The Mario Party Method for Goal Tracking

An example of the Mario Party Method on a whiteboard, with 7 stars and 25 coins
An example of the Mario Party Method on a whiteboard, with 7 stars and 25 coins

Let’s face it — if you’re reading this, you’ve probably played Mario Party at least once. I’ve played the series on-and-off since that first palm-wrecking outing on the N64 in 1999, including the latest entry, the Switch’s Super Mario Party.

For the unacquainted, Mario Party is effectively Mario Board Game Night. Generally, Mario, Peach, Yoshi and friends race across themed boards to collect stars. But stars aren’t free, so at the end of every turn players compete in a minigame for the chance to earn coins. The basic cycle of earn coins, buy stars repeats until the game’s final turn, when the player with the most stars is crowned the winner.

Simple, right?

I often tend to overcomplicate things, goal tracking included. I’ve spent more hours than I’d care to admit in the depths of bullet journal-YouTube/Pinterest. But a good rule to follow is that if you’re spending a non-negligible amount of time on tracking your goals instead of, you know, doing them, you might want to reconsider your process.

That’s the spot I found myself in last year. Generally I track my writing goals in a spreadsheet, which is great for capturing a lot of detail. I was looking for a simple way to keep key goals top-of-mind, so I decided to track them on my whiteboard, where they’d always be readily visible. Fresh from a lot of time playing Super Mario Party over the holidays, my gamer brain inevitably looked to gamify the process.

The Mario Party Method is simple by design: Track one thing that requires more effort, and every time you do that thing, you earn a star. Track a second thing that requires less effort, and every time you do that thing, you earn a coin. Collect stars and coins to meet your goals.

I’ve been using this method to track the number of new stories I write through stars, and the number of times I submit a story for publication through coins. Since a single story can be submitted (read: rejected) many times, it’s much easier to accumulate coins than stars, which aligns with the experience of playing Mario Party. At the beginning of this year, I reset my star and coin values to zero and started again.

What you decide to track wholly depends on your pursuits. If you’re an amateur chef, maybe it’s the number of new recipes you’ve tried (stars), plus the number of times you’ve tried them (coins). If you’re a runner, maybe it’s the number of times you run 10Ks (stars) or 5Ks (coins). In another writing-related example, it can be easier to draft a story than to return to it for revisions, so you might track fully revised stories (stars) and first drafts (coins). It’s nice if the goals you track are related, but they don’t have to be.

As with any goal setting exercise, it’s worth thinking about your goals in terms of what you can control. For example, I can’t control whether my stories are accepted for publication, but I can control submitting them for publication, which is why my publication-related goal tracks submissions instead of acceptances (of course, I only submit if I think they’re ready to go). That said, the best approach to take is always the one that inspires you the most, so power to you if collecting stars or coins by winning over others — figuratively or literally — motivates you.

The Mario Party Method is not meant to be comprehensive. Instead, it’s a quick shorthand for progress, one that fits easily in a planner or on a Post-it, and — importantly — requires almost no time to keep updated. It’s a status indicator, a visual cue that can be read as a pat-on-the-back if you’re doing well or a friendly kick-in-the-pants if you’re falling behind.

For a “multiplayer” experience, you can compete with your friends to earn the most stars and coins, or you can even compete against yourself year-over-year. Personally, I’ve already collected more stars and I’m about tied in coins compared to my haul in all of last year, so now I’m looking to set a record that 2021-me will have to beat.

Then again, maybe I’ll shift my goals next year to focus on longer work. If so, the Goomba Method for Novel Revision might try staging a comeback…

Printed goombas taped to the top of a computer monitor
Printed goombas taped to the top of a computer monitor

Steven Berger is a writer, among other things, living in Austin, TX. Find him on Twitter @steber.

Speculative fiction writer, product manager, media consumer.

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