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I tend to become very enthusiastic when I first start a project. If I start a new language, I’ll do nothing else for a week or two, and then forget about it. Or if I start running or minding what I eat, I’ll be very diligent for a few weeks, before it all starts slipping. It isn’t because I don’t like those things – in fact some of them, like dancing and learning a new language or writing or painting and so on are some of my favourite things in the whole world.

One of my biggest problem with both writing and exercise alike is lack of consistency. Whether my goals are too big or too small – they’re rarely in between – I either stress myself out or lose interest, or both. My competitive side needs a bit of a challenge to bother with something, but at the same time, it causes me to easily burn out. If you instinctively make everything a challenge, when will you rest? How will you be able to limit yourself so that you can keep up the habit over time? How will you be able to make the transition from “new and exciting thing I love to do” to “habit that I simply do, just because”?

A year ago I looked for an app or a website that wasn’t just to do-lists in fancy formats – those really stress me out – but which approached it in a format more similar to a game. I like games. I like doing things in order to be able to level up or have other types of rewards. Unfortunately I didn’t find any, and ended up making my own set of tasks and rewards in Word. However, if you have real rewards with real money, and are really broke at the same time… it doesn’t work out well.

It turns out that I looked too soon. Only weeks after I searched, a new website launched, called HabitRPG. It does what it says – it works like an RPG, where you do tasks and are rewarded. You can get in-game stuff, such as weaponry for your avatar (which has an influence on the game), and you can level up. The neat thing is that the more often you are able to do something, the less gold you get for it. But you also take less damage if you fail to do it, since you are already into the habit. If you fail too many tasks for too long, you die (which basically amounts to losing all your gold and inventory and dropping down some levels).

HabitRPG

My HabitRPG profile.

Above you see a screenshot of my task view. The leftmost column are the habit column. These are tasks that you typically do once per day. They can be positive – meaning that you only click on them when you accomplish one of them – or negative, in which case you only click if you fail do to it, or both. As you can see I have a fairly good grip of them, which is not quite true since I redid my setup and most of them are brand new. I do have a lot of the habit tasks, particularly small things. There are a lot of exercise or dance-related tasks, such as 10 squats, 10 calf raises and so on, but also updating one of my blogs, drawing something, expand my worldbuilding, make words for my conlangs, study Korean or German and so on. Very neat!

The next column is the dailies. The dailies are tasks that can be scheduled, either every day or on set days of the week. As you can see a lot of them are greyed out: These are either done for the day, so I don’t need to do them, or they are scheduled for another day. As you can see there are some things I struggle more with than others, such as cleaning my apartment or limiting my carbs (I’m not a low carb fanatic, but I do notice a difference).

The next one is the to-do tasks. These typically occur once, and are things that you can schedule pretty far in advance, either with or without a due date. I have been horrendous at these. I did finish a lot of them yesterday, but those that are left are reading-related tasks, and I’ve been in a massive reading slump lately. I’m planning to fix it soon.

The last column is the best one – the rewards. Not much to say about those. And on top you can see my health (I took some hits today) and my points – not long until I level up now! There is also my fantastic avatar, which should be accompanied by a white wolf, but it seems to have disappeared. Red hair is in place and all.

As you can see there aren’t any specific “write so-and-so much” or “run at least this often” tasks in my view. I’ve realised that those stress me out more than I like, and so I have done it a little differently. I don’t usually need to be nagged in order to exercise if I’ve done the rest of it right. Often if I just get started on the small exercise goals I want to do some real exercise before long – and if not, well, I’ve done something. These are things that I can do even on days when there’s no time or weather for running.

As for writing I have one task over in “habits” that simply says “write something”. It can be two words, or two thousand, but something. I can also edit. With the amount of other things I’ve had to do since I began using it I haven’t been able to check that off yet, but I used it a fair bit (to great success) during NaNoWriMo. During November I had two daily writing goals, each with their own word count goal. Coupled with the stats at the NaNoWriMo site as well as a more customized spreadsheet of my own, I had all the motivation I needed.

Why one writing goal and so many exercise goals? Well, partially because it’s so much easier getting exercise done if I can see all the little exercises instead of just “10 minutes of strength” or something. I can do 10 calf raises while brushing my teeth, 10 squats before I start showering in the morning, 10 push-ups before leaving for work… and I won’t be able to cheat. With writing it’s not that easy. I cannot always do the same, because it depends on where I am in the story, whether I edit or write that day, or if I’m too tired to squeeze something sensible out of my brain. On those days I need to be able to check off something, even if it’s just a tiny little thing, and I cannot commit to more than that. It is also because, as one with a chronic illness or two, my health vastly improves if I exercise, even a little bit, and so it is more important to get done.

Have you tried HabitRPG, and does it work for you?

Note: This post is cross-posted with my writing blog The Dragon and the Vagabond.

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