Want to be More Productive at Work? Treat your Job like a Game.


BU011061Productivity has always been a hot topic in the workplace – how can you work smarter, better, and faster? As a result of the myriad distractions presented by our constantly-connected world, however, the discussion’s never been more intense. Everybody’s looking for new ways to be more efficient at work, the latest ‘hack’ that’ll let them cut out distractions and actually get something done.

One piece of advice that’s surfaced time and again – and one that I myself swear by – is to stop treating our jobs less like work, and more like a game. No, I’m not saying we should take our jobs less seriously, or putting off difficult tasks; far from it.

What I’m suggesting here is the implementation of a structured rewards system. Allow me to provide you all with an example.

Intrinsic Motivation and Gamification

I personally use an app called Habit RPG, but there are many others in the gamification/productivity category (Wunderlist, Proof! and Remember the Milk are a few of the popular alternatives on the Amazon Appstore, BlackBerry World or as a Web app). How I use mine is quite simple. There are a number of different ‘task’ types you can set for yourself, and each task you complete rewards you with in-game currency and experience. The currency can be used to purchase equipment for your character or rewards that you set yourself – for example, “an hour in the hot tub.” Gaining experience, meanwhile, makes your character ‘level up,’ giving them access to better stats and more skills.

Missing tasks, on the other hand – failing to do dailies, or complete a to-do by its deadline, for example – punishes your character with lost hit points. Lose enough; and you ‘die,’ which costs you a full level of experience and a random item.

The engine also occasionally rewards you with special items, as well. The fact that these drops aren’t guaranteed – a principle known as intermittent reinforcement – makes you far likelier to want to keep ‘playing.’ It’s a deceptively brilliant system, the same one used by slot machines to hook its players, and has more than once motivated me to get my work done.

So why do apps like this work? According to Rajat Paharia of the Gamification Blog, the key factor at play here lies in how our minds deal with motivation – and in how they’re impacted by video games.

“We all share the same intrinsic motivators,” says Paharia, “factors that inspire us to initiate an activity for our own sake. The five most important motivators – Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose, Progress, and Social Interaction – are common to everyone, and behavioral research has shown that satisfying them can make everyone’s work more productive and pleasing.”

Fake Achievement and the Brain’s Reward Center

Videogame designers are masters at tapping into all of these motivators. As you can see from the infographic below, gamification actually has a number of noticeable effects on how the mind works – and most of them are actually quite positive. Completing an objective in a game – any game – gives us a sense of achievement.

200500647-001That sense of achievement is incredibly addictive. It feels good to be satisfied about a job well done, even if we don’t have anything tangible to show for it. But shouldn’t that translate to the real world, too?

It should, yes…but it doesn’t. Not entirely. See, the problem here is that unlike games, reality doesn’t operate in a structured manner – there’s no bell that’ll ring when we complete a report for upper management; there’s no congratulatory dialogue when we nail our presentation at a meeting.

With no visible reward for their efforts, workers have to resort to checklists to track their success. It’s why people are addicted to websites like Facebook, too – receiving positive feedback on social media trips the reward centers of your brain.

In this way, social networks were gamifying our lives before gamification was even a thing – though admittedly, it goes even further back than that. As anyone who’s been addicted to their CrackBerry can attest, it was impossible not to react like Pavlov’s Dog to the flashing red light indicating a new e-mail. And then the satisfaction of sending off an e-mail reply or deleting all the emails in your inbox? Immeasurable.

BlackBerry continues to provide that sort of productivity-enhancing feedback – but more on that in a moment.

At any rate, I’m certain you can see the point I’m trying to make here. Through gamification, we’re effectively tricking our minds into being more productive. We’re taking tendencies and behaviors which could be harmful on their own, and using them to help us in the workplace.

The Path to Better Productivity

So, in summary; by making your job more like a game, you can:

  • Increase your focus by giving yourself a tangible endpoint to work towards.
  • Make your job more enjoyable by giving yourself a sense of accomplishment and achievement for completing work-related tasks.
  • Give yourself some level of control over how you work and why.

Gamification applications are great because they let you actively visualize your work, but they shouldn’t be the only tools in your arsenal. You need to round things out with a strong suite of other tools and applications made for the workplace. The BlackBerry Hub, for example, lets you consolidate all of your messages – e-mail, texts, BBM, social media and more – in one place; while BlackBerry Balance technology and Secure Work Space containerization solutions for your smartphone or tablet allow you to keep your work life and your personal life separate. And BlackBerry Blend can seamlessly bring messaging and content that’s on your BlackBerry smartphone right to your computer and tablet.

It could very well be said that we’re living in the age of distraction. There’s so much stuff vying for our attention from every direction that it’s a wonder anyone ever gets anything done. That, more than anything, is why I feel gamification is gaining so much ground.

Because it’s significantly easier to motivate yourself when you know there’s a reward waiting for you at the end.

About Nicholas C. Greene

Nicholas C. Greene is a technology writer based in Calgary, Canada. An English graduate of the University of Calgary, he's written for publications and organizations such as VPN Haus, Streetwise, Northcutt, and The Coolist.

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