Call me immature, but I’m about a thousand times more likely to participate in activities that are good for me when they can be gamified. Even the simple pleasure of watching a number go up or earning a digital milestone badge can motivate me to get to the gym, track my meals, or form a new habit. Gamification can be used for focusing and studying, too, and a wide variety of apps exist to serve this purpose. Here are some of the best.
Gamification apps for focusing
Focusing is notoriously difficult, especially in this hyper-connected day and age when you can’t go five minutes without getting a text or eat a meal without watching TikTok videos. Use your device to your advantage instead with these apps that turn focusing into a game:
Trackabi is actually a time-tracking software designed for work teams, but it comes with a gamification feature that enables you to earn achievements and badges. The badges you earn not only determine if you’re a “lazybones” or “time tracking master,” but come with karma points. It works best if you’re working on a team and these karma points can be used for tangible rewards you all determine, but it’s also fine if you’re someone who just likes to watch their numbers go up. Unlike some other softwares, it also contains the possibility for you to earn negative achievements, like the aforementioned lazybones, which can be motivating to some. It’s free for up to five team members, but if you want to add more people, projects, or achievement levels, you’ll pay US$3.20 per user per month or more, depending on your needs.
One of the gold-standard apps in gamification and productivity is Habitica, which is almost like a role-play game. You designate the goal you want to achieve, track when you do it, and watch as your in-game avatar gains (or loses) health. Your avatar can even link up with others’ for games and challenges, so you all level up. You earn gold coins that can be spent in-game or “redeemed” when you do something you want to do in real life, like watch a movie. It’s free, but you can make in-app purchases or subscribe to group plans that help coordinate team goals for US$9 per month, plus US$3 per person.
Another app that’s great for teams, Toggl is a time-tracker that gives you leaderboards in addition to achievements when you stay focused and get things done. If digital badges don’t get you going, imagine the rush of seeing your name at the top of a leaderboard. That’s gamification right there. If you’re using it on your own, it’s free, but after a 14-day trial, teams will pay US$9 per user per month.
Do It Now
Another RPG-based productivity app is Do It Now, where you customize a character that will level up and earn rewards as you complete your task list. One of the most fun things about gaming (and, thus, gamification) is the ability to customize a character, so this is a solid app if you’re into that. The character is “a virtual copy” of you that has to do all the tasks you have to do in real life. Their “skills” increase as yours do. Almost all the features are available on the free version, but if you want to go ad-free, access more themes and sounds, and set unlimited inventory, you’ll pay about a dollar or two per month, depending on your payment plan. Heads up, though, that this app only works on Android.
Beeminder is a great app because it links up to a variety of others, from Habitca and Toggle to Duolingo, Gmail, Fitbit, Strava, and more, pulling in your data to make sure you’re staying on track with your goals. If you have a goal to stay focused on Slack or emails, Beeminder can actually make sure you’re doing it instead of relying on you to be honest in self-reporting. Continue to do what you’re trying to do and a red line will appear, inching toward your goal. The catch? If you don’t stick to what you’re trying to focus on, it charges $5 to the card you have on file. Otherwise, it’s free for up to three goals, but you can unlock unlimited goals (and the ability to put off payments and set charge caps) with premium plans that move from US$8 per month, US$16 per month, or even US$50 per month, depending on how many features you want.
Gamification apps for studying
If you need to gamify your studies, there are special apps that work well for that, too. The software above also works for studying, so if you’re more of a Habitica person, feel free to stick with those. The ones below have unique features that might be helpful for students.
Productivity Challenge Timer
This one is good for students because, well, it’s a little mean, like a tough professor. When using Productivity Challenge Timer, you’ll be asked by the app whether you “feel good putting off work” when you don’t start a work session. When you do start a work session, it’ll track your time and create a detailed record for you, so you can visualize your productivity. And, of course, there are ranks for you to climb in-game. The free version lets you work on three tasks, but you’ll have to buy a pro version for US$8.99 if you want more.
In a sense, this is the very opposite of Productivity Challenge Timer: Instead of interacting with a hardass authority figure, you’re calmly trying to plant a tree. With Forest, you start a work session, which plants a seed. A tree starts to grow, but if you switch from the app to another app, like social media, you’ll start a countdown that lets you know your tree will soon die. (Actually, maybe this isn’t quite low-stress after all.) It’s free to use, so you can collect fully-grown trees and rewards without spending money, plus you can redeem your rewards to plant a real tree through Trees for the Future. If you pay US$2 for a subscription, you can designate some apps to open during sessions that won’t hurt your tree, which is helpful if you need your phone for studying.
Study Bunny is a game designed for students. It has an in-app timer and a scored flashcard system, slots for to-do lists, and room for 15 subjects. You are assigned a virtual bunny rabbit that gets happier when you track work and progress, but sadder when you pause a work session or don’t open the app. The longer you work, the more coins you earn to buy items for your bunny.
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