Game designer Jane McGonigal writes in her book Reality is Broken that video games help us feel more productive, even if all we’re doing is clearing falling blocks on a screen. She asserts that the elements in video games that motivate us to keep playing can–and should–be used to build inertia in fixing problems of the world that we can identify, but often don’t act on.

She’s talking about “gamification,” a trend that’s increasingly used in businesses and consumer products: applying aspects of game designed to tasks that otherwise would seem mundane or boring. If you’ve unlocked a badge on Foursquare for making repeated trips to certain businesses, then you know what gamification is like.

When it comes to stuff that has to be done around the house, it’s easy to put things off for tomorrow. If you need some incentive to wash the windows or want to get the kids motivated in doing chores, consider gamifying your task list.

Getting Started

Assign points to each task that needs to be done, and set milestone prizes or opportunities to “level up.” This is a way of divvying up privileges for kids who need to do their chores before spending time in front of the computer, TV or phone: how many points will a child have half-way through completing their chores, and what reward can they get for meeting that goal before tackling the rest? Should the Internet be “unlocked” for only for those whom have reached a certain “level” in chore completion?

Competition Against Others or Yourself

If you’re playing for yourself, rewards work as well. Maybe it’s a beer at the end of the day, or a break in the afternoon to do something fun. Reward yourself often enough so you can recharge and stay motivated.

Make a leaderboard where you can keep score on everyone in the house. For added incentive, you can consider making your cleanup campaign into a competition–this is great motivation for rival siblings.

Since you have a point system in place, keep track of who’s in the lead or how many chores you can complete on average a day. Maybe you’ve noticed that even if you enjoy procrastinating, task-clearing can become addictive once you begin–so try to beat your “high score” to become extra efficient!

Set a Goal for an “Epic Win”

An “epic win” is when a player achieves a huge, exciting accomplishment in a game. McGonigal uses this term for big goals in our lives we can achieve. You can make an “epic win” for your chores game.

Consider the big projects that need to be done. Maybe you have to finally clear out the basement, or have a big decorating campaign. Take care of all the little preparations and other tasks leading up to the big challenge at the end of the week. Divvy up jobs for the big day, and tackle your goal together as a family! You’ll have more fun working on a task together, riding off the inertia built days before. And of course, the family should enjoy a big reward together as well–a perfect opportunity for bonding.

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