A couple of years ago, I was introduced to a game-based productivity system called HabitRPG. Given how much I enjoy gaming and playing with to-do list systems, I jumped in and gave it a try. While it was fairly charming, it did not work well with how I run my own to-do list, and I ended up abandoning the system before I hit Level 3.
A couple of months ago, Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a blog post on how she had been using a game-based productivity system called Habitica, and had created a writer’s guild. So, I followed the link, only to find HabitRPG all grown up, renamed, and well-developed into a robust system marrying game elements and to-do lists. I reactivated my account, found myself suddenly at Level 7 (which was weird), and now use it as part of my daily task management.
So, let’s get into this. What is Habitica? It is, as suggested above, a gamified productivity system. You add in tasks you need to get done. You earn XP (experience points) and gold for completing them. You fight monsters and collect dropped items. You even get a cool little avatar you can dress up in class or special gear that you earn as you go. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, so I thought we’d look at the productivity side today, and then we’ll look at the game elements another day.
The Habitica developers are clever folks who understand that most people have different types of tasks they’re trying to keep track of at any given point in time – habits, regular tasks, and project-specific or one-shot tasks – and so your Habitica dashboard is designed to facilitate that. There are four columns on your dashboard; we’ll cover three of them in this post.
The first column is dedicated to Habits, those actions you’re either trying to build into or beat out of your subconscious routine. You add the habit to this column, and then tick it off every time you do it. If you’re looking to replace a bad habit with a good habit, you can set up the task so that you toggle the positive habit or the negative habit. Every time you complete the good habit, it increases the value of the habit, making you stronger. Every time you complete the bad habit, it decreases the value of the habit, weakening you. (As this affects your progress and your ability to complete quests, it really encourages you to work toward those positive habits.) Habitica includes tools that allow you to see how you’re doing on your habits, so you can literally watch yourself struggle and see where you could focus your efforts a bit more.
The second column is dedicated to Dailies, which are really just those tasks that repeat on a regular schedule. You can actually schedule a task to only show up on your dashboard on certain days of the week every week. It’s a great way to keep focused on what needs to be done today, without being distracted by what will need to be done tomorrow. What’s really cool about Dailies is that you can add checklists. So, if you have a regular task that has multiples parts to it, you can create a checklist within the task of those components. For example, my voiceover practice task has a checklist that includes study time (reading or watching training materials, listening to audiobook clips and audio dramas, etc.), basic skills practice (breathing, articulation, etc), and then practical practice (reading out loud, working on voice modifictation, etc.) Once I’ve checked off everything, I can check off the Daily itself. (Because i’m mean, I don’t let myself check it off if I don’t complete every single part.)
How do you decide what is a Habit and what is a Daily? Well, start with asking yourself if the task has to be completed only on certain, predictable days. That’s a pretty good sign it should be in the Daily list. But you can also look to Habitica’s game nature. While Habits can strengthen or weaken your character, unfinished Dailies can deal your character direct damage at the end of the day. In my own use, I set up my Tiny Habits as Dailies, because not doing those hurts me in real life and therefore should hurt my character in game. It’s more effective than you realize, especially because your character only has 50 HP (hit points) and doesn’t gain more as you level.
The third column is dedicated to To-Dos, those tasks that are either a one-shot (email a client) or a small project (like writing a short story). Like Dailies, To-Dos can have checklists. So, a small project might have an embedded checklist to help you make sure you complete each part. (My short story checklist most often includes prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, publishing. It helps keep me from trying to move back a phase, which is a huge problem for me sometimes.)
Large projects can be completed using Habitica, too, but for reasons that will become clear below, I handle it a bit differently. Most large projects can be broken out across stages, which can then be treated as smaller projects, loaded only as each stage is reached. For example, when I’m working on an audiobook, there are three stages – prep, record, post-production. Each of those stages has its own tasks that have to be completed. The prep stage might have a checklist that includes reading the book, making notes about characters, digging up old reference files if it’s a book in a series, and creating the book’s cover. The post-production stage’s checklist includes editing, mastering, and submitting the files to the publisher. It’s kind of a combination of systems, but it keeps the overall project from becoming really menacing in the dashboard.
Like Habits, incomplete To-Dos do not deal direct damage. (They might if you set a deadline and then don’t meet it. I haven’t tested that yet.) While To-Dos don’t damage you as they sit there, they grow in strength. When you finally complete them, they can grant a lot of XP, gold, and really good drop items.
All right, so that’s the productivity side of Habitica. Next time, we’ll look at how the developers included game mechanics to make reaching your goals more interesting.