I love to work. I know this because I love games. The realization that a game is just work by another name has allowed me to be very successful at task oriented projects just by shifting my perspective slightly. Games may seem frivolous and immature, and yet some players take absolute delight in creating complex spreadsheets to optimize virtual services and manage intangible revenues. For whatever reason this type of work is interesting, refreshing, and addictive. However, when incorrectly used these mechanisms can cause a negative impact. As a college student I found myself building programs in Java for my computer games while my class projects continued to fall behind. This 3 am realization couldn’t save my report, but it helped set the framework for breaking that cycle.
The essential question for parents, managers, and even for yourself is what compels people to do one task over another. If work is differed for something else, work needs to emulate key characteristics seen elsewhere. People often choose games because the work is measurable, goals are clear, and players are left with a sense accomplishment.
So what are some ways in which we can game-ify our work? One method many people use is creating a rewards system. Treating yourself to a reward after large accomplishments can help cement intangible successes. Society has been doing this for years by presenting stickers, sweets, and golden stars to kids who behave well. But in games people do not receive tangible rewards and continue to spend hours toiling at games to receive virtual prizes. I have been using the “Habitica” to-do list which uses my short terms goals in a game environment. As I do chores and complete real work my avatar levels up. While I concede that wanting pixels to ride an undead dragon is silly; I’m not sure that anyone can argue the 12 hours of exercise, 4 technical books, and 14 home cooked meals it took to receive that dragon wasn’t work.
Clear and obtainable goals can help build momentum and get past the initial hump. Setting a timer has been a classic method for ensuring practice is done. Ray Bradbury attributes the quick competition of his novel Fahrenheit 451 to being forced to use a pay by the hour typewriter. A more modern approach is the pomodoro timer which simply has the person work on something for 25 minutes, and then take a 5 minute break. This can be a great tool for setting up work. As you are planning goals breaking down work into 25 minute bitesize tasks forces them to be clear, such as write for 25 minutes or find 5 citations. Additionally, with a deadline looming, even one that is self imposed, people work harder to “beat the buzzer”.
The sense of accomplishment that the player experiences is perhaps the most compelling aspect of the game. After completing a set of grueling tasks they see that they have changed the environment. The same thing can be said for work. Simply letting people see what they have accomplished, or going out of the way to see what you have just accomplished, is very motivating. If there is not a way for an employee to do this, or way for you to see this they will likely find less meaning in their work.
As the gaming industry continues to advance there are discussions about how to design better games and how to immerse players. Those same rules and designs can form a framework on how you work and motivate yourself in life. While it might not work for everyone, game-ifying my life has helped tremendously.