The Willpower Game


“The primary sign of a well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company.” —Macy Halford

Work is hard. I don’t know if your job is like mine, but if it is, there are times when you just don’t have the “energy” or “ability” to continue your tasks without some kind of break or renewing fuel or something.

For me, my job is mostly like this:

flowchart of my daily work

But the diagram doesn’t really cover why sometimes I feel too lazy or not energetic enough or too daunted by a task to complete or even approach it.

Aside: I’m a problem solver. It’s what I was trained to do, it’s what I’ve learned the hard way to do, and it’s how I get anything ever done. So this isn’t really about a lack of problem solving ability, it’s about motivation.

So that’s where #TheWillpowerGame comes in. As a Game Designer, this fits nicely into my head: there’s some kind of game, a system of rules with a goal that my daily work operates on (for the most part at least), and if I can figure out what the rules are, then maybe I can play the game better.

Here’s the catch: I don’t know what the rules are and furthermore, I barely even know the moves.

But I can at least start documenting my attempt at understanding this game.

The Basics

I seem to have a finite amount of energy to do tasks throughout the day. For the sake of argument, let’s call that “willpower.”

In my case, and in the current setup of Voidspiral’s project structure, I’ve got two pools or scopes of willpower: daily or short-term willpower, and project-wide willpower.

Daily willpower ebbs and flows based on the tasks I have to do that day and what stands in the way of their completion. Some tasks I want to do, while others I’d very much rather not.

Project willpower ebbs and flows based on how connected to the project I feel and how exciting it is for me. It’s also more abstract and hard to describe, define, and analyze.

So at a high level, there are things that I can do that give me willpower, and there are things that I must do that reduce my willpower. Those things may either take meaningful time to complete, take a trivial amount of time, or in rare instances, actually provide a net income of time back into my day.

A Complex Ecosystem

So I spent some time to try to analyze the types of tasks I do, and what their effects are.

A massively complex and interconnected flowchart warning: this is in no way complete.

You can click the chart to open it larger; it is pretty rambling. Sorry that it’s not more clear, but the elements are interrelated in very complex ways that make it multi-dimensional and hard to flatten out clearly.

How it works: Each edge is directed. The arrow points from the thing providing willpower or time to the thing consuming that resource. Some things consume multiple resources, like time and willpower, while other things benefit other tasks rather than resources directly, for example how #automation benefits efficiency but not willpower.

You can see a lot of interesting chains of influence here. I particularly like how jamming the hell out boosts flow state, which in turn boosts efficiency, all of which boost short term willpower. This part of the model rings true for me: I really like listening to music at work, and it’s very important to my day to have good tunes to listen to.


What can I learn from this?

The green items (which I’ll just call “fun things”) isn’t completely accurate, since some of them (side projects, fun things, new projects etc.) don’t show a time cost. I’ll call red items “hard things.”

I can now identify things that are either integral or powerfully helpful by looking for highly-connected elements and chains. For example:

What Can I Learn Here?

Where To Go From Here

I’ve been thinking a bit about taxonomies and ontology lately. Maybe, as complex as it would be, it’d be possible to further refine my definitions and start applying categories to these task types. I’m not sure if that would help me, or just be a fun way to waste some more time.


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