s gamify your productivity!

Heroes Take Inventory: Gamify Your Systems

Break out a piece of paper and write down every task you can think of. Then label them accordingly:

  • Minion: These are tasks that take less than 10 minutes, things like a phone call, a text, something to put in your calendar, taking the garbage out, etc.
  • Henchman: These tasks take between 10 minutes and an hour. They can include tasks like cleaning the house, laundry, shopping, etc.
  • Boss: These tasks that take 1-3 hours. (If they take more time than that, I’d consider breaking that task down further into Boss, Henchmen and Minion.)

My recommendation is to take care of three minions, two henchman, and a boss a day. Everything else is extra. This way you don’t get stuck on multiple bosses, and you’re not taking the easy road by defeating minion after minion.

As you put my recommendation into place, you’ll build momentum.

You can do it.

Look how far you’ve come.

You’ll feel this momentum, the defeating of minions and henchmen. You’ll start to dispatch bosses as you figure out their dirty schemes.

But then you’ll want to accomplish that dream, that thing you’ve always wanted. That’s your Big Bad Evil Genius, the nemesis you’ve ignored.

The BBEG has arrived!

Cue the ominous music!

Heroes Encounter the Big Bad Evil Genius: Gamify Your Project

The Big Bad Evil Genius, the BBEG, is the boss’ boss. The head of the evil organization. The last bastion of the empire you need to defeat. (The Emperor, Sauron, and Thanos are great examples of a BBEG.)

We all have a BBEG project that is going to take some time to defeat. It has minions (small tasks), henchmen (medium tasks), and bosses (large tasks). Taken together, they add up to a BBEG.

For example, if you want to write a book, that’s your BBEG — and it is made up of a ton of enemies that want to get in the way.

  • The desire to sleep in and not write (minion)
  • The distractions of not having a home office (henchman)
  • No idea how to outline a book (boss)
  • The need for a good editor (boss)
  • Discipline to write the first three chapters (henchman)
  • Figuring out how to research the topic (minion)

On and on the list goes. All the obstacles. All the things that prevent you from completing your quest. You can hear the BBEG laughing from the tower — you know the one: the creepy laugh.

But once you know your BBEG, you can start to defeat it.

Heroes Need Fellowship: Gamify Your Needs

Make a list of your equipment, allies, and abilities, the things that will help you defeat that BBEG. Luke, Frodo, and Iron Man couldn’t do it alone. Neither can you. Your list might look like this:

  • Set my alarm clock across the room so that I don’t hit snooze! That way I can get up early. (equipment and discipline)
  • Head to the library! There I can start to research and have some quiet! (environment and wizard)
  • Ask around your local college for editors. (people)

As you face minions, henchmen, bosses, and BBEGs, brainstorm solutions. They won’t be 100% on target all the time, but they push you toward overcoming the resistance to your goals. Combine that sense of accomplishment with “experience points.” Award points for knocking goals down. When you accumulate enough points, give yourself a reward! Maybe you get to do something fun once you’ve written five days in a row. What if you keep the writing streak going for 30 days? Sixty days? What reward awaits you when your book is edited?

Heroes Need Motivation Badly: Gamify Your Tasks

You have housework. I have housework. Those little menial tasks pile up. When I look at my list of them, I’m not sure where to start. I do, however, have one thing I can do: I can bust out my dice to jumpstart my productivity.

Loot one of your board games for a six-sided die. Then write down your task list. Mine would look like this:

  1. Research length of middle school books.
  2. Start outline of book for 45 minutes.
  3. Write down the names of all the characters. Do small sketches.
  4. Set up desk for Nanowrimo.
  5. Research top 5 publishers for middle school books.
  6. Calculate how many words you have to write every day this month to keep on track. Create a visible chart! Not on your computer!

To make this solution work, you have to trust the fate of the die. Cast it, roll it, see what comes up, and follow its directions! When you are done with the numbered task, cross it off your list and reroll for the next task. (If a crossed-out number comes up, just reroll until you get a useable number.)

Pretty soon you’ll have your list crossed off, and you’ll be ready for another adventure.

When I hit a slump, when I’m not really motivated to do much of anything, I use gamification to get me out of that mode and into one where I get to roll dice and vanquish my foes. Adding gamification to your productivity can make your day go by with a little more fun, adventure, and frankly, some joy. And I think we can all use a bit of that, no? (Tweet this.)

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