One of the biggest lessons I've learned from my business coach is to be specific, but to keep things simple also. My coach noted that I had a tendency to overwhelm myself by making things too complicated, by not focusing on the little steps that need to be taken to achieve the bigger picture. It's very smart advice, and why my business coach is so awesome (and why she should be your business coach too).
As part of this sage advice, one thing that needed simplification was my to-do list. One weekend, I had a very long to-do list and I hardly got any of it done because I'd look at it and feel overwhelmed. I wanted a way to be able to focus on one thing at a time and to pick one thing to do while also being able to visualize the entire day or an entire week's worth of work (it helps for scheduling purposes, and for organizing when to do what). It then occurred to me that index cards would be a good idea. I could write one task per card but have a pile of cards to represent the day, and many piles to represent the other days of the week. A pile of cards is also much less daunting than a long to-do list. It also makes it easy to transfer things to the next day in case I didn't finish everything.
I didn't like the idea of using index cards just once. I didn't like creating so much waste and using up so many index cards just for a single purpose. So, I thought about how I could reuse these index cards and save them for a second or third purpose. One thing led to another and I came up with my awesome game:
Inferno of Productivity!
When I thought about saving the index cards, I thought about saving them to redeem for something, which led me to the point system. Obviously, if you're redeeming something, you are redeeming it either for points or prizes, or maybe both. So, what I've done is I count each task/index card as a point. At the end of each day, I count my points and put them in a plastic food container I bought for $5 at the dollar store across the street. On Sunday, I count up all my points and give myself the chance to redeem them for something. I took the time to come up with a whole bunch of rewards for me to work toward, and I assigned them point values based on dollar value and on how big I considered the reward (i.e. I think clothes shopping is a bigger reward than a new pair of shoes because you get more things with clothes shopping. So, clothes shopping is over three times as many points as a new pair of shoes).
I just had to double the number of points each prize is worth because I want them to take a lot of work to obtain. I've done this for a week already, and after one week, I had enough points for half the list. This meant that my list was too easy. Right now, each task is only worth one point, but I might end up changing that in the future depending on the difficulty or the length of time/number of steps needed to complete the task i.e. laundry could be multiple points depending on the number of loads I have to do.
FYI - "Need of the Week" includes things that I would only buy once, or things that I would buy so irregularly that they don't really merit their own points. For example, a spice rack is one of my "needs of the week" because I really do need a spice rack, but I only need to buy one. Haircuts are also in this category because I don't need a haircut every month, but I also consider haircuts somewhat of a luxury and a reward, so they can be something to work for.
Am I More Productive?
I've only been doing this for a week, so the game and my levels of productivity may still change, but I do think it has made me more productive in four ways. First, since I need to complete the task to count it as a point, I do force myself to finish tasks if I start them. This was a problem I had with my old method, as I would check them off if I started the task or even if I planned to do the task. This meant that I didn't always finish tasks and it would my planner and my lists into a big mess. This wasn't good for productivity, and now it's going away.
Second, I don't forget things that I need to do because I can just put it on an index card and place it with the appropriate day. It also means that I don't have to keep things to do in my head because my to-do list was already written and I didn't have room for it. Things are a little less stressful for me as I don't have to worry about forgetting, and it was always the personal things that got forgotten, since I typically filled my to-do list with work and business tasks. Plus, if I do forget, or need a reminder of what needs to be done, I can just go through the pile and see what's left. It's also great that, in case I don't finish everything, I can take what's left and just add it to the next day's pile. No crossing out, or arrows, or any other mess that clogs up my calendar.
Third, with the index cards, I can put notes with any or all of the tasks. For example, if I need to call someone, I can write that I need to call this person as well as what I need to ask about or talk about. This saves time, hence improving productivity, because I then don't have to call the person back or send an extra email because I forgot to ask that question or to bring up something important. This also helps with just keeping everything in one place. If I need to write an article for someone, then I write how many words it needs to be and anything else I need to do to write the article.
Fourth, I'm motivated to do my work and to get something as a reward. Currently, I'm working toward my top prize, an actual home furnishing, because I'd like to get a dresser (I seriously don't have a dresser and am using those plastic drawers for my clothes), or a file cabinet, and/or a bookshelf. It'll take about five weeks of work to have enough points to get that, but I do think that's a fair trade off. In that time, I would have saved the money while having earned enough money as well. Plus, I like looking forward to having more nice things in my apartment. What's also great is that I didn't choose to redeem any of my points from last week because I really need the file cabinet and the dresser, so I'm starting this week with 60 points in container. Yay!
What's Next for the Inferno of Productivity?
Well, I'm going to pilot it for as long as it takes to get that dresser/file cabinet. Once I get to that point, I'll evaluate the point system, or how many points certain tasks are worth, or even if this game is still fun and worth playing. If it just ends up complicating everything, or if the novelty fades away and it doesn't help anymore, then I'll stop doing it. My fiance suggested that I add breaks to the point system, where for five or 10 points I can take the time to watch a movie or to play video games or something. I like this idea because it means that taking a long break isn't just distracting me from the work that I need to do, but that it will also take away from the overall goal and the big picture of productivity. However, these breaks need to happen from time to time, so it's cool to classify them as a reward.
So far today, I have nine points. Now that this blog post is complete, I have 10 points!