Perhaps it's a common quality of only children, but I've long had a habit of turning little things into games. To this day, I'm always setting myself unnecessary but useful obstacles like, "New rule: Every time I enter a room for the next hour I have to do one thing to make it nicer." or "Challenge round! How many pieces of laundry can I fold and put away before this song ends?" And you know what? It works. It keeps me motivated and cheerful as I get more done than I otherwise would.
There are a variety of to-do list trackers which take a playful approach to productivity, but I found I did not stick with them after the initial charm wore off. I'd enjoy using them and would indeed find myself doing "just one more task" in the evening in order to score those few more points. Then I'd travel or get sick and once my schedule was disrupted, I would not return to them.
Over the past couple months, though, I seem to have found the one that has enough allure to get me back in the game even after a few days distraction. The key for me came in two parts: supporting habit-building and character advancement. HabitRPG, as the name suggests, is centered on building and maintaining habits defined by you. The core are your "Dailies" (though you can set some to occur only on certain days of the week). If you don't mark them off, your little character will lose life points that night. If you do, you'll gain experience and treasure, which increases as your streak of successful days grows. You also can list behaviors you want to reward yourself for engaging in or negative ones for which you want to penalize yourself. And HabitRPG also supports jotting down To-Do's, which bring a reward when checked off.
You set up the appearance of a cute little character and as you go about your day, marking things off your list, your character grows more skillful and, importantly for those of us who adore the character creation part of games, you can customize its appearance and powers. Those powers, for example, include its defenses against lost life points for missed Dailies and indulgence in bad habits, or its ability to extract greater rewards from completed tasks. My little rogue character is focused on that latter path, using ninja skills to glean a few more gold pieces from each task I ambush.
All good so far, but perhaps not compelling enough to keep me coming back, were it not for the sneaky inclusion of varying rewards and frequent, but not constant, extra treasure. These treasures take the form of eggs, hatching potions, food, and saddles. There are nine different kinds of pets that can be hatched from those eggs and ten different hatching potions creating their variations. This leads to a total of 90 pets to be collected, each of which can be fed its special variant food to grow into a mount. Sure, it's silly, but when making my bed and tidying the bedroom only takes a couple minutes and it has the potential for a treasure I haven't collected yet, I'm just more likely to do it.
HabitRPG gives me the pleasure of a microbreak playing a game (when I get a reward and take a minute to spend it), without actually leaving the context of my goals for the day or risking getting caught up for a long time in playing. It gives me a place to jot down trivial To-Do items (e.g., 'empty the paper shredder') where they won't clog up my main project planner. And it keeps the background hum of daily and weekly personal tasks from creating a sense of overwhelm when I'm looking at all my longer-term projects.
It's enjoyable and it really is succeeding in helping me shift my behavior in the direction I want to go. When games work better than more boring methods, it's a double win. Try out some fun and see if it turns out to be most functional too!
Want to learn more about the science behind gamification and its great potential? Check out Jane McGonigal's 2012 book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. It's available in print and as an audiobook. I listened to the version from Audible while getting things done around the house and working out; isn't that just like a sneaky little rogue?
Posted on January 28, 2015 | Permalink
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Whenever the Discardia holiday is short, or you have only a small amount of time to devote to its celebration, take heart; small efforts still add up. By regularly tuning your attention, even briefly, you are building mental paths that lead you toward where you want to be.
From now until 2016, I'll be helping you build that trail, just a little each day, with a tip or a question. These will go out on Twitter—at all hours since Discardia is celebrated around the world—but you can always see them here at Discardia.com on the righthand side of the page.
Join me in a year of Discardian Strategies and take a daily moment to consider how you can steer your life in the direction of less stress and more happiness. When that contemplation inspires action, leap on the motivation and take a few minutes to improve your world.
Anything which you do pretty much every single day, even if only for ten minutes, has the power to change your life.
As the year goes on, these moments of contemplation will prime you for minutes of action when opportunity falls in your lap. Stay tuned in to what you're learning makes things better for you and seize your chances to do quick little laps of upgrading your world.
From where can you steal those laps of 10-20 minutes? Anywhere you can grab the time, but watch especially for non-rewards that you can trade away. Things you still do which aren't as satisfying as they used to be can fall off your schedule to make room for greater joy.
Best of all, this reveals some of the magic of shifting habits: our focus casts a shadow. If you shift from the habit, say, of watching a particular half hour TV show that has grown dull, you’re gaining back not only those 30 minutes, but also all that other time you spend following information about the show online, complaining about episode plot holes with friends or co-workers, and simply thinking about what you’d watched or planned to watch. Whatever activity it is that isn't giving you want you need and want in your life, change your focus to what makes you happier and calmer.
When you make these small changes, day by day, week by week, month by month, wonderful things begin to happen. It all adds up to the life you've been wanting to be living.
Let's have a great year in 2015 with an even better one to follow!
Posted on December 21, 2014 | Permalink
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Beginning in one week, on this December’s rare one-day Discardia, I’ll begin tweeting 'Discardian Strategies' for a year. That's a tip or useful question each day from @Discardia all through 2015.
I'm looking forward to hearing what they inspire!
Posted on December 14, 2014 | Permalink
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September’s Discardia is all about Quality Over Quantity. This year it’s a very short holiday—just two days, due to the new moon following the day after the equinox—so rather than taking on a big project, I recommend using this time to create a list of questions which will inform your decisions between now and the end of the year. Which questions will be most useful to you varies depending on what you want to work on in your life. I’ve listed some of my favorites here and I’d love it if you add others that have been valuable for you in the comments.
- Is this on my ‘things that make me happy’ list or my ‘things I don’t want in my life’ list?
I picked this up in 2010 at Maggie Mason and Laura Mayes' SXSW session on building your dream life. It’s helpful with everything from big life choices on down to deciding what should be on the coffee table.
- Where is my attention? How am I spending my energy?
This pair of questions is a reality check of your intentions vs. where your time and effort actually goes.
- When did I last use or enjoy this?
Find what has become stale and clear it away to make room for better things.
- What could I take care of now that would reduce my risk of future hassle?
Whenever you have a pause, this is a great way to give things a little nudge toward better or to identify and eliminate problems for your future self.
- Which choice would the person I want to be make?
Appeal to your best self even on small decisions and you will create the future that calls that version of you into being.
Put your questions where you’ll see them often—printed out and pinned over your desk or on the fridge or by the bathroom mirror or on a card in your wallet or all of these. Let them seep into your daily habits and use them to fine-tune your world.
Posted on September 22, 2014 | Permalink
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There are never enough hours in the day to do everything we dream of doing—and that's fine. The act of deciding what we will do is how we construct our selves.
However, overflowing lists of things we might do, which we feel we ought to do, or which others would like us to do, can be so significant a source of stress and indecision as to eat up time we could spend on what we most want in our lives.
I've spoken before about the vital importance of giving yourself permission not to do it all, for example in this talk which I gave at an OmniGroup event last year. Maintaining the difference between active and inactive projects (and their associated tasks) and clearly dropping those you decide not to do, while still allowing yourself to get things out of your head and into a trusted system, is how you manage all that potentiality.
Whether that trusted system is software or paper-based doesn't matter (though I personally find smart software to be less work to use and maintain), the essential part is that it is your system—and, critically, that nothing else is.
You email inbox cannot be your trusted system because things can be added to it without you having consciously processed each of them and affirmed them as something you are going to do (even when "doing" means "delegating" or "adding to a someday/maybe list").
Your physical inbox cannot be your trusted system for exactly the same reason.
Your calendar cannot be your trusted system because it can't hold inactive projects and tasks without becoming useless for managing the active ones.
The essential qualities of a trusted system are:
- that it be easy to use wherever you are in order to see current tasks and to note new items (for later processing into active or inactive projects or tasks as appropriate);
- that it be simple to toggle projects from active to inactive;
- that it support a pleasant process for conducting weekly reviews;
- that it helps in reminding you to review projects on their individual appropriate cycles (some of which might be weekly, others monthly, quarterly or even annual);
- that it gets inactive and not-for-current-review things out of your face until it's time to consider them;
- and that supports deletion by archiving of things you decide not to do.
When you know that adding anything into your system or noting a decision about something in your system means that that item will be presented to you at the appropriate future time and that you no longer need to carry it in your head, then you can trust it. Once you trust it, you can relax and use your clear head to engage with the present moment and whatever task you are deciding to address in it. The work of building a trusted system pays itself back a thousandfold. Your stress will drop and your productivity and self-fulfillment will rise.
Draw that line in your life between your conscious engagement with potential activities and those things which are presenting themselves for your attention. As I indicated above, your email inbox is one of the critical areas for seeing the difference between what you have decided to engage with and a pile of stuff that you have not yet processed. Deletion, unsubscribe, and "No, but thank you for thinking of me!" are all your friends in keeping this territory under control.
Still, after you've got a trusted system and your email isn't driving you batty, and once you've gotten better at identifying an appropriate number of active projects, you may still find yourself feeling that you're running behind. Most peculiarly, you may encounter this feeling more often when you're not working than when you are. This is the signal to start hunting down and eliminating auto-loading to-do lists.
Information technology has made it easier than ever for us to be provided with things that truly do fit within our interests. Lots of things. More things all the time. And more things that are unconstrained by limits such as the number of pages in the daily paper or a magazine. Bit by bit, over time, we sign ourselves on for far more than we could ever hope to read or watch. Then we wonder why we can't seem to keep up and our leisure media nags at us.
Once again, decide what you are going to engage with, rather than letting someone else put those items on your list. You don't have to read everything cover-to-cover or catch every episode.
Here are great places to do some pruning:
- Podcasts. Not only do many of these take longer to consume than the average "long read" link, they also may be living on your computer, filling up your hard drive. Unsubscribing from TEDtalks videos and a couple hour-long-per-episode podcasts cleared up 37GB on my laptop! Consider your consumption rate and downsize your subscriptions and downloads to match it, making use of episode descriptions to skip what doesn't really grab you.
- Television. Don't watch things just because the fall in between two things you do care about. Watch what rewards you and watch it on your time. When it stops rewarding you; drop that show. Remember to answer that question "Is this rewarding me?" in comparison not only to what else you might watch, but also to all the other things you could be doing with that time.
- Books. You don't have to finish a book you don't like and you don't have to keep a book that isn't grabbing you around in hopes that someday it will. The last time a single human had a chance of reading every book in print in English in their lifetime was over 500 years ago; you can't get to it all, so quit beating yourself up and free up some shelf space.
- Magazines and email newsletters. If it isn't rewarding, unsubscribe unsubscribe unsubscribe! Plus, watch for boxes you can uncheck to keep yourself off these mailing lists when you're buying something from a business or signing up for a new service.
- Social Media. Monitor your moods when you spend time on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Are you getting joy or positive self-insight out of making this part of your day? Pare back how many people and who you follow to just those who help make you more who you want to be. Don't keep these applications open all the time or let them distract you with alerts, sounds and unread counts on the application icon. When you choose to connect with them, really do connect and then unplug to take the energy and knowledge you've gained into the rest of your life.
When something seems to be piling up beyond your ability to keep up, take a good hard look at how things get added to that stack and make sure you're the one in control.
Posted on March 27, 2014 | Permalink
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'Less can be more' in your glass as it can in your home and calendar. Many people enjoy mixed drinks—or would like to if they weren't laid low by them. It is possible to have the best of both worlds and sample great cocktails without getting sleepy, stupid, sad, or sick.
The core Discardian principle of Quality Over Quantity comes into play in multiple ways to achieve this.
- Slow down.
Be mindful of what you're consuming. One of the best aspects of good cocktail drinking is tuning in to the present moment and to those you're with, so amplify that by paying attention to what you're having. Take time to enjoy what you've got and space out the alcohol with a glass of water between rounds. You'll get more enjoyment out of your drinks—and out of the next morning!
- Drink less of better.
Satisfy your senses with smaller sips and smaller servings of something well-made with complex ingredients. Whether you like sweet or bitter, tangy or rich, there are amazing cocktails to be enjoyed in classic serving sizes (generally just 3-6 ounces).
- Base your drinks on lower-proof main ingredients.
By not including more than half an ounce of high-proof spirits (40+% alcohol by volume) and carefully selecting recipes which allow their less "hot" components (such as sherry, vermouth, and port) to shine, you can discover a whole world of amazing cocktails, both classics and new creations.
- Be a snob.
Now I don't mean you should only have top-shelf products in trendy bars; I'm talking about the good kind of snobbery that keeps you from wasting time and health on things that don't provide you with real pleasure. Save your liver for those cocktails worth having, in the time and place, and with the company that makes those moments special.
Want to explore more in this realm? I've got a whole book of ideas for you (my second book!) and it's called The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level.
Thanks again to readers of either of my books for your support and encouragement to keep on writing!
Posted on October 25, 2013 | Permalink
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One of my favorite things from this Discardian season was Angela Alvarez Velez's tweet:
"@Discardia oooh, I like the idea of the Awesomeness Contribution Factor as a way to measure worthwhile and worthkeepingness."
Posted on October 4, 2013 | Permalink
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"[Manage] your agreements with yourself. If you break your commitments with yourself, you'll be in negative stress. So you either don't make the commitments (lower expectations), keep the agreements (get busy and finish your stuff), or renegotiate your agreements (constantly review and make smart choices about what you can and should be doing, at any moment in time).”
- David Allen
One of the scariest things when you get organized and pull all your obligations and expectations out of your head and into some trusted system for tracking them is that you can finally see just how much you've been carrying around in there. To overcome that tension, acknowledge that you can't and won't do it all.
Just as a chef has things on the stove, ingredients in the pantry, and cookbooks full of potential recipes, so too will you have active, inactive, and someday/maybe projects.
It's okay that a lot of your ideas about what you might do are hopes, dreams, contingency plans, or other things that aren't necessarily part of today, tomorrow, or ever. What is a part of today is capturing the idea for later review so that you can get it out of your way and get on with what's cooking now.
It's that act of review which keeps the whole system working. That doesn't mean you have to engage with every potential idea every single week—some things you might only want to think about once or twice a year—but it does mean you think every week about what matters in the week ahead. What are your goals this month? What can you do in the next week to help achieve them? What ideas and loose ends do you need to pack away from the past week so that you can focus on what matters most?
Give yourself a regular bit of quality time to pull back from the stream of reaction to see where you are and where you want to be. Look a couple weeks back and ahead in your calendar to find unfinished tasks and opportunities to make things go more smoothly for yourself. Even taking 20 minutes a week to do this will help you do more, and do it more calmly.
I like using the OmniFocus software for this, but paper works great too. Try starting with four lists: "Think about every week," "Think about every month," "Think about every quarter," and "Think about every year."
For example, you probably want to have "Home Maintenance" show up every week. Some of the time you'll look at it and move on right away, but often it will remind you of a problem to resolve (whether it's at the 'buy toilet paper' or 'start a savings account for better mattress' scale). On the other hand, "Career Advancement" would usually be on the quarterly or annual list, unless you're actively working to switch jobs.
As time passes you'll get a better sense of how often something needs to appear in front of you to prompt you to capture any unfinished business or opportunities.
The big reviews help keep you aligned with who you want to be and what you want to achieve. They reveal goals which can have projects and actions on shorter time cycles. The weekly review helps clear your head and get you back on the tracks you set out for yourself.
Granting yourself that quality time to catch your breath is vital to maintaining your momentum in your chosen direction. You deserve that chance to find clarity every week.
Posted on October 3, 2013 | Permalink
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“I know I’ve got more on my list than I could ever do, but I just can’t seem to keep up with it.”
Think about that sentence. Most of us say something like that to ourselves or a friend at some point—and most of the time when we do, we don’t notice the inconsistency at all. However, if we fully accept the truth that our to-do lists are bigger than our availability, we must stop beating ourselves up for failing to achieve the impossible.
September’s Discardia holiday is a reminder to practice Quality over Quantity and is a good time to revisit the expectations you’ve been setting. One of the best ways to manage stress is to manage your agreements with others and, especially, with yourself, so take a little time to think about those agreements.
That’s what your ‘to-do list’—whether you keep the things on it in your head or written down—really is: a list of everything you’d need to do if you wanted to fulfill all the things you’ve said 'yes' to. It represents agreement in its broadest sense, whether a commitment to another person or an internal affirmation of something you desire.
Being excited about things, working on them with others, doing the hard work to achieve progress, these are all valuable and can be highly motivating. But try to do too many at the same time and the effect will be negative. Fewer will be completed, with your work and the satisfaction you derive from it being less than it would be when you’re not overstretched.
I’m not necessarily recommending saying 'yes' less often. You can have as big a list of things you’d like to do as your heart and head can dream up, but the only way for that not to be a burden is to let go of the expectation that everything on the list is active right now. Become comfortable with the idea of inactive projects. They aren’t failures; they’re just not in play at the moment.
This isn’t as hard as it might seem. You have lots of practice with doing this in other areas of your life. Think about the music you like; you don’t listen to it all at the same time. You may not even listen to all the genres you enjoy every single week, yet that doesn’t create stress.
Start approaching your list of projects a little more like a D.J. What’s the right mix for here and now? Is there anything my audience will miss if I don’t get it out there? What will keep my energy up?
Posted on September 22, 2013 | Permalink
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Engaged Productivity and the Art of Discardia from The Omni Group on Vimeo.
Presented by Dinah Sanders at the OmniFocus Setup.
Posted on June 2, 2013 | Permalink
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