The Game of Productive Baby Steps

by Elizabeth on January 28, 2013

Slightly more low-tech than the basic wheel.

If there’s a to-do app out there, I’ve probably got it.

It’s not that I’m disloyal to any one of them (well, okay, I am), but after using something for a while, I get that whole malaise thing going on.  I either a) don’t check it like I should, and end up missing things, or b) get too hyperspecific in my adding of things, so maintaining the blasted thing becomes a to-do-list-item in and of itself.  It kind of defeats the purpose of that whole increasing productivity bit.

A lot of what I’m doing right now is hyperspecific.  Or at least, it’s project-specific.  And for those kinds of things, these apps seem to work pretty well.  Put in a line item, check it off, celebrate with pie.  Easy peasy.  For those, I’m fine with app-as-project-management.

When it comes to life stuff, though — the everyday, do this, do that, do it again tomorrow — that’s where a lot of these app-type things fail.  Either you have to check them all the time, set a bunch of alerts for stuff, or schedule your day around your stuff to do.  (Which never works for me.  My work stuff might take me an hour today, but three hours tomorrow, and god only knows when those three hours will be.)  Plus, a lot of it’s stuff I don’t particularly want to do, which means relying on an app or system to just tell me again that it’s time to do something is kind of futile, because I’ll be resisting like a mofo.

Enter: The Simplest Game, Ever.

I have a long list of repeating tasks that should be done daily-ish to stay on top of them.  Stuff for work, stuff for the web, stuff for the house, stuff for me.  Stuff that isn’t necessarily attached with a goal, per se, but is regular ol’ maintenance work, but without the coverall glamour.

After noticing yet again that I put off answering email (which I totally do, sometimes even thinking I answered it with my mind already, apparently), and that the dishes were piling up, and holy crap I think a mushroom is growing out of the dust on the television set, and resenting every single second of it all, I came to a place of realization:

Something was gonna have to change.  And since the dust will still collect and the email still won’t be answered by my mind, I had to change my attitude.  And the easiest way to do that…turn it into a game.

First, assemble all your neverending, mundane tasks.

(Mine aren’t all things like dusting, btw, despite the card up there in the picture.)

Make sure to get all the stuff you like to do, stuff that babysteps your butt toward a goal, and stuff you hate every day, but know you should do.  Flossing, for instance.  Or folding the laundry.  Or responding to comments, or updating your files, or checking the dog (or the kids) for ticks.  Whatever it is you want to do/you know you should do.

Grab some index cards, cut them in half (or not), and write one thing on each card.

Here’s where it gets fun.

Assign each thing a point number.  I did mine by giving everything an automatic point.  (After all, it wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t worth doing.)  For everything that was urgent, I gave it an extra point.  For everything that was important, I gave it an extra point.

That means that for things that were urgent (needing immediate attention, but were kind of mundane), it was a two-point card.  For things that were important (such as updating a website, or writing something that advanced another goal), it was also a two-point card.  For things lucky enough to be both urgent and important (such as writing an article for pay with a deadline), they’re three points a pop.

In addition, I added a few special cards.

Since there are some things I procrastinate on more than others, I gave some special incentive.  I also added in some wild cards to spice things up.  Such as:

  • Two five-point wild cards: one for a certain amount of time on a big huge job, and one for a task of my choice.
  • An either/or card: several, that give two choices.  Do this OR that for a point.  Do both for two points.  For really small jobs that often get overlooked as annoyances.
  • A “per item” card:  For email and other often-put-off tasks, as extra mojo, I made a “one point per item” card.  When it comes up, I give myself fifteen minutes to do as many of those items as I can, and count a point apiece for the items.  You can rack up points this way and get over the procrastination hump without even trying.

Then you just go play.

The way I do it is to do whatever it is that I’m doing (writing, reading whatever, researching something online, or just general messing-about) for a set period, or with criteria.  Like, if I’m watching a movie, after each scene, I get to pause and pick a card.  If I’m writing, every 27 minutes, I pick a card.  If I’m being particularly nerdy and playing WoW, I draw a card after every quest.  (Hey.  I told you I was a nerd.)

I’m tallying all my points on scrap paper.  So far, I’m averaging about 70 points a day on the weekends.  More on weekdays.  Considering most things are worth two points, that’s a lot I’m doing every day, instead of sitting around and thinking that it’d be a really good idea to fold that damned laundry already.

Sometimes, all it takes is a trick to get your body moving in the right direction.

For me, that means imaginary points that don’t do anything other than use up scrap paper.  (At some point, though, I’d love to assign the points a dollar value, and use that as reward money.  Maybe 100 points = $1?  No idea.  But it’d be incentive, for sure.)

How do you keep motivated on the little things?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jennifer February 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I just recently realized there are apps for to-do lists and am really enjoying Awesome Note. I’ve always put stuff in my day-planner (in pen and ink) but it was never a good way for me to keep track of projects and stuff. For some reason it is THAT stuff (the fun stuff!) that I have a problem remembering to do and getting to. The day to day I always can do – I guess it is years of training to do the grudge work first and THEN you get to do the fun stuff…except grudge work can last forever! So the to-do app I use now actually helps me to remember that I have other, bigger stuff I want to do, BESIDES the piles of dishes and laundry.


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