Habitica is a webapp (with mobile versions) that adds quantitative value to your to-do (and not-to-do) lists. If you count the number of tasks you complete each day as a measure of productivity, and not their importance or difficulty, you find yourself in a place where the completion of many easy, small tasks might appear more significant than that of a few difficult, big tasks.

Habitica, which used to be called HabitRPG, has been written about on Kinja many times before (by me and others). However, I’m writing this as a standalone post, because many features have changed as Habitica went through a redesign and renaming to make it more accessible to users who aren’t familiar with RPGs. If you are familiar with Habitica/HabitRPG but haven’t checked in lately, I urge you to skip ahead to the description of Dailies (which have changed) and the final section in which I discuss how my own habits have changed. Else, ONWARD!

Why Habitica Works for People Like Me (and Why It May Work for You)

If you’re like me, to feel better about not completing your ambitious to-do list, you’ll focus on finishing the many things that are easy and small, and ignore the few things that are difficult and a lot of work. Habitica assigns values based on the frequency with which you accomplish certain tasks, and gives you back a quantified productivity score that also values things that are big and difficult.

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Habitica works for me because I did well in grade school, where everything was benchmarked. Habitica adds these benchmarks to my daily life, and I can even assign them to things like flossing my teeth or vacuuming my room, which never got me credit as a child. If you are like me, you may want to check it out. It’s also free, which is the main reason I tried it (you can subscribe for easier access to some features).

You Can Track Habits, Dailies, and To-dos

In brief terms, you input your tasks in one of three categories: habits, dailies, and to-dos. Habits can be to-do tasks (positive value) or not-to-do tasks (negative value) that have no particular frequency - you don’t have to do/not do them on a schedule. The classic example is taking the stairs, which can be positive (you did it!) or negative (you took the elevator), but you can have single-valence habits too. You click the appropriate button, and Habitica will reward you with gold/experience points/drops (pets, food, etc. - yes, it’s sort of like a Tamagotchi) or decrease your health points if you did a bad thing (losing all 50 health points = lose one level, a piece of equipment, and all your gold). This quantification of how good/bad the thing you did was takes into account your history with the task: doing harder things (i.e. things you haven’t done often/done too often if negative) will gain/lose you more points. At left/above, you can see how I have managed to make my bed more often thanks to Habitica (excepting days when I never leave it).

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Dailies are now redefined as tasks you need to do on a recurring cycle, with the maximum frequency being once per day (hence the name). You can choose to complete a task once per day, on certain days every week, every X days, etc., but if you don’t complete it when it’s due (as evidenced by it being in color vs. being grey), you lose health points. You can even enlist a workaround for multiple times-per-day dailies: create a checklist on your daily, and check the task only if you have completed all the elements on the checklist. If you complete some items of a checklist daily but not all, you receive credit for it, in the form of not as large a hit to your health points.

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To-dos are tasks that are one-offs. These can have due dates, as well as checklists. I shamefully underutilize these, as it’s more useful to have my one-offs in an Evernote note, because they change every day. I make my to-do list in Evernote (that’s a daily for me!) and check off a positive Habit every time I hit a task on that variable to-do list.

You Can Socialize (But You Don’t Have To)

There’s also a social component to Habitica, as those familiar with RPGs might expect, but it’s not central to my experience, and I participate only when I have the time. You can join a party and go on quests, in which you must complete your tasks to win items/gold/experience points. In a collection quest, the success of participating party members (not everybody in a party has to join every quest) depends only on tasks completed; in a boss quest, the success of party members depends on tasks completed and having as few incomplete dailies as possible (everyone gets hurt from your uncompleted dailies). This is often where skills come in - once you enter the class system at level 10, mana points come along with your other rewards/drops for completing tasks, which can be used to cast skills. One such skill is the Healer’s “Blessing,” which restores HP to all members of the party (very useful for boss quests!). There are also guilds, which are common interest groups (I find them to be a great source of challenges, another competitive aspect which I outline below) - you can belong to more than one guild, but only to one party.

*There are other features of gameplay that I will not review here, because this is too long.*

What’s Changed for Me in the Last Year

Habitica has these annual Back to School Challenges, which are a great opportunity for reflection on how I’ve changed my use of Habitica as a grad student over the year (haha, no Back to School because I’ve been in school). [Challenges are the most competitive, non-cooperative aspect of Habitica, which is saying a lot (of good things) about the community. Participants in the challenge compete with one another for gems, which can be used for these mysterious other features of gameplay.]

I’ve Discovered a Deeply Supportive Community

This hasn’t so much affected my productivity, but it’s worth mentioning. The moderators at Habitica take a very proactive approach to moderating. They’ve recently implemented Community Guidelines, and they enforce them. Users are constantly helping one another out (drop by the Newbies Guild), and there’s no tolerance for anything that hurts other users (the closest thing to PvP are the challenges, so your accomplishments cannot hurt other players). I have observed the moderators addressing everything from swears that slip through in the general chat (remember to keep it PG-13!) to homophobia. When it comes to technical issues, the staff is also on top of things: the Github queues move quickly (also thanks to unpaid contributors as Habitica is open-source) and my emails to the admin account are usually answered in less than 24 hours. I even DM them on Twitter sometimes and they respond!

I Use Challenges for Task Ideas, Not To Win (Take What You Need)

Challenges are a great way to indulge in your desire to compete with other people, without hurting anyone to win. For many of the challenges I’ve entered, however, being the winner would require me to prioritize those tasks over others that I valued more, and I quickly realized that was something I did not want to do. It’s obviously fine if you do, but Habitica is all about making it work for you, and I did not find winning a challenge to be worth disrupting my new workflow.

Instead, I use challenges as a jumping off point. I recently plugged Amy’s Tidy up your study life challenge in the Graduate Student Guild, but if you go to the challenge itself, you’ll find I’m not participating. That’s because I joined the challenge to get the tasks to populate my task list and left it, which allowed me to selectively delete tasks that I didn’t need. (You can’t delete tasks of a challenge in which you are participating.) Challenges give me ideas for useful tasks, but I’m not often in them to win them, as odd as that sounds. Given the number of active challenges with no end date and no gem rewards, I suspect that other Habiticans may use them the same way. I even designed a challenge of my own for other graduate students, of which I include a partial screenshot above. (I set it up so there is a gem reward, but only a few people have messaged me to claim it.)

I Reworked Am Reworking My Dailies Twice Many Times

My main gripe with Habitica is that I have too many dailies, and they don’t fit on one screen. The intended workaround is to use tags, by which you can filter tasks, but it’s not obvious to me when I’ve filtered by a tag or two unless I can’t see most of my dailies (the first time I filtered by a tag and forgot about it I thought I’d deleted all my dailies and I have not improved since). Search is combinatorial in ways that I don’t find useful, but make sense: filtering for “work” and “work-end” will get you dailies that are tagged both of these things, rather than either. So, if I have a task I want to see during the workday and before I leave work, I’ve had to tag it both “work” and “work-end” so that it shows up when I filter by either tag. I got confused and stopped using this.

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As I got better at things, it made less sense to me to have dailies for them - checking them off was more work than remembering to do them. It’s actually a great thing, as that meant Habitica was working for me. I removed some of them, and others I combined into one checklist daily, so as to give myself less points for doing them/lose less points for not doing them (because lack of completion was less likely to be motivation-related and more circumstance-related). Unfortunately, I got a little too excited about reducing the clog in my tasks pane, and I incorporated some dailies that were not in fact habit for me. Because I got 3/4 items in my checklist done, I was doing okay enough, but the problem was the incomplete 4th item, which was always the same. I needed to pull some stuff out of checklists and into their own dailies to have a hope of accomplishing them, which I finally realized with a challenge from the Library of Shared Scrolls (a guild). Taking out the trash on trash day is now tying off the bag (active the night before) and taking out the trash (day of). I have picked a day to screenshot on which both are grey, so you can’t see how I’m doing :P

What hasn’t changed

I’m still a subscriber, as I was when I wrote this last post. My favorite gif is still the one I discovered writing a previous post:

I still haven’t completed some of my To-dos. 😳And I’m still in grad school.

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Notice to commenters: I would definitely appreciate shares (and if it’s off-Kinja, please let me know in the comments), but you should also know that this is an entry in a Habitica Back to School Challenge. There is a gem prize associated with this challenge in Habitica, based on this post receiving at least 5 comments and some other criteria.

Please feel free to ask questions about Habitica in the comments. I’ll be here (in grad school and on Habitica) for awhile.