Gamify Life: Use a To-Do List

I often half joke that the most beneficial life changes that I made as an adult are drinking coffee and using a planner.

Most people are way ahead of me with the old coffee life-hack. However, the use of a planner or diary, if my clients are a good guide, is much less widespread.

But now the New Year is imminent. And tis’ the season to make resolutions and goals. As we prepare to set off on a fresh rotation of the sun, I find myself recommending to many of my clients that they use a formal method to organise their lives.

My method of self-organisation is not rocket surgery. At its heart is the humble To-Do List. Each day I have a list of things to do, which I prioritise, then check off as they are done. Simple. Classic. Timeless.

To do lists are effective because they include two of the main components of attention control: Goal Setting and Feedback.

Goal Setting is any commitment to complete an action. The moment you announce that you will do something, to yourself or the world, you instantly increase the chances that you will carry out that action. Like saying magic words, you’ve changed the future.

Feedback is any information that shows that you are succeeding or failing on your task. Instant feedback is highly motivating. A recent attentional study showed that, although goal setting improved performance, feedback improved it even more. The combination of goal setting and feedback was the condition under which people maintained their attention the best.

A few years ago, everyone was buzzing on the buzzword Gamification. The idea of gamification is to make education as addictive as videogames by using game-like devices in learning tasks. These devices are things like rewards, goal setting, community, competition and, of course feedback, especially instant feedback.

These days I hear much less of gamification. I do note however that much of the homework tasks set at my kids’ school are maths and English games that highly resemble conventional videogames.

A To-Do list is a simple way to gamify your way to effectiveness and productivity. Every time you write an item on a To-Do list you are setting a goal. Every time you tick off an item, you are giving yourself feedback.

“But Justin”, I hear you say, “this sounds like a pretty boring game”.

Is it boring? Compared to GTA or FIFA? Yes, yes it is. Welcome to Adultville. The Game of Life usually involves extensive delay of gratification. When you can’t see the finish line, it’s so hard to maintain effort. Using a to-do list can make you feel like you are getting somewhere on the long road ahead.

So, give it a go. Persist with the list. I guarantee it will change your life.

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