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To-Do List Not Getting Done? Try Turning It Into a Heroic Quest


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For years, I've struggled with to-do lists. OmniFocus. Toodledo. Any.do. Producteev. Google's (GOOG) Tasks. You name it, I've tried it. Most often, it takes about a week before I give up and go back to using handwritten note cards, email and memory.

All that changed a month ago. That's when I first started using HabitRPG, which turns your to-do list into a game. Each task is part of a broader quest to gain experience, resources and "buffs" for improving the character that is you.

The Worthy Habits of a Stark of Winterfell

Think of it as Dungeons & Dragons for productivity seekers. Or if you prefer, "Game of Thrones," but instead of a pursuing the Iron Throne, your quest is to create a healthy and fulfilling life. That's my character to the left, a level 13 Rogue who hopes to find enough food to transform his red wolf cub into a fierce steed of the rugged North. Obviously my character is a Stark of Winterfell.

He'll grow and improve over time, but only if I remain focused. HabitRPG penalizes inaction as much as it rewards action. For example, if I don't get in at least 10 minutes of exercise time during the day, my character loses health. Lose enough, and I'll die in the game. By contrast, exceeding my target (i.e., conquering my to-do list) confers experience and gold, resources for furthering my character's equipment and skills.

Therein lies the secret to any good system: a careful balance between penalties and rewards encourages not just action, but consistent action. Maybe grounding these principles in the context of a fantasy role-playing game sounds silly to you. Fair enough; I know I'm a nerd. And yet I can't help but wonder how much better off we'd be -- how much more we'd have saved for retirement, for example -- if pursuing financial goals felt like a game rather than a chore. Ready to give it a try? Here are four mechanisms found in HabitRPG to help you start gamifying your financial life:
  • Identify positive habits you want but don't yet possess. Say you want to pay yourself first, but don't. Why not set this as a habit that scores points in your game? You'll get the double benefit of enforcing behavior that's good for you while growing your character in the game world. Everyone wins!
  • Set daily must-dos. Daily practice builds good habits. Financially, you might choose to pack lunch rather than go out. Each day you bring lunch from home is a day you score points in the game. You'll eat healthier while preserving cash for things you really want, like the replica dragon egg canister you've been dying for. And each day you don't? Ka-pow!
  • Turn goals into quests. Want to retire early? That's a great goal you can break into chunks. First, set a date. Then, work backward to find out how much you'd need to save each year. You'll also want to develop a strategy for investing your funds to achieve the returns you'd need to reach your goal. Gamify all this as daily, weekly, and monthly to-dos that score points -- or cost you if you fail to follow through.
  • Don't play alone. Role-playing games are best enjoyed in a group. In D&D and HabitRPG, the group is called a "party" of questing explorers who seek treasure and fight boss monsters. You'll have your own beasts to slay if your financial goals are big enough -- early retirement, for example -- so don't tackle them alone. Instead, find a few like-minded individuals who'll support your quests and stay accountable to them. Report your progress and admit when you're losing health. An encouraging word and a well-timed healing potion might be closer than you think.
Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns shares of Google (A and C class). Find him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Google (A and C class). Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.


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