Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
To-do lists were never really my thing until I started my PhD. However, the various parts of academic life started competing for attention to the point where I could no longer keep track of what was most urgent – earlier this year, I was teaching three different courses, editing a literary magazine, applying for grants, presenting at a conference, and writing regular book reviews, all in one term. All of these things are extremely important to me (and very enjoyable to do), but it can be a struggle to keep track of side projects when, as a researcher, you have a singular, huge task, that you could theoretically dedicate 100% of your time to for three years.
Two friends of mine, who did not know each other, almost simultaneously recommended me to try a website that I as a gamer and a fan of geeky things might like: HabitRPG, as it was then called. It has changed its name to Habitica since, but I think the descriptiveness of its old name makes it better. It is, indeed, a website where your to-do list is transformed into an RPG. Where checking off a task becomes a valiant attack on a gruesome pixelated monster.
My friends know me well.
I signed up, which is entirely free unless you want to pimp your avatar with purple hair and a glitter shirt – for $5 a month you can subscribe to get ‘cosmetic’ gear, which looks prettier but won’t make you kill the monsters any faster. This means that the functionality of the website is the same for both subscribers and non-subscribers. They also don’t have ads on their website.
The best thing about Habitica is that you can go on a quest with other people. You can form a party – mine has eleven people in it right now – and everyone who checks off their daily to-dos damages the beast you want to slay. Best of all, if you haven’t checked off your daily tasks by the end of the day (which could be anything from ‘make the bed’ to ‘read three academic papers’), the beast damages everyone in the party. I ‘died’ a few times this way and to be honest, it does make you quite mad at the party member whose fault it was – the peer pressure element is impressively effective.
Any reasons not to use this particular productivity tool? If you need a tool to plan your week from day to day, or your day from hour to hour, you might want to look elsewhere. Habitica works with ‘dailies’, things you must do every day, and ‘tasks’, things you must do at some point , but it is very difficult to get it to display at a glance which things on your to-do list you must work on today or this week. I tend to keep a separate ‘to do’ with an embedded checklist for each week, but I can understand if you’d find that too much of a hassle.
Yet it works for me. I’m a level 97 Warrior now, astride a fierce hedgehog mount for which I had to battle a bloodthirsty hedgehog boss, and I’m making other people happy because I kill dragons with my thesis. Gamification doesn’t always work, but this website has me hooked.