Man Standing on Clock

There’s something about psychology that responds to external motivation. Video games make most use of this kind of change — which is unfortunate because while they’re useful relaxation tools — computer games are the opposite of everything this blog stands for. In World of Warcraft, you adapt your own lifestyle to better serve the machine; here at Smartlife we make the machines work for you. This means that we’ll be first against the electro-wall when the Cylons come, but until then, we’ll help you work smarter with silicon support.

It’s uncanny how much a tiny number can affect the human brain. You might fully realize why exercising, doing chores, or completing office invoices is a good thing — yet still not do it. But how could a tiny device with less circuitry than the average watch giving triggered Tamagotchi insanity prompt people to pour hours of effort into increasing their electronic rank? Here we look at some services which can use this mental flaw positively.

1. Twitter Timer

In the ultimate inversion of work and wasted time, even Twitter can be made to perform useful tasks. The trendy text-messaging service might mostly be used for complaining, comedy comments, and reporting what people are having for lunch, but now you need never forget an urgent task again. Because your brain isn’t reliable and your scribbled notes may be lost, your cell phone is the perfect tool for reminders — when your phone buzzes, you’d wake up from a coma to check it. (Be honest.) The “timer” Twitter account is an instant egg-timer anywhere in the world — simply tweet “d timer 60 pay parking” to receive a tweet in 60 minutes reminding you to pay parking.

Twitter Timer

Twitter Timer

Those into hardware hacks can make twit kit, or buy gadgets to hook up to the anywhere-messaging service. One fun application is the Botanicalls rig where a miniature water-level sensor lets your plants tweet you if they’re running dry! With plants phoning you to issue instructions, it’s hard to decide who’ll get us first — the Terminators or the Triffids.

2. Google Calendar and Docs

The simplest scheme is often the best, especially when it’s free, and Google provide two. Google Calendar is an easy option for task timing — a simple view presents all your bookings, and clicking on any reveals all the information you could need (as well as letting you set variable reminder times).

Google Calendar Reminders

Google Calendar Reminders

When adding events to the Calendar view, it’s important to include all the information. It’s too tempting to just mark the date and event and think “I’ll remember.” You won’t! That’s why we have calendars! Nothing is more frustrating than an instant email speeding across the globe to send you a reminder, but you still have to drag your carcass four miles like some kind of caveman to get the piece of paper with the actual information on it (a caveman who can read, then).

Google Docs - Luke's Manliness Challenge

Google Docs - Luke's Manliness Challenge

For more intensive efforts, by which we mean “exercise and other distasteful tasks,” Google Docs can provide an unconventional but effective option. The spreadsheet tools offer almost all the options of Excel, so it’s easy to use, with the advantage that you can access it from anywhere and share it with friends. The latter is what turns this into a powerful motivational tool — if you’ve ever agreed with a friend that, “we should both start doing that,” then a simple spreadsheet can turn those empty promises into powerful mutual motivation. Keep daily records of your efforts, spurring each other on — because explaining skipping something to yourself is easy. You’re on your side. Explaining it to others is more embarrassing.

3. World of Chorecraft

A lighter version of the same tool is Chore Wars, informally known as World of Chorecraft. This turns tasks and toils into a (very simple) game where a “party of adventurers” can embark on an epic quest together. And if that party happens to be housemates, and the tasks are such as “Slay the Demon Of The Full Sink” or “Cleanse The Floor With Mop And Broom” then so be it! It’s a simple idea but well executed with a complete scoring system awarding XP bonuses and upgrading levels for players, making it completely clear who isn’t pulling their weight.

Chore Wars

Chore Wars

It’s also an excellent motivator for anyone with children around the house. You try telling them that cleaning up is a game, and they’ll laugh at you and get back to their Xbox. But if the computer tells them it’s a game, well, it’s best to just enjoy the results and not think too hard about the implications.

Image credit: mevans / iStockphoto

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