Last month for the lifestyle section, we explored the world of cosplay in its many manifestations. For the last month of summer, we are exploring organization and productivity in preparation for the approaching fall, new school year, and the slow fade of the lazy days of summer. Most of us work other jobs in addition to writing for and maintaining WWAC, so organization is crucial to our lives. Cathryn starts us off with her digital tools and methods for organization. As always, readers, if you have your own tips to share or questions to ask, comment away!
I like to think I’m an organised person. (Ha!) In actuality, I’m just an avid list-maker. I love lists! So it’s not surprising that to keep myself on task, I’d flock to lists. Of course, not one type is good enough. No! I have split my personal work and personal interests between two systems for different purposes. For my personal work, such as blogging and projects, I’ve turned to Kanbanchi. To motivate myself in little ways, like taking the time to play some games or do some fiction writing, I’m questing through HabitRPG.*
Kanbanchi (and the Kanban method)
The Kanban method is a very popular standard for task management. Starting out as production management for goods, its original form came as billboards and cork boards with columns, each labelled for a stage of production. These columns would then have cards, one for each task or project, that they would move from column-to-column as the project progressed through the stages. This helped teams keep track of where everyone was up to at a glance—it was easy to see how many things were in progress, how many were stalled, and how many were completed. This moved from being used just for production to any project or task in general. The system is flexible—after all, it originally was just a board or wall with some headers.
With the electronic age, we’ve moved from physical cork boards with index cards and sticky notes to programs that mimic this effect. Cloud-based services that apply the Kanban method via a website are the most popular and versatile right now. They allow people to access their task management anywhere, anytime there’s an Internet connection. One of the most popular services is Trello—it offers free and paid options, has apps for most phones and tablets (sorry, Windows phone), and has API available for developers to really expand it. I used Trello on my own for work for a period when nothing was introduced and its basic form worked for me at the time.
There are other services though. For my personal work and life, I’ve started using Kanbanchi. Why Kanbanchi over Trello? Firstly, Kanbanchi is specifically an app for Google Drive. I can create as many Kanbanchi boards as I want, saved right in my Google Drive. For some, that’s not a big deal. Me? I live in Drive, so it’s hugely convenient for me. That all aside, it’s not that different from Trello in many respects.
You can create as many columns or “bins” as you want and have as many items in each as you want. Columns have the option of creating restrictions, such as only ten items. This means you can control some columns by restricting the amount of items in them. This is handy for things like an “In Progress” category and making sure you don’t overload yourself. The system will let you put additional items in these restricted columns, but will show the column header as red to warn you.
You can also categorise your cards in two ways. Firstly is colours. The system supports up to eight colours, which you can give names. For example, in my WWAC kanbanchi, the colours are per section—Books, Games, Lifestyle, etc. My “House Projects” kanbanchi has only three colours—Me, My Husband, and Both. I use this to show which of us wanted that project and who will be doing it. You can then tag cards with colours, which makes it easy to see how your categories are distributed, like the fact I want to do a crapload more stuff to do for the house compared to my husband. The other type of categorisation is Tags. This is like adding tags or keywords on any other system. You can use this to search later for reporting. To be honest, I don’t use the reporting function at all yet, because I haven’t had a need.
Like Trello, the app supports multiple users on the same board. This means tasks can be assigned out to individuals. There’s also commenting on each card, so you can keep records of conversations about each item. The system keeps track of changes to cards as well so you can see the history of it, such as when it was assigned, when it moved to the next stage, when the description was amended, etc. It also features filters, where you can filter by any of your settings, like colours, tags, search terms, due date, etc. This makes it easy to see how much you have of a certain thing, such as articles due to “Lifestyle” only.
What I like is that the system is constantly being updated and the developers are responsive. There have been a handful of times that I’ve sent them feedback on something that I thought could be improved or beneficial, and I’ve generally had a response the next day or so. This is for the free service as well. I even had a follow-up on some feedback that they implemented to see if it covered what I asked. I was certainly impressed with their response to a free user.
The downside for some people will be that you need to use Google Drive to access it and, by extension, use your Google account. For me, this isn’t an issue and is actually a plus, but I can imagine some people won’t like that. For example, when you create due dates for items, you can push them through to your Google Calendar. But if you’re not actually using your Google Calendar (like using Outlook, for example), then it’s not going to give you exactly what you need. Because of the app’s relative newness in the market, it doesn’t have as many extensive features as services like Trello. That said, that’s only an issue if you need those features, and they may be introduced later on by the developers.
For me, the system does exactly what I need. In fact, it’s a little too convenient. I have Kanbanchi boards out the wazoo now! I have them for my blog writing (one for each blog), plus one for the house, another for my artwork branding, and even one I made for my husband’s YouTube channel to try and give him a better overview of what series he had going on. If anything, it demonstrates the service’s versatility, convenience, and ease of use.
So, I use Kanbanchi for almost all of my project-based things, such as blog posts, house projects, and artwork branding queues. But what about the random little things we want to do during the day, but may need some extra incentive to do?
Say hello to HabitRPG! HabitRPG is an online platform for habit management through gamification. It turns your habit-building quest into, well, a quest! Gamification is a rising trend by which mundane tasks are made more exciting by turning them into a game with points or rewards.
HabitRPG does this by rewarding you for completing habit tasks. Tasks are classified in three different ways and each behaves differently: Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos. Completing tasks will gain you experience and items or gold.
Habits are things you either want to do more often or want to deter yourself from doing. You can add good or bad habits. Whereas good habits act the same as other tasks, doing bad habits will hurt your health. Dailies are tasks you want to do on a regular basis. They can be set for every day or for specific days of the week. Failing to do a Daily will also hurt your health, as if you did a bad habit. To-Dos are one-off tasks or projects. Unlike Dailies, not completing them each day does not damage your health.
Tasks also change colour, depending on how consistently you do them. Tasks that are neglected begin to turn orange, then red. Tasks you are doing well on will shift up to green, then blue. Their impacts also change—completing red tasks will yield more results than a green task, for example, as more incentive is needed to make their completion more consistent.
Earning gold means you can buy items such as equipment, including helms, armour, weapons, etc. You can also buy health potions to recover health. These items help you when doing quests. Quests are specific challenges you can opt into, like gather one hundred pet eggs. How do you do this? You do tasks! Doing tasks with a quest active will add to that quest’s progress. One neat feature is that you can spend gold on custom rewards—the default rewards are items for use in the game, but they also give you the ability to create custom ones. This means you can give yourself real-world rewards for completing tasks, such as “go to the movies” or “buy that game you wanted.”
For those of you that love pets in MMOs, there are plenty of them in HabitRPG. For every type of pet, like a dragon or a bear, there is an attribute potion, such as golden or zombie. Each combination is another part of the collection, so there are a lot to collect. During your task-questing, you’ll sometimes get food, which you can feed to your pets. Each one likes different things and filling up their food meter will upgrade them into a mount. You can also upgrade to a mount by buying a saddle and placing it on your pet. You can then collect all of the mounts as well. Yes, lots of collecting. Again, this is an optional side thing—if you don’t like pets, you can sell the pet eggs and hatching potions for gold in the market.
Where some people may like to fly solo, like me, there is also facilities for community interaction. There is a party system, where you and your friends can band together and take on these quests together, contributing as a whole. There are also Guilds, people with similar interests or who are using the system for similar purposes. Perhaps the more intriguing community function is Challenges. These Challenges are a collection of tasks for a specific purpose created by other players. For example, there could be a Challenge to read more, to exercise more, to make environmentally-conscious choices, or even just to live life to the fullest. It can be literally anything. It’s intriguing, because it’s not just your own tasks—others participating are going through the same tasks that you are.
Looking at the system, you’ll notice that there is not only gold for currency, but gems. Gems are bought with real currency, just like in so many games nowadays. You can use these gems to buy exclusive avatar skins, special pets, or unique items. Seeing that this is really for task management, I don’t see the big point in using real money to buy gems, but as it is just a task management system and there is no PvP, there’s really no harm in other players doing so if they want. There are some Quests you have to purchase with gems, but you don’t actually have to purchase those Quests—they’re just extras. Like I said, I don’t see the appeal, but there is no point where it is necessary, so each to his own.
There is an app for HabitRPG for iPhone and Android, but in my opinion, it’s a bit basic. I don’t use it at all, in fact. For one thing, I would expect a mobile app to have notifications, reminding you to do your tasks. It doesn’t seem to have this functionality (or didn’t when I checked it out, anyway). Without that, I don’t see much point to the app other than ticking off your boxes. I also found the sync to be a bit sluggish, so changes you made on the web interface don’t show up quickly on the app.
My one caution is the “bad” or negative habits. It’s very tempting to put things in here that you hate yourself for doing and want to change. However! I ask that you stop for a moment, take a breath, and examine whether grading yourself on these things is good for you. For example, I have put “Succumb to Anhedonia” as a negative habit. There is a very real chance that marking myself down on this when I’m already in a bad mindset will make me spiral further. Thankfully, I’ve been able to identify the difference between having a low day, where there’s nothing I can do about my anhedonia and moments when I let the fear of failure stop me from doing things. It is latter that I want to discourage—I know there isn’t anything I can do for the former. But my situation is my own, so I just advise people to assess their “negatives” and make sure they’re things that won’t impact you adversely, like “nail biting” or “watched YouTube instead of doing work.”
Overall, it’s a good effort to make it “fun” to build your habits. It gives you a more visible way to track your progress on your habits. It rewards you for keeping consistent, and the Challenge system offers no shortage of new activities to try out. That said, the lack of any reminders or push notifications on mobile make it easy to forget to mark them off if you have completed the tasks—or worse, if you haven’t done them because you forgot again. I feel like it needs that last extra oomph to really make it work for me. When I remember, it’s a neat little thing, watching your stats go up and getting items like pet eggs. But if I don’t remember—well, it’s not helping that much then.
*Editor’s Note: HabitRPG changed their name to Habitica after this article was written.
An American specimen (subspecies: Michigander), now under research in the United Kingdom. Subject appears to sustain itself on video games and webcomics. Favourite flavours are fantasy and sci-fi, with a slice of life on the side.