How to Maximise Your Productivity By Turning Your Life Into a Game
When I was younger, I used to play a lot of video games. But as I was getting older and life became busier, I stopped playing. I didn’t find time to play anymore.
But recently, I started playing again. After finishing work, I started playing for an hour every day. This made me remember how much I liked it, and now I was motivated to get to the end of the day. I even started finishing my work faster, as I was motivated to get to play.
This got me wondering. What exactly makes computer games so compelling? What if I could design my life so that I would be equally motivated to finish every other task in my life?
Gamification means taking game elements and bringing them into non-game situations. Games are created to maximise the release of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is associated with wanting and desire. When it’s released, it feels like a reward for your brain, and it makes you highly motivated to continue the activity you’re doing. It motivates us to repeat certain behaviours over and over. Like spending endless hours of playing computer games.
It works much like a carrot on a stick. And wherever the carrot goes, we follow. Computer games are excellent at this. They’re always dangling carrots in front of us, to keep us going for just a bit longer. Five elements keep you especially motivated. These are clear objectives, progress, rewards, variety/novelty and challenge. By applying these ideas to your own life, you can make it feel much more like a fun game too.
1. Clear objective
The first element is to always have a clear objective to work towards, and a clear direction of how to get there. Perhaps you need to kill a dragon or rescue a friend from the enemy. The exact task doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have a clear direction and know what you should be doing next.
In real life, many of us don’t know what we are working towards or trying to achieve. This is the recipe for a day of low productivity. You may be working on random things throughout the day, and at the end of the day, you have accomplished nothing of importance.
By setting a specific goal, you give yourself a direction to work towards. It can be running a marathon, writing a book or finishing a project. The important part is that you’re very clear about where you want to go.
But achieving an ambitious goal can seem far away. It can be made easier by breaking down the task. In a computer game, the main goal may be to kill a dragon, but there will be plenty of quests on the way. Finding a key to open a dungeon. Locating a powerful sword. Developing your skills so that you’re able to fight a powerful enemy. These smaller tasks make you forget about the big difficult task, but you’re constantly moving in the right direction.
Similarly, you want to break down your big goal into much smaller and achievable tasks. While writing a book, you want to do the research, decide on the different chapters you will include and write an outline. When you start to write, you may try to finish 1–2 pages per day. Then you will go through the editing and publishing process. The goal is to break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
For each small task you finish, your brain will reward you with the release of dopamine. This motivates you to keep going. It drives you towards wanting to complete the next task. You may not have finished the book yet, but you have taken a step in the right direction, and you’re closer to you’re greater objective.
Games motivate you by making progress obvious and visible. They show you a progress bar, which shows how close you are to reaching the next level. This gives you the necessary motivation to keep going. Games keep you motivated to play a little longer so that you can reach that next level before logging out.
Progress in real life is often not that obvious. But one way to do it is by tracking your daily activities. Make track of all the things you do that lead towards your greater goal. Count the time you spend on these activities. By the end of the day, you will have evidence that supports how much progress you made that day. If you write 1000 words for your book, write it down. If you run 5 kilometres, make a note of it. If you study for 1 hour, put it in your book.
By measuring the activities that matter, you increase your motivation to do them. If you have an unproductive day, it will also show up in your notes, and you will have a clear idea of how to improve.
A third game element that keeps you motivated is getting rewards. As you finish tasks leading you towards your big goal, well-designed games will continually reward you when you’re putting in the effort. This gives you an incentive to complete the tasks on the way.
Rewards are great motivators in real life, as when your brain anticipate getting one, it releases a lot of dopamine. You can easily apply this by rewarding yourself after finishing useful tasks. After you complete an hour of study, you may permit yourself to watch an episode of your favourite show. And after going for a run, you may indulge yourself with a piece of your favourite chocolate.
4. Variety and novelty
Good games always have something new and surprising to keep them interesting. A new and more potent weapon, a different area to play in or new enemies. This novelty keeps us motivated and wanting to play more. Our brains love novelty, and as long as an activity has something different to stimulate us, we stay motivated. Imagine that in a game you would have to play the same level over and over. Most of us would find it boring and wanting to quit.
It’s the same in our daily lives. We often get into routines which makes the days predictable and boring. Imagine the first day you started your job. You were meeting new people and learning to do new tasks. It was probably quite interesting. A year later, much of this novelty has faded, and your work may have become boring and dull. You don’t have anything to look forward to as you have already done these tasks before.
Routines can be useful, but it’s also beneficial to have some variation within that routine. If you’re doing the same task all the time, try to find others tasks or a different approach to mix it up a little bit. Another way of introducing variety is by changing the things you do in between your work. Perhaps you can befriend someone you usually don’t interact with, reorganise your desk or go to a different restaurant for lunch. Anything that feels different can stimulate your brain. It doesn’t have to be a massive change. The point is to do something slightly different. When I was living in Lisbon, I took a different route to work every day and found that it often provided me with ideas as I walked past places I hadn’t seen before.
The fifth element of good games is that they continually challenge you. The human brain loves working on things that stretch its abilities, where you have to overcome obstacles to reach the goal. The difficulty must match your current skill level. If the task is too hard, you will feel overwhelmed. If it’s too easy, you may feel bored.
When playing a game, you don’t face the most challenging boss straight away. This would be overwhelming, and you would most likely fail. You probably wouldn’t want to play again. Instead, games set you up against opponents who are appropriate to your current skill level. As you get better, the difficulty goes up. It’s also no fun to quickly demolish everything that comes in your way, so the challenge of games increases as you get better. By adjusting the challenge to your abilities, the games stay exciting and rewarding.
In real life, we rarely face optimal challenges. Tasks often feel overwhelming or tedious. By breaking down a big job into smaller and simpler tasks, you bring down the difficulty level and make them better adjusted to your current skill level.
Application to your life
Games are applying these elements rapidly, and it can be difficult to match these rewards in your daily life. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to incorporate these elements into your life. In fact, it’s even more important that you integrate them into your life, to not get pulled towards wherever the most dopamine is. This includes activities such as watching YouTube-videos, Instagram and Netflix. These are all experts at getting your attention when your everyday life seems too boring.
By applying these five elements to essential areas of your life, you increase the likelihood that you will get crucial tasks done. It gives you control of the carrot and you can motivate yourself to do whatever is most important for you. Get more done by designing your life like a computer game.
Take home message
- Computer games are extremely good at motivating us to keep playing. They do this by designing the games so that the brain releases a lot of dopamine while playing.
- Gamification is to take game elements and apply them to your daily life.
- Clear objectives make what tasks you should do more obvious.
- Keeping track of progress is motivating as you always see how much you’re improving or how close you are to achieving your goal.
- Rewards make it more likely that you finish the tasks that matter.
- Variety and novelty make your days more exciting and motivating.
- Adjusting the challenge level to your current skill level is essential to stay engaged with a task.
Thanks for reading! :)
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