Gamify Your To Do List

There’s always more than one way to do something. What works for you may not necessarily work as well for someone else, and vice versa. There are tens of thousands of options for pretty much anything you want to do, try, or learn. Being more productive is an ongoing quest for nearly every professional and business owner, and finding the right tool or system is an effort in experimentation.

Many of the productivity systems are admittedly dry. I mean, just look at the words: productivity system. This is great for the left-brain, analytical people of the world who love structure, process, and step-by-step instructions. Perhaps you’re an entrepreneur, a creative, or a right-brain ideator. Systems to you sound boring and mundane. You’ve probably already started to check out mentally because there have been too many left-brain words in this paragraph…

But wait, don’t go! This article is for you if traditional productivity systems don’t work for you, but you still desire to increase your efficiency and effectiveness.

A relatively new productivity technique emerging to help you stay focused and get more done is gamifying your daily and/or weekly To Do list. Gamification, for the purposes of this discussion, is using game-like elements to increase productivity. In simplest form, it’s like giving yourself a literal gold star for every completed task or finished project, a throwback to our days as kindergarteners and first grade schoolchildren.

The reason gamification works can be attributed to the complex super-computer residing between our ears. In their book Gamification by Design, Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham cite the reason gamification works is what they refer to as the dopamine loop. The dopamine loop, according to Susan Weinschenk, Ph. D. in Psychology Today, works like this:

“Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward… It’s easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more.”

seek -> achieve -> reward -> dopamine hit -> reinforced behavior.

Using our early childhood example, how do parents get their kids to eat food they don’t like? Make the spoonful of pureed broccoli buzz around their head like an airplane, whooshing down to the hangar for landing in their gullet. In other words, make it fun and attach a reward. When baby eats her broccoli, daddy giggles, laughs and dances. Baby gets a hit of dopamine and this positive behavior is reinforced — more broccoli is eaten, followed by more giggling, laughing and dancing.

A gold star and happy daddy will motivate, but simple forms of reward become monotonous quickly. Bunchball, an industry pioneer in employee and customer engagement gamification tools, suggests 10 game mechanics to motivate and accomplish goals at an enterprise level. For you to individually gamify your To Do list, fewer requisites aligned with the dopamine loop above will probably work. Most of the popular gamified productivity apps follow this course:

Define your goals — the requisite tasks, i.e., each item you want to complete today

Provide immediate feedback — visual response or confirmation that the goal was achieved; a graph showing progress, check mark or line through the item, the To Do list visibly reducing in size, etc.

Reward productive behavior– an indicator that the goal was achieved and something was awarded to you as a result — points, badge, gold star, etc.

Increase levels of achievement — this is the most important part of gamification. In order to keep it fun and engaging, you have to be working towards the bigger picture. Each goal achieved needs to feed into higher level goals of increasing complexity. Just like with games, as you progress and achieve higher levels of mastery, the difficulty of the game increases, as do the rewards.

Alex Walz published an article on Zapier evaluating the pros and cons of some gamified productivity apps, ranging from simple daily tasks to larger projects that require chunking down the associated activities. You can easily download one of the apps, or reference the article to create your own game.

Whether you are a procrastinator, a project starter but not a finisher, or an easily overwhelmed professional, gamifying your To Do list could be a fun and motivating technique to help you get –and stay–focused and productive.

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Wendy Nolin is the President of Wendy Nolin Worldwide, a business and executive career coaching firm that liberates professionals from the status quo. Wendy has nearly 2 decades of business and career development experience coaching executives to advance in their career, and business owners to double their revenue in half the time. Her latest book, Own Your Greatnessis now available on Amazon.

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