Saturday, August 18, 2012

It’s time to Gamify the To-do list

Reposted from my new Blog 'The Business Cofounder.'

I am a strong J. That means that my fourth MBTI type is Judging - leading to me preferring a structured approach to life. One of the most important ways I keep my life organized? With my To-do list, using my favorite tool, Toodledo.

My To-do list is not just a To-do list, it is organized by Context (where I am/what I can do - e.g., Work, Home, On the Phone), Priority, Start Date, Due date, Goal/Project etc. So at any point in time, I can easily pull up things I can/want to do. And I try to clump things together, to maintain a rythm - e.g., if I am feeling focused, I will pull up specifically tasks for which I need a certain level of concentration. If I am sending emails, I will batch the effort and send 5 emails instead of 1.

The conflict

But as I ponder over my To-do list, I realize that it is also a big reason for my unhappiness. And not
just my unhappiness, but the unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Let me explain.
I - along with most people I know- maintain a to-do list that shows them what remains to be done. And rightfully so - who would I waste precious screen space that shows me what I don’t need to worry about? Also, most people have way more to do than what they could possibly do. Every time a task is completed, it disappears from the list; all that is left is what’s remaining to be done.
Boy, what a miserable existence! What if a video game, rather than showing you how many points you have earned, shows you - 10 levels left. How long do you think would you play the game?

That’s where Gamification comes in

If you have never heard of Gamification - it is the application of game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts. Or in layman’s terms - what if we approached every problem to be solved with the lens of converting it into something more like a game?

What might happen if I gamified a To-do list? Here are some ideas:

1. A score - A score, or an achievement is the physical representation of having accomplished something. It keeps you focused on not just what you have left to do, but how much you have accomplished!
In this case, I would not do a linear score, but a more complex one - rewarding you much more for important tasks than simple ones (so writing a blog post might get a few more points than emptying the trash)

2. Levels - Levels are a system, or “ramp”, by which players are rewarded an increasing value for a cumulation of points. If you have already been pretty productive today, you level up - and hence get more points than on an ordinary day

3. Progression - or how much of the work that I set out to do have I done? This is just like the LinkedIn progress bar that shows you what %age of your profile you have completed, motivating you to finish it

4. Social - Yes, I will make it social - in a way that helps your friends provide support and encouragement for finishing things - especially important tasks that require concentration, taking risks and persistence.

5. Analytics - a very important side effect of this type of gamification will be analytics. For example, when are you most productive? When are you able to do tasks that require a high degree of concentration? Consequentially, how should you change behavior e.g., focus on important tasks in the morning than checking email?

6. Last, but not least, battling the monsters - We all battle with a big monster while completing work - the procrastination monster. It is not that we are inherently lazy - it is that our Lizard Brain is telling us not to take risks, to stay in our comfort zone.
I would love to hear from anyone who has seen such an app/working on one. Or I might just work on one myself…


  1. There's one called EpicWin. You might want to take a look. It's simple and fun.

  2. Thanks OdinChen. I did check it out - unfortunately not a big fan. I think it was a little over gamified. How has your experience with it been?

  3. Good description of an ideal app.  Any luck finding such an app?  Have tried Missions and Epic Win - not quote what I was looking for.

  4. Thanks! Agreed, haven't found the right app yet. Perhaps I will write one :)

  5. I've been doing something to this effect for the past few months and found a formula that works quite well for me. I'll send it your way once I have something nicer than my notepad testing. :)

  6. I look forward to seeing something Nick!