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For daily motivation you need a system. And a key piece of any productivity system is your to-do list.
To-do lists are vital because they turn the vague idea of what you want into doable steps.
This is the first step to turning your dreams into reality because now you always know at least one thing you can do to move closer to that goal.
But the problem with most to-do list systems is that they’re not motivating enough to keep us using them.
I’ve tried many to-do list systems: post-it notes, Evernote, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, etc but I found they all lacked one crucial ingredient for daily motivation:
Ignite Daily Motivation using Reinforcers
A reinforcer is a consequence that makes a behaviour more likely. This can be a reward (e.g. chocolate) or removing something negative (e.g. when you turn off your annoying alarm in the morning). These are also known as positive or negative reinforcers.
Most to-do list systems have only one reinforcer: the relief of completing a task. This reward is supposed to make you feel accomplished, but with our never-ending to-do lists it’s easy to become demotivated.
My new favourite to-do list system HabitRPG on the other hand has loads of reinforcers. It ignites your daily motivation by making being productive fun, and helps you to appreciate every small step that you take.
I first heard of HabitRPG on Lifehacker before it’s Kickstarter campaign, when it was a very basic app used by a few hundred people. I’ve since seen it grow into a fully-featured (yet still free) app used by thousands to improve their lives, so here’s what it looks like:
In this post I’ll focus on the many reinforcers that guarantee you gain daily motivation, and talk about how to best use HabitRPG in another post. For now all you need to know about how it works is that:
To-Dos are for one-off tasks e.g. completing a project. Dailies are for tasks that repeat at least once a week e.g. every Thursday and Sunday calling family or every day eating no sugar. And Habits are for repeating tasks with no set schedule e.g. stretching, drinking water or doing 1 hour of writing.
Like any good Role Playing Game, you get rewards for completing tasks. For every completed task you gain gold (for buying Rewards) and experience (towards the levelling up your avatar).
Rewards can be armour and weapons for your avatar, plus you can customise their hair, face, skin and pets. When you complete a task you may also get an egg (for hatching a pet) or food (for growing your pet into a mount).
This gives you daily motivation because often our good habits have delayed rewards (e.g. exercise eventually gets you a nice body), whereas bad habits have instant rewards (e.g. the delicious taste of chocolate cake).
Seeing your avatar grow means you now also get an instant reward for your good habits, which keeps you making the right choices.
You can also spend your gold on custom rewards for yourself in real life. For example, if you get 40 gold you can buy yourself $20 meal, spend 2 hours playing games or have your favourite snack.
As you level up more features become unlocked too. You gain the ability to choose a class, each with its own advantages (e.g. a Warrior takes less damage from Dailies), skills (e.g. a Warrior can use Intimidating Gaze to increase the strength of their party) and gear.
Like many RPGs, there are also streaks and achievements for doing great with your habits.
Also for combating procrastination, tasks increase in redness the longer you leave them. The redder they are, the more gold and experience you will gain, which encourages you to finish them.
But this game hasn’t just got positive reinforcers, it’s got negative reinforcers too. When you fail to complete Dailies or do bad Habits, you lose health points (especially for redder tasks). If you run out of health, you die and your avatar suffers.
This gives you huge momentum to keep doing lots of good things every day. HabitRPG boosts your daily motivation by helping you recognise every small step you take, which can completely transform your life in a few short months.
You can also do quests to fight bosses for a harder challenge and big rewards. Hurt these monsters by completing tasks, but they deal damage to you based on how many Dailies you’ve missed.
But you don’t have to do this solo however. You can join a party to take on quests together and take down bosses faster.
It’s great completing tasks with a team because you can always see their health bars, plus you can cast spells on and talk with each other. This accountability gives you all daily motivation to meet your goals.
If that doesn’t suit you though, you can just talk to thousands of others at the Tavern or join a smaller guild based around your interests.
This tool does have it’s downsides
Whilst a powerful tool, this app is limited to a specific purpose. It’s superb for daily motivation to get things done, but it’s not suited for a high-level overview of all your lifetime goals.
So it’s better to keep these lists short to allow you to focus on your most important and urgent Next Actions. I then keep the grand scheme of how my goals fit together over the long-term in other tools.
Another limitation is that you can set deadlines for tasks by a date (e.g. Tuesday), but not by a certain time (e.g. 5pm). This means you’ll get no notification at 5pm that the task is now due.
As a workaround I use a reminder app called gTasks, but you can also use alarms or create calendar events. This for me is only a minor inconvenience though because you’ll only need reminders for your newest habits.
Turn Your Real-Life Into a Game
I love every game-like aspect of HabitRPG especially because I’m a former video game addict. It was so bad that I logged in one day on my Guild Wars account and saw I had spent over 2000 hours on the game in the 12 months I had played it.
That works out to more than 5 hours every day for a whole year. I’m surprised I didn’t lose all my friends and get expelled for bad grades.
It’s safe to say that I didn’t value my time at all that year. But thankfully now playing video games isn’t a regular habit of mine, and I instead choose to make my real life a game using HabitRPG.
HabitRPG is the best to-do list system I’ve found and is perfect for giving you daily motivation to improve your life.
It’s constant development and active community shows that it still has plenty growth to come too. And it’s always being integrated with more apps, so it even rewards you for good habits within Google Chrome, Asana, Workflowy, etc.
Overall it’s a fantastic addition to any habit hacker’s toolbox and is an essential part of mine.