Gamifying habits: Habitica

There’s always a lot to do: clean up regularly, exercise and avoid fast food. You would like to be a better person, but it just often happens that you find yourself lounging on the sofa instead of making new personal bests at the gym. Fortunately, if you like gamification there’s an app to help you out: Habitica!

The idea is very simple: our actions are largely guided by habits. Because you don’t have the energy to spend all your time thinking about what would be the optimal action, we rely about half of the time on our habits and simply do what we have always done before. Habitica helps you generate better habits and uphold them. First, you just list a set of habits you want to have. Then, every time you succeed in following these good habits, you gain gold and XP – and every day you fail, you lose hit points. The goal is to keep your character alive.

There are three categories of habits:

Habits: These are things that are beneficial no matter how many times you do them. Every single time brings you the gold and XP. You can also have “negative habits” (like eating unhealthy food), so that every time you do them, it damages you.

Dailies: These you have to do on specific days. For example, I try to do some sports each and every day. You can also assign dailies just on some days of the week, like vacuuming the apartment only on Saturdays.

Todos: Things, which only have to be taken care of once. Once you have done the task, you just tick it off and it disappears forever.

What does all the gold in Habitica buy you then? Since this is a virtual world, nothing real of course. You can buy items and clothing for your character and the stuff helps you to survive even if you miss some tasks. Perhaps the best part is that you can define your own rewards, which you can the spend your virtual money on. For example, my rewards are good beers, eating out and playing computer games 🙂 Here’s a list of my own Habitica view from a while back (the full image is here):

What you can see in the image is that in terms of habits things are going well: many things are blue or green, which means I have done them often. In the dailies column, most things are also blue. Some things are grey, since I had already done them that day, or they were not relevant for the current day (like vacuuming). Writing, sports and stretching are still left for the day.

My main usage is with dailies. These remind me at work that I’m supposed to read and write every day and keep up practicing my touch typing. The idea is that each of these tasks is central to my work, so spending time on them is never wasted. Often it just seems like there’s no time for them, if you don’t prioritize them over urgent but unimportant things.

However, you don’t want to overdo the dailies. I’ve found that a proper division seems to be that it should take at maximum 50% of your workday to complete them, otherwise you have too many dailies for the working hours. This rule ensures that you can always get them done, if you manage yourself well. The same goes for free time tasks – you actually want to have real free time, instead of just ticking off tasks after the working day.

On the habits side, I’ve tried to keep them quite generic, and limited to a few things I want to keep doing. Productive work is listed to reward me whenever I reach a flow state at work (which isn’t every day). The others mainly revolve around helping me to get off the couch and take good care of my health. Todos I don’t use that much, because Todoist is the main todo list application in our family.

Habitica may seem a little childish: do things in the real world to earn virtual currency – how silly! Well, silly or not, it’s a form of gamification that I personally enjoy very much. It’s free to use, but the system has really helped me to improve my habits. For example, streching used to be something I almost never did, but last year I did it almost every day, all thanks to Habitica.