Gamification and Freelance Writing Tasks: An Interview with A.J. O'Connell
Storytelling Communications

Gamification for Freelance Writing Tasks: An Interview with A.J. O’Connell

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Writing this introduction right now earns me three points.

At the beginning of this week, I decided to gamify my freelance writing work. As a serial procrastinator, I’m willing to attempt any new system and see how it works for me. So, when I heard that A.J. O’Connell, a writing colleague, had created a game out of her writing tasks to motivate her through self-employment, I wondered if it may work for me, too.

But what is gamification? O’Connell explains it as “the process of applying any element of games—points, for example—to something that is not a game. If you’re an Audible user, for example, you might notice you get badges for listening to a certain number of audio books, or listening every day at the same time. That’s gamification.”

That doesn’t seem too hard, right? In theory, I would just assign points to all of my writing tasks, and then after completing these items on my to do list, I could cash those points in for whatever prizes I created.

But once I sat down and started to gamify my work, I suddenly felt like I had no clue what I was doing. Was I assigning too many points to too little of a task? What type of prizes would actually motivate me? I needed to learn more about gamification to understand how to put it in practice, so I turned to O’Connell to help me figure it all out.

How did you come to learn about gamification?

Three years ago, I was writing for SkilledUp, a blog about online workforce training. Robert McGuire, my editor at the time, assigned me a series on gamified training because I was nervous about my new content writing career. Robert thought I’d like this assignment because I also write in what I will call the geek space and have written about gaming. After talking to trainers and game designers, I was totally fascinated. By the end of all my interviews, I found myself wondering how to use my new knowledge to help my own career.

What was the driving force behind gamifying your own work?

Like most people who work from home, I can be pretty reclusive. Prospecting was a huge problem for me. I’d be crippled by self-doubt before I could even reach out to a prospect. I knew there were tasks I had to do to be successful, but I couldn’t make myself do them.

So I decided to create an RPG (role-playing game) for myself. I named it The Lance of Freedom (I may have already mentioned that I’m a big nerd). There was a storyline and everything, but the crux of the game was this: I assigned points to all my most difficult tasks. If I got enough points, I could trade them in for prizes.

I love this idea! How would a freelance creative go about assigning points to their own tasks? This, in its own right, seems like a pretty Herculean task.

It’s not as daunting as it seems. I just assign points based on how hard a task is for me. The more difficult something is, the more points I get for completing it. For example, I give myself half a point for completing my daily to-do list because that’s not too hard. But I give myself two points for following up with a prospect because that’s hard for me.

I get points for things like turning work in, contacting people, saying no, and asking for anything. My prizes range from 15 guilt-free minutes on Facebook (5 points) to a full day off (40 points).

Okay, here’s a slightly similar question: How would a freelancer go about figuring out how many points each prize “costs”?

It depends on how much I like doing the thing, and also if it takes me away from my workday. I like to use the point system as both a carrot and a stick. So, watching a video that is not work-related is one point. (I no longer kill time watching videos.) Shopping online during the work day is 10 points because it eats up time and money. But if I’ve had a good week and want to reward myself, I can consciously choose to shop during the work day.

Do you ever notice that you’re getting bored with the game?

Yes! As tasks that were hard for me get easier—because I do them more often—I totally get bored.

So, how do you spice it up?

Well, I revise the points all the time, as I said, but sometimes I also institute a point cap. Because I’ll hoard points and they become meaningless. So I will force myself to spend them so I remember that they have meaning. And also, if I’ve been hoarding points, it usually means I haven’t been doing any self-care, so I do need a day off or a phone call with my mom during work hours.

gamification calling mom during the workday

Image attribution: Chevanon

Does the honor system actually work? How would you suggest someone set themselves up so they don’t cheat?

If you’re drawn to this idea, but you cheat all the time, the points and prizes might need tweaking.

Be willing to change what doesn’t work. Start with a point system you think works and then fine-tune it after a few months. I noticed that I was using some of the points all the time, and other things not at all. So I change mine every six months.

So, are you ready to gamify your freelance writing tasks? Let me know in the comments if this system would work for you.

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Featured image attribution: Matthew Henry

Erin Ollila graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. After a 12+ year career in human resources – specializing in employee health and dental benefits, as well as wellness programs– she's jumped headfirst into digital strategy and content creation. Erin believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She lives in Southeastern Massachusetts, neighboring Providence, Rhode Island, one of her favorite small cities. Learn more about her at www.erinollila.com.

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