I Tried an App to Gamify My Daily Routines

Have you promised to start exercising more? To stop eating red meat? To organise your closet? Especially in January, many of us have made attempts to change ourselves for the better, with new goals or new diets and with pledges to start going to gym or doing more reading. Keeping up your New Year's resolution isn't always easy – even resolutions made at any other time of the year can be tough to uphold, especially if you don't keep track of your progress.

Some people's ambitions have been boosted by gamifying the tasks. In other words, every time you complete a desired task, you get a virtual point – because thinking of tasks as XP gives a clearer picture of your progress and there is something low-key satisfying about using the points to upgrade that little pixel avatar of yourself. A month ago, I thought my life could use a bit less time wasted on my phone and a bit more time for exercise, drawing and reading for pleasure. I also felt my shelves could use more regular dusting. There are many apps and sites one could use to keep up resolutions like these, but my S.O. and I decided to sign up for Habitica, an app available for both iOS and Android.

Apps for gamifying your routine provide you with a visual checklist of tasks while also giving you XP or some other currency to use for leveling up. For example, on Habitica, tasks can be either one-time tasks (e.g. “submit essay”) or on a weekly/daily basis (e.g. “go to gym”). Completing these gives you XP. If you are trying to get rid of a habit, you can also set a habit as negative – completing a negative habit (or missing a daily task) decreases your avatars health bar. Habitica also has the social aspect: you can form groups with friends to meet joint goals (called "quests", keeping in line with the RPG theme) or you can chat with other users on various topics related to productivity, project management or life hacks.

Screenshot of Habitica task list

While I previously marked some things in a calendar, most of my daily tasks had been in a mental checklist, so having an external log helped me remember also the little things that I had promised myself. Signing up at the same time as my S.O. and joining the same quest also gave me extra incentive to keep up. The chats joined by people from around the world seemed like an abundance of peer-support and tips. However, after a week of using the app, I noticed that despite creating my account to cultivate more healthy and productive habits, the task of logging completed tasks on my phone felt somehow bothersome, undoing the mindfulness of the healthy habits. I had for a while felt like I spent too much time on my phone, idly wasting time on trivial social media updates. Thus, I also became averse to the app’s social side of chats etc. Even though gamification was supposed to help me sort out my routine, it was also yet another way for me to become addicted to a screen. Of course, it wasn’t Habitica’s fault – it was my fault for not considering the impact of the format in which I decided to pursue and log my goals.

In a way, I just had to set limits for myself – to open the app only to log tasks, only occasionally engaging in the RPG activities of buying (with in-game currency gained by completing tasks) and using items to change my avatar. In some ways this is similar to just having a normal pen-and-paper checklist, but it has the advantages of being on your phone (i.e. always with you) and having a level tracking to keep you motivated to complete "just one more thing". Still, with my goal of being less stuck to a screen, maybe gamification wasn't the best for me. Even my cute avatar leveling up wasn't quite worth it for the disadvantage of becoming even more dependent on my phone.

So, should you stop tracking your habits for fear of getting too caught on the tracking instead of on the doing? By no means, and my personal experience does not determine yours. I will try to uphold my goals in other ways – even that one week of trying to uphold my habits with the help of gamification helped me to get started on habits that I now continue through other reminders. We should all stick to those goals and make 2020 a year to be proud of, no matter the ups and downs. Just keep the process of tracking your journey mindful and in-line with your goals.