Welcome to 2014. I gave it a few weeks just to make sure that the Sun didn’t explode (if you are reading this via time machine, I guess I was wrong). A lot of you have made resolutions that you very likely have already broken. Many have fallen for the big sale at the gym, where if you had taken ten seconds to do the math out you would have realized that it would cost you 17 dollars every time you go. So what’s the problem? Maybe you feel lazy, or unmotivated, or have one more Animus Fragment to collect in Assassin’s Creed. But I’m here to tell you that there’s a way to take those negative characteristics and put them to work for you.
If you are like me, you enjoy videogames because of the constant feeling of reward. Every little collectible, every unlockable, every tenth of a percent closer I get to 100% completion is a success. Xbox achievements and Playstation trophies are the most dangerously devious things ever invented. Every “ping!” is another shot of dopamine. These mechanics completely and unabashedly take advantage of our natural pleasure-producing brain parts. There’s a reason why you never bother to check your iTunes bill after playing Candy Crush Saga for 3 hours straight.
So if we can turn our responsibilities into a game, theoretically you can trick your mind into doing things you don’t want to do AND enjoy doing it. Hopefully you enjoy spreadsheets because we are about to go for a swim in the deep end.
So the first step is to encourage you to do the things you need to do. First, let’s make a list of the ongoing tasks that you need to accomplish every day, preferably the ones that you generally don’t like doing.
This list will rarely change unless you need to add something you think of later. Now, create a second list of goals that you would like to accomplish in the near future. For these, they are generally one-off things that you have to do at some point.
What we are doing is setting up a basic work/reward system, similar to the one that exists in real life. When you make twelve bucks after working an hour at your job, you decide how to spend that however you’d like.
We just have to come up with our own currency. You can call them whatever you like, but I’ll just stick to “points” (“man-dollars” or “spacebux” are both up for grabs). These will be the currency that you receive for the completion of each task, which you’ll get to spend on rewards later.
So let’s assign the values. Choose a number that you think is fair for each task based on how hard it is and how much you don’t like doing it, with a higher number corresponding to harder goal. It’s helpful to base your numbers on a central exchange rate. For example, mine might be “10 points=1 hour of videogames” as “1 dollar=a pack of gum” in America.
Now create a final third list of all the things you love to do that distract you from doing real work. They can be passive hobbies, bad habits, or couch potato activities. Then were gonna assign points the same way, this time based on how distracting these are. A higher number is equal to a more fun activity.
I’m going to assume for the next part that most of you are technologically inclined and won’t be scared away by the word “formula,” but if not I’ll add footnotes that’ll explain exactly what I’m doing1. First, make a simple equation for each line that would multiply the amount of points by the quantity of times you do each thing, then add a row for totals2. Carry the totals to the bottom, where the main section is. Same for the goals and rewards, like in the pic. A simple formula will be able to tell you how many points you have left3.
Now that we set up the math, everytime you complete a task, increase the value in the column by one. The spreadsheet will do the work for you. Now, when you amass a bankroll of points you can spend them in your rewards column. Do the same thing: mark each time you use the rewards. For the goals, you just keep adding more to the list and keep the old ones there as you complete them. You can even take it on the go if you use a cloud program like Google Docs.
Here’s the kicker: YOU CANT REDEEM ANY REWARDS IF YOU HAVE NO POINTS and nothing about the game can be change while you are in the negative. Meaning, if your balance goes into the negative, say goodbye to videogames and fast-food hamburgers until you do your work.
Obviously this whole thing requires you to use the honor system, but it’s not like gaming the system actually gains you anything. It’s like cheating on a diet when you live alone. If you actually stick to this plan, you’ll be surprised how motivating it is. Overtime, adjust your points values and make it harder on yourself. Make it take twice as long to get the reward you want. After about three months, my spreadsheet beast looked like this:
Coincidentally, this was about the time I decided to stop the experiment, but for that time period I can assure you I got more done. At the very least, I got a taste of what being constantly productive would be like if I actually stuck to things. Fortunately, other people have taken this idea and done some of the work for you by setting up game spaces to help you learn practical skills. Here’s a couple of them that I’ve used. And no I’m not getting paid for product placement, I hope you know I have a little more integrity than Machinima.
Learn Guitar With Rocksmith
Confession: I have about 10 billion songs in my Rock Band library that I’ve collected over the years. That game was a godsend in college. While the drumming and singing was pretty accurate to the authentic parts, the guitar and bass always left something to be desired. Practicing for hours and hours until you could nail the sickest solos gained you nothing more than the ability to master the world’s hardest version of “Simon.” Rock Band 3 actually had the ability to plug in any MIDI guitar to play “pro” mode, but it required an expensive adapter and by then most people were burned out from plastic peripherals. Which explains why Rocksmith went largely ignored when it was released in 2011.
I picked up this game last year for 10 bucks because I have a weakness for discounts. Basically the game teaches you how to play your favorite songs on guitar, but for real. I was pretty surprised that not only did it work, but there was a sequel coming the next month.
You plug any electric guitar into the adapter and you’re good to go. If you are remotely familiar with guitar hero the interface will be second nature.
The game guides you through guitar starting from scratch, from the easiest songs to the hardest, and even changes the difficulty mid song for different parts if you’ve mastered the three chords in the chorus but can’t nail the solo. There are lessons and arcade games to help you hone your skills.
As a caveat, this game is definitely geared toward someone with some musical skills already. If you go in tone deaf you’re not gonna come out Jimi Hendrix. But for someone like me who plays intermediate acoustic with a dust-collecting electric that had been in its case for two years, it was a Godsend. I couldn’t believe how much I was learning. I can totally cruise through “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” and even sing along to the high part.
The sequel is about 1000 times better, so you can save yourself the hassle and just import the old songs for ten bucks. If you still can’t be bothered, you can totally just watch playthroughs on YouTube and learn the tabs that way, but you lose the feedback. But I’m telling you it’s worth it, if only for the chance to see just how easy it is to write a Ramones song.
Learn a Language with Duo Lingo
Most of us have taken a foreign language in school at one time or another. I did Spanish for six years and I still don’t understand what I’m ordering at Chipotle. I could use a little refresher is what I’m saying.
Luckily there’s an awesome website called DuoLingo. With it you can brush up on your romantic languages and even learn a whole new one. Again, it turns a menial academic task into fun little minigames.
It tracks your progress through experience points and even compares you to your friends for those competitive types. It handles typing, translation, listening, and speech. Even better, there’s an app for smartphones so you can scream in German/freak everyone out on the train on the way to work.
Make Exercise Fun with Zombies, Run!
If you can’t get yourself to go outside, maybe adding some zombies to the experience will motivate you. Zombies, Run! is an iphone game and apocalypse simulator that tracks your runs with a GPS while at the same time enveloping you in a storyline through audio transmissions. You load up your playlist, and every once in a while you’ll be interrupted by some chatter that explains the mission to you and guides you along the story. I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say that it pulls you right in.
There’s even a small roleplaying element where you collect items on your journeys and use them to build up the little town with better defenses and such. After my first mission, my imagination had transformed my real-life town into a zombie wasteland.
If you have zombie mode turned on, they will start chasing you randomly while you are running, and they are impossible to get away from. In fact, the game crashed twice on me when I got caught. The app is also on the pricey side for what it is (it’s on sale for now), but the idea is totally solid. Hopefully in the future the developers will include virtual reality support so I can finally have a reason to punch one of my neighbors.
1. Like this!
2. For the formula in the “totals” columns, type in “=C2*D2” and change the cell numbers accordingly.
3. For the “totals” rows at the bottom, type “=SUM(E2:E6)” than adjust the cells for each row. For the main section, add the two green totals together with “=E8+J8” then carry the red total by just typing “=O8” finish up the main formula by typing “=H10-H11” into cell H12.