The Gamification of Time

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Oh the distractions demanding our attention.

Social media, with its promise to us of never being lonely,

Emails, that carry way more white-space than necessary,

Phones, that are our ever faithful assistants,

News, with its colorful fonts and headlines that trap the biggest bear in us from a distance;

the temptations are almost endless to never do anything productive. What if there was a simple solution to make us impervious to distractions’ sweet siren-like whispers? An internal solution that could break the noise in the very core of our conscience, where they wreak the havoc.

Time is constantly ticking whether we like it or not. What if we used its constant momentum to propel us forward? Akin to catching a train where the destination is towards the ever vivid present.

Enter the fourth dimension, it’ll need our full attention!

The Gamification of Time

Playing with time is a new concept for me but having an extensive background in video games, I transposed the elements that make games so enjoyable to real world tasks. The main qualities that I could extract that make games so natural to participate in are:

  • Time
  • Actionable Goals

Let’s start with Time. It usually comes in the form of a timer where you can see the “time left”. Seeing a number decreasing to zero is naturally connected with building motivation and excitement because we are more subconsciously motivated by what we can potentially loose then what we can potentially gain. I hypothesize that we already know our losses as they are already there, but for gains, they’re still in our imagination. As an aside this could help explain the inner workings of a person’s subconscious under the Pomodoro Technique.

For actionable goals, I had to do some research into what makes a goal “actionable”. This led me to find the SMART criteria or what I like to call the SMART filter. After applying this filter any goal becomes actionable. The crux of this process is assessing and refining your goal to the five criteria:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Without going into too much detail and regurgitating what’s already written about the process, I’ll let you read about it at your leisure.

Mastering Time

I’ve been applying this for a few weeks now and realized an evolution in how I use time to make boring tasks more exciting. For example, let’s take: four flight of stairs, from the first to fourth floor.

Goal: Go downstairs and back up.

This goal is purposefully boring in order to minimize motivation. Going back to the SMART criteria, I realize that I can improve the Time-Bound specification by actually decreasing it. Just by changing this simple variable I felt my motivation subconsciously go up and it suddenly became a bet!

Goal: Go downstairs and back up in 45 seconds.

This opened a new perspective on motivation and it’s relationship with emotion.

Hacking Motivation

From the previous example, decreasing time affected the magnitude of my motivation. But the reason stayed the same, so what changed? Let’s look into what motivation is,

mo·ti·va·tion: the act or an instance of motivating, or providing with a reason to act in a certain way. – Source 

This definition isn’t complete in a sense where it doesn’t try to incorporate the “emotional” dimension that would be more applicable to us, humans. We may do things for a reason but we do them with greater pleasure and grandeur results if our emotions are aligned with our reason. So a more human definition would be,

mo·ti·va·tion: The reason and emotion that drives action.

So going back to the example with the flight of stairs, by decreasing time on a boring task, my excitement grew. I started applying this decrease of time to increase motivation technique and like to call it, Betting Against Time. This has made the most mundane tasks, exciting challenges.

With a similar pattern you can look at the other criteria’s in the SMART filter as well as constraints particular to the domain of the task and come up with more challenges that would increase the emotional component of motivation. This would in turn drive and add to the reason and will make your days much more fulfilling and vivid. Just like a game!

Another unexpected benefit I noticed is that my numbers kept constantly improving! (great way to benchmark yourself).

Rising to The Challenge

Over time I realized that when setting stimulating goals, I stopped micro managing myself and just set about doing them without doing too much planning. This allows for creativity to take the forefront. This creativity only comes with the emotion summoned by tweaking the goal constraints. Now we can see why having your emotions alongside your reason greatly makes a difference in the delivery of a goal.

Of course sometimes I’ll not make it, and it’s okay, I just readjust the constraints to new ones by taking into account the new limitations. The point here is to stay naturally stimulated and excited.

Further Reading about Time

Here are some books that clearly bring this realization if you’re a little out of sync with the tempo of life:

Hope this entry adds to our definition of motivation and help uncover its relationship with time  in a logical and rational manner.