Gamification, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the point

Developer Burnout is a really irritating thing, mainly because it’s such a constant force in the industry, but secondarily because it sneaks up on us. Our brains slowly change from agile development monsters, regurgitating intent and context with the greatest of ease, into what can only be justly compared to sloth. The reckless abandon for code or history is gone, replaced with apprehension and frustration. I am not here to say I have figured out how to avoid it entirely – only that I think I have found a way to keep it from infecting me so frequently, and the good thing is – applying it to your own life is actually kinda fun.

Gamification is a weird buzzword that has been around for a good long time, mainly in the circles of terrible people trying to get their grimy mitts on our money, but I am here to point to a few #AppsForThat that may be of use to you, if not your friends. I have used what I describe below and found them, as the label describes, useful.

Where to start

There are a number of tools out there on the market for you when you talk about productivity tracking – primary among them are issue tracking tools. They are not at all created equally, and few of them have both ease of use and tools to help organize and track the fundamentals of your life. One such tool that has a lot of traction ATM is Trello, featuring a simple interface with dragging, mobile support and color coding for labels. It is used by small teams and large companies alike. It is a great place to start when trying to begin bringing order to the chaos of life.

My wife and I used it to track all of the renovations on our home.

  • Four swim lanes – To Do, In Progress, Needs Input, Done
  • comments when progress is made
  • pictures when needed.

It was pretty great, actually, but there is a key ingredient missing from the flow, one that most such tools have.

My life as an RPG

Sure, Trello works great for large projects with lots of input from multiple parties, but it isn’t really suited for things like your daily habits.

  • Setting up recurring tasks is complicated and requires external tools
  • Updates & Progress are a manual process
  • Personal Rewards and Overall progress are abstract and manual

Generally speaking, moving your life to a more RPG like experience is interesting and coming from the standpoint of a game developer – it’s fucking cool! I can find a way to reward myself for Making the Bed! I now have a quest to Find the Camping Gear in The Garage! Its an amazing idea, and one that HabitRPG takes a pretty great step towards.

You log in, set up daily tasks, subscribe to group challenges and you can even track your progress towards your general tasks. It even gives you an avatar that you level up and improve over time with other graphics that become your public image. It is still a manual process, requiring that you a) input your tasks (which is fine) but it requires that you b) check them off… manually. Unfortunately it also highlights a fourth and at least in my eyes much more important feature missing from our above list: If our tasks are confirmed manually and by us accountability is in question. I forgot to change the sheets on the bed this morning, but I don’t want to lose any health, so I’ll just check it off and do it tomorrow. This is the greatest problem, and one that requires a lot of self discipline – but let’s face it – if you had self discipline you probably wouldn’t find it necessary to have #AppsForThat.

How to bee reminded?

So, I have a goal – have no fewer than 50 commits a week. That averages out to about 10 a day, and it means that If i skip a day I have to work quite hard to keep up, and if I miss a week… oh boy does the month get difficult quick. Surely I can just go into HabitRPG and put my character in the Inn to avoid dealing with it, but I may as well just stop having the goal if that’s my road. I also want to get back into blogging and tweeting, and these things are concrete & tangible goals, so there have to be #AppsForThat.

When i stopped using HabitRPG it was because of a business trip, I was off and up out for 10 days and had no way to actually deliver on my goals. It felt really crummy to not be able to close them out from the other side of the country and it meant that I was going to have to work hard as hell to catch up when I got back – so fuck all that noise. I tried for a few days, using HabitRPG helped me retire a couple of really frustrating habits and ultimately kept me moving towards delivering my game, but it was not easy to keep the system updated.

HabitRPG links into BeeMinder, a kinda stupid application that basically just aggregates and graphs data for you. The good news is that it also links to a shit ton of other sources for data and can be used to monitor commits, your weight, social posting and even… closing out issues in your favorite bug trackers!

As you can see, it’s an interesting in concept and something I am playing with to this day, trying my best to keep myself on the road.

I have a SocialAwareness goal I am working towards. The idea is that as I am posting to twitter, facebook, linkedin, blogs or forums I tally points. Each of these is granted a point value, and I am committed to 30 of these points a week. That is 3 blog posts, 15 forum posts or 30 twitter/facebook/linkedin posts a week and it means that it is outside of my comfort zone. I have to push myself quite hard to keep this amount of public posts moving and shared. Its tough indeed. I actually started out with 10 points for my weekly goal and boy was that not what i was expecting. As I honed in on the more interesting goal i realized the depth of the commitment and what it could mean to my future.

so for now… 30 points is the current goal. If i end up getting into the habit of posting on my blog more frequently I’ll have to adjust the points scale to address and scale the commitment.

BeeMinder can be updated using IFTTT, Zapier or the Do button if you wish to do it manually.

You can see a pretty ridiculous train of using these applications to go nuts trying to organize a guy’s habit.

Good luck on your own goals. Hopefully my own folly and ridiculousness can help you become a more habit minded person.

Comment below if you have some further suggestions for me & my habits =)