Snooping around the web for some home-dev organisation technique, I’ve stumbled upon David Seah’s Printable CEO Series. At first glance it looks like just another GTD-oriented series of charts, but closer inspection reveals that the series draws inspirations from techniques used in video games.

Moreover, the author frequently refers to some game theory or methods peppered around his charts, but avoids going into more detail. Having used some of his forms, I think I’ve identified some main concepts he’s borrowed from current video game craft. These are:

Goal-setting

The “Concrete Goals Tracker” form is mainly goal-oriented. In its intended usage, one should write down the important things to achieve for one to be successful in the activity one performs. David chose these goals for his work:

A quick glance to the list reveals two important features: Goals are hierarchized and valued. By separating them in tiers and coloring them, David made it easy to quickly see which goals are more important and focus on those. By assigning points to each tier of goals, he’s established a system of rewards linked to goal hierarchy. Both methods combined create a frame of reference for the user on the value of certain goals compared to others, while still driving him to pursue the higher-scoring ones.

Chunking

When you have a big, dauntingly complex task you need to achieve, it’s easier to cut it in smaller, more manageable tasks. Video games do this naturally: In order to save the world, you first need to kill 3 swamp rats. You can do that right? 3 swamp rats is easy. Once you’re done you can go kill 4 chaos chickens, and when that’s done you can… an so forth.

Where this is most apparent in David Shea’s work is in the way he breaks down time. In most of his time-tracking sheets, time is represented by clustres of 4 bubbles, each bubble representing a 15-minute interval:

Every 15 minutes, you fill a small bubble on the line of the task you’ve been working on. This way a task appears to you not as a three-hour long monolith but more like a series of 15 minutes mini-tasks, allowing you to focus on what needs to be done now instead of always thinking on what you still need to do. Also, according to David, you get a little discharge of accomplishment-related pleasure when you fill a bubble, helping you to stay focused.

Stacking

Stacking is a technique often used in video games to create immersion. By throwing more and more different tasks or things to do at the player, the game overwhelms his judgement, effectively suspending his disbelief. Good examples of this technique are most god-games, like Civilization or Sim City, where usually completing one task generates three new possible tasks.

Of course, in the context of a professional activity, immersion is equivalent to concentration. According to David, stacking occurs naturally along the day. Tasks “emerge” from the result of our work, but also from the natural flow of life. This might have led to the creation of the so-called Emergent Task Planner. By channeling all tasks and “stacking” them on the sheet, your distraction levels should lower as you get “immersed” in the flow of your work.

Feedback loop

Finally, one of the most important aspects of David Seah’s method is the omnipresence of feedback. Every form provides a way, usually through time-bubbles, of visualising the work you’ve accomplished and the progress you’ve made. Through the mechanic of filling time-bubbles for work on a given task, he manages to establish an action-reward loop applied to work. The action of working for 15 minutes and filling a bubble gives a small jolt of pleasure to the user, which in turn will motivate him to put in another 15 minutes of work and fill another bubble. Keep on looping until the task is done, and you’ll be allowed to tick that final “task complete” box, which in turn will motivate you in starting another task…

At the end of the day, you can glance at your sheet and have a snapshot of what you’re accomplished, but also of what you need to do next day (anticipating the staking effect). All this gives you a real sense of progression, allowing you to stay motivated and focused.

I’ve been using the Printable CEO series in various scenarios, at home and at work, with pretty solid results. I guess this is a fine example of game mechanics that have transcended their original medium and escaped into the wild, no longer influencing the way we play, but the way we work.

One thought on “Game design and the Printable CEO

  1. This is a nice analysis of the design work in context with game mechanics. “Stacking” is one that’s new to me. I might argue that instead of “suspending disbelief”, getting them all down instead gives you a “foundation for belief”, creating a concrete structure that you can then view in strategic contemplation. An analogy might be a single-screen platformer or physics-based puzzle game. In multi-screen worlds, where you can’t see everything at once, the Emergent Task Planner is something like the “fog of war” you see in RTS; it allows you to see with clarity your particular bubble of time and allow you to get SOMETHING done, though you may not have the complete strategic picture you wish for.

    Thanks again for this article…s’great!

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