The Science of Productivity and The Stigma Against Gamification

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Credit: Microsoft Online Clipart Gallery
Three days back from your Christmas holiday and your motivation is lacking? No worries, ASAPScience is on the case with a great little video about the Science of Productivity that can help get you motivated once more to attack your monster inbox or the pile of projects accumulating on your desk.

The video opens by informing us that no matter how motivated you are to slog through your work, willpower is not enough. Apparently our brains love to focus on barriers to getting work done, although that can actually be a good thing. If we at least get started and knock those small tasks off one by one then take breaks or switch gears in between them, we can benefit from better productivity. This is known as the Zeigarnik effect: the ability of the brain to better remember interrupted tasks than completed ones. It would seem that people who work or study in bursts then take breaks are more productive overall than people who plow right through. Ok, so in order to be more productive, you need to be productive. Hmm.

Another suggestion mentioned in the video is to make an Accountability chart: a to-do list of things you have already done. Checking your time spent against your output can be a great motivator to either keep going or step up your game. It's the same reason runners keep running logs, cyclists track their distance covered, and games keep your quest scores over time.

Although they don't come out and say it, this idea is basically gamification. The Accountability chart enables you to apply game mechanics and principles to work: establishing a large end-goal (a quest), defining small milestones (achievements) and then keeping track of your progress toward the end-goal. In fact, this can be likened to game points, achievement badges, leaderboard placement, a progress bar, etc. used in gamification.

Now, I've noticed that some people bristle at the idea of gamification in the workplace. I think that the use of the word "game" reduces the legitimacy of the approach in some people's eyes: if you're playing, you can't possibly be working. We'll gladly leave the office once a year for a "retreat" or "team building exercise" but —wink-wink— no work gets done there, it's just an excuse to get to know one another better. And yet, sales-focused organizations have been using gamification for decades: sales competitions, incentive programs, bonuses. There's even an entire tourism sector dedicated to marketing to the people who put together these incentive travel reward programs. But call it "gamification" and it might be difficult to bring it into the workplace.

In fact, my hubby even questioned when I mentioned using the idea to help the Dude get through some of his more lengthy projects. (Grade 4 is a big step up from grade 3, we've learned, with a lot of self-directed study and assignments. Poor kid is only 9, and often has no clue where to begin.) But when I explained gamification as the idea of making a plan, tracking progress and working toward achievements and picking rewards for reaching milestones, hubby was all in (he realized I was just using a different term for what we refer to as parenting ;)

There is a stigma against gamification that needs to be overcome if workplaces are going to be more receptive to the idea. Perhaps gamification needs a makeover, a new name or an old name. Incentivization of work? SMART productivity? I'll bet that there are consultants out there who have reworked the idea of gamification into some sort of consulting speak, selling books, travelling on the speaker circuit and charging hundreds of thousands of consulting dollars to Fortune 100 companies... but call it what it is, and those companies will tell you that they don't play games at work! ;)

If you're interested in incorporating gamification, ahem, I mean in "incentivizing work", get started by checking out this piece I wrote on How Gamification Can Make Your Life Better or pick up Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal. And if you need to get motivated to get to work right now, check out the video that inspired this rant by ASAPScience on the Science of Productivity (below). And then get back to work!