I Made A Gamified To-Do List And Made Myself Miserable


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There’s a lot to unpack in that rather clickbaity title so let’s start at the beginning. 

When you first start teaching yourself to code, it’s usually suggested that you should hone your skills by building actual functioning projects. This gives you the ability to write actual functioning code and see how the techniques you’ve learnt might be used in production.

One of the first projects that’s always suggested is to build your own to-do list. When it comes to life admin, I used to have the organisational capabilities of a dead capybara so I decided that this was the perfect project to help me build some structure whilst improving my coding skills.

But I knew that a simple list of items was both very boring and also very easy to build. Being as competitive as an alive capybara, I decided that to give me the best chance of actually using the to-do list, as well as making the project complex enough to really test my burgeoning skills, I decided to add a gamification element to the app so that I scored points based on how many days I completed all of the tasks I had assigned myself. 

Sounds great right? 

Well, I finished the project 18 months ago, I have used it every day since then and realised very recently it’s made me absolutely miserable. 

If I didn’t complete the tasks for the day I felt anxious at the loss of points, and my mind was constantly on whatever was written in that bloody app rather than whatever I was doing. It essentially dictated my life, and whilst sometimes it helped me organise what I needed to do, the fact that day could be assigned a value of zero if I didn’t get everything done was awful for my mental health. 

It turns out that my competitive nature should absolutely not be applied to the way I run everything in my life, which sounds obvious now that I’m writing it down. I have since switched to a system where I track what projects I’m working on, and how many days it’s been not worked on, without a dictated pass/fail system. And for life admin, I still write these down in my phone with due dates if applicable, but usually I focus on setting aside time at some point during the week to tackle this list, rather than segmenting the list into specific days and feeling like a failure if I don’t get them done.

I think the overall point of this blog is to push my new manifesto of being kinder to yourself and more present in your day to day life, rather than beholden to a stupid gamified to-do list. But it sounds stupid coming from the guy who built his own little anxiety machine so I’m just going to go now.