Recent popularity and developments in cognitive science, psychology, and behavioral economics have launched a thousand books and articles and listicles on habit formation, gamification, and life hacks. As with any technology, I think it’s always useful to remind oneself of the limitations, the fundamental spiritual vacuity, of such self-improvement while recognizing their usefulness as tools.
One I can recommend is HabitRPG, a web and smartphone app that applies gamification principles to Getting Things Done, basically overlaying an old-school RPG game metaphor over your to-do list. When I first used HabitRPG, I did so only intermittently and with great frustration because it was so buggy. The web site is much more stable now, but I don’t have a ton of experience with the iPhone app.
As you can see from the screenshot, there are sections for Habits, Dailies, To-Do’s, and Rewards. You can earn in-game rewards that will develop attributes of your avatar (swords, shields, potions, etc.) and you can also set personal rewards for yourself (e.g., 1 hour of video games). To-Do’s are one-off tasks. Dailies are repeated tasks (you can set how often they repeat per week); you take on damage if you fail to check these on a regular basis. Habits are general activities, either positive or negative, that you want to reward or punish yourself for partaking in. There are also some social aspects to the site that I haven’t touched.
Why not just use HabitRPG to collect all my ideas for tasks immediately? As I said in my previous post, I use Wunderlist as a catch-all for thoughts and tasks as they occur to me. I do so for the sake of convenience, but also because I can allow a hairy, long list to develop in my Wunderlist inbox, knowing that I’m going to prune and process it every now and then. Some of the items goes into my Google Calendar (sometimes via Fantastical)—specifically appointments and events that are attached to dates and times. Some, but not all, go into HabitRPG.
I once received some fantastic advice about how every person has a set number of things they can tackle in their lives at once. If they find themselves doing less, they feel restless and dissatisfied. If they find themselves doing more, they feel overwhelmed and burn out. I’ve, therefore, tried to manage commitments and build constructs that allow me to focus on just enough things that I won’t freak out.
I try to only have one (or very few) Dailies—my current one is to write in my journal every day—so that I commit to developing seriously that one practice. I have a much longer list of Habits, just little things that I regularly want to plus or ding myself for without making a big deal out of it. These two lists are generally for the Important+Not Urgent box on the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. As for To-Do’s, I try to cull stuff from my Wunderlist catch-all that are Urgent and easy or Urgent+Important—or Not Urgent but Important enough that I want to keep nagging myself about it. Again, I try not to get this list get too long, for fear of demoralizing myself.
Question: Do I introduce my 7-year-old son Biggie to these practices? Maybe put that on the Wunderlist.