I’m a gamer at heart. I inevitably gravitate towards RPGs, board games, MMOs, and their ilk. Unfortunately, this primal urge often takes me away from things like getting enough sleep, minding my health, getting stuff done around the house, or my writing.
December was particularly unproductive; I consider myself faultless in that regard, because very few gamers could reasonably be expected to do anything that wasn’t Fallout 4 at the end of 2015. Still, I was disappointed with my output in a number of areas, and so I resolved to find an app or service to help me be more effective. I found so much more. I found Habitica.
To-Do’s To-Done To-Death
A couple of times each year, usually once in January and once in August, I’m gripped with sudden fits of ambition and reexamine my priorities. These productive streaks have driven me into the metaphorical arms of a lot of different time management apps in the past. Most of them were simple to-do lists with varying degrees of elegance.
I don’t mean to disparage a good to-do list. Two of my favorites, ToDoist and Things, were truly excellent pieces of software. It wasn’t them. It was me. I always dropped off using simple to-do applications within a couple of weeks, for two reasons.
The first reason to-do lists don’t work for me was that while such apps gave me a lot to do when I was feeling productive, they didn’t do anything to prevent me from spending gobs of my free time playing killing digital werewolves and dragons whenever I felt like being a schlub. That lack of structure meant that any to-do app I picked up would quickly find itself competing with more fun activities. The to-do app always lost.
Which brings me to my second issue with to-do lists, which is that there was no incentive to return to the lost. I mean, if I felt like behaving well and getting something done, I could, but if I always felt that way I wouldn’t need the list. Checking something off felt good, but not as as good as, say, blowing a nuclear zombie’s head off with a scavenged laser rifle.
So this year, I knew a basic to-do list wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, I wanted to find something with two key features:
- It needed to create daily or weekly activities to hold myself accountable to (admittedly, most to-do apps do this) and
- It needed to let me “earn” rewards by doing those activities.
I reasoned that if I needed to, say, meet my daily word count goals in order to earn some video game time, the balance would tip back towards a more productive life. So I googled “task manager earn rewards,” to see if any basic app like that existed.
The first result said “Habitica: Your Life the Role Playing Game.” I had to read the link a couple of times, however, as my mind had just been completely blown.
A Tool of Productivity +5
At its core, Habitica is a task manager, but it’s wrapped in the kind of gaming mechanisms that hijack my central nervous system and crank up the happy. Role playing progression. Items and loot. Cosmetic upgrades. Collectibles. Multi-player parties. Stats and classes. Achievements. Skadoosh.
In Habitica, I set up daily tasks (including tasks done every Thursday, or every 15 days, etc.), to-do items, and habits that I want to do whenever possible (e.g. drinking water.) So it has all of the task management I could want. But then it goes a step further, and rewards me with gold, experience points, and a chance to get a random item drop whenever I complete a task. Now there’s a random reward system hooked up to real life tasks.
GG, neurons. You’re hooked.
Better still, while I can use the gold I earn in Habitica to get increasingly overpowered and ridiculous looking gear for my charmingly pixelated avatar, I can also spend it on custom defined rewards—like watching some TV or playing an hour of Fallout. Now I have a mechanism to get my relaxation time, but it’s predicated on me being productive first.
Finally, and perhaps best of all, Habitica takes it to the next level by introducing negative consequences for either missing daily habits OR for doing a bad habit (in my case, getting second helpings or buying snacks at the company cafeteria.) Whenever I do slip up, Habitica damages my character. If I get take too much damage in a certain window of time, I’ll die and lose a hard won piece of equipment. The damage isn’t so serious that it makes me get discouraged about my progress, but it’s definitely a deterrent—especially since repeat offenses scale up the damage you take with each infraction.
All of these facets combined have kept me coming back to Habitica multiple times a day, and the results are showing. I’ve had my best month of writing in a long while (over 15,000 words written, and I wrote virtually every day). I’ve lost 5 lbs. I’m way more productive around the house. I’ve been getting back into drawing. (That last one is crucial as I have an illustration for the cover of Son of a Liche due to the cover artist in a couple of months.)
Most importantly, I’m loving it. The game isn’t terribly in-depth or complicated, but it’s more than enough to keep me engaged with the goals and tasks I’ve set for myself. Habitica was exactly what I needed.
Well, Habitica and a rad Shadow Dragon to keep myself and Rajah here company.