Productivity lessons from video games…seriously!

Hands with phone playing mobile video gameI enjoy mobile video games.


Full stop.


I think that this is an important admission to make at the outset of this post because there are productivity experts out there who might call the time that I spend gaming “wasted,” even though it does not interfere with my work or life.


Leisure activities, whether digital or live, are not shameful.


A couple of years ago, I was listening to a popular productivity author read his latest book on Audible. He told a story about a friend of his who, when the last season of a favorite streaming series was released, watched the entire series from the beginning.


This author went so far as to say that his friend could have “written a book” in the time that person spent watching the show from beginning to end.


I can picture the exact stretch of road I was driving when I heard the author say this.


I asked my car windshield, “Did his friend want to write a book? Was the friend taking a break from hours and hours of book writing? Or was the author simply judging his friend harshly for enjoying television?”


I say all this to reiterate that toxic productivity is a real thing. For a full treatment on the topic, I refer to a series of blog posts written by my friend, Julie Bestry.




Let’s have some shame-free fun analyzing mobile video games for the productivity lessons they have to offer.


I intended to include a simple list of all the types of mobile games out there and break them down by their components.


Then, I started researching video game genres and quickly abandoned that plan. There are too many to count!


So, I am going to focus on the casual game genre. Examples include Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Subway Surfers, Royal Match, Solitaire, Homescapes, etc.


The features of a casual game include:

  • A simple interface
  • Straightforward rules
  • Short gaming sessions
  • Familiar visual elements
  • Easy to get hooked on


When I read the features of casual games, I could not help but find the following parallels between them and the content of my Get Your Tasks Together course.


Here they are…


Simple productivity systems are the most sustainable


If your task management tool requires a user conference and/or a blood oath, it is likely too complex. When feeling overwhelmed, you may abandon the tool, and that’s when you need it the most.


For day-to-day self-management, a simple set of tools will suffice. Introduce complexity in your tools only when necessary, such as when you have large projects or processes to manage.


The rules (and tools) of time management have not changed


During my visit to Chichén Itzá in 1999, it struck me that time management is nothing new. Among the pyramids and ruins of this ancient Mayan civilization, there were remnants of a dome-shaped observatory.


Of course, there was no telescope, but there were openings in the dome at intentional intervals. When the planet Venus appeared in a particular aperture, it signified that it was time to plant, harvest, or throw virgins into the Sacred Cenote.


To summarize, don’t get dazzled by the latest and greatest app. You can upgrade your iPhone, but the calendar app is still the calendar app.


Short, repeated visits to your task management tool is the key to success


If you have ever felt that you “did not have time” to manage a task list or get your email organized, you are assuming that maintenance will be more time-consuming than it actually is.


Yes, you may have thousands of emails in your inbox or (seemingly) hundreds of tasks floating around your head, but implementing better practices requires two things: (1) drawing a line in the sand, and (2) going for the 80.


Drawing a line in the sand is simply picking a date and saying, “From this day forward, I will perform these new behaviors. Yes, there is a whole lot of junk/clutter/whatever on the other side of the line, but I don’t have to deal with that immediately.”


Second, say “No” to the trap of perfectionism. You will not practice your new behaviors nor use your productivity tools 100% of the time. However, if you use them 80% of the time, you are a rock star!!! Go for the 80 and understand that perfection is not productive.


Maintenance of a productivity tool does not entail hours and hours of updates. It’s a jump in, quick update, jump out kind of thing.


Familiar productivity tools are comfy and cozy


It is no secret to friends of this blog that I adore Outlook Tasks. Yes, the drag-and-drop features still bring tears of gratitude to my eyes, but it’s more than that.


I use Outlook Mail and Calendar every darn day. The vast majority of my clients are Microsoft shops.


Is Outlook Tasks perfect? Of course not. I cheat on Tasks from time to time. Shhhh!


But Tasks exists in a familiar interface, and with a little tweaking, it works wonderfully for me and many clients over the years.


Participants in The Wonder And Amazingness Of Outlook Tasks seminar, do you recall how I turn my southern accent on to illustrate the difference between a “deeuw” date and a “doooo” date? Little tweaks can have huge impacts.


Use tools you already have available where possible. Don’t discount the benefits of the comfort that comes in the familiar.


Productivity tools can be self-reinforcing


Games and many other things in life are designed to be “addictive.” I use that term with trepidation because addiction is, well, you can complete this sentence yourself.


So, we’ll go with “self-reinforcing.”


Humans tend to flock toward things that make us happy and avoid things that make us feel bad.


If we approach our task management system as a distasteful chore, it will always be an effort-filled tool to use and maintain.


If we embrace our task management tool as an escape from the stress of having to remember stuff, it can, over time, become a reward in itself.


You may scoff at the positive emotion I direct toward Outlook Tasks but that is a result of the gifts it has given me: relief, accomplishment, freedom.


Similar to the feelings I get from crushing some candy or merging some coins…


Maybe you are not a gamer – no problem. Look at the things that you enjoy and analyze what makes them enjoyable.


It is easier to transfer a reinforcer you already love from one venue to another rather than try to find your bliss in a cluttered morass of hidden objects.


Although, hidden object games are also fun. Mortimer Beckett, anyone?


Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.

1 Comment

  1. Julie Bestry

    “If your task management tool requires a user conference and/or a blood oath, it is likely too complex.” Truer words were never spoken! 😉

    As for drag & drop in Outlook, Microsoft FINALLY returned the ability to the Mac version…and then the newest (non-Exchange server) version, for people who use just desktop Outlook for Mac and not 365, deprecated the feature yet again. (I actually just reverted from “new” Outlook to an older version because that drag & drop makes life so much easier!


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