If I had the same sense of urgency about doing everything else that I have about Animal Crossing, I would get lots more done. For those who don't know, Animal Crossing is a videogame in which you control a character who has just moved into a new town. The town is populated with animals, and the game is mainly focused on interacting with them. You talk to them, do favors for them, and send them mail. The game doesn't have a clear-cut goal, but one objective is to expand your house and decorate it according to some internal rules of the game.
There are many features that make the game either compelling and exciting, or insidious and evil, depending on your point of view, but the most important one is the game clock. When you first start the game, you set the date and time. Thereafter, the game knows what date and time it is, and the game reflects that. If you play in the middle of the night, all of the animals will be sleeping and the store will be closed. Since it is now winter, there is snow on the ground, but since spring is coming soon the snow has started disappearing.
Changes based on the time of day and the seasons make the game interesting, but they aren't what makes the game compelling. What gives the game its urgency is that events are tied to the clock. Characters only appear on certain days and sometimes you will be asked to complete a task at a certain time. Beyond that, every day a different set of items is available. If you're looking for the perfect sofa to match your living room set, you better play every day or you may miss it.
So that's the first thing that gives Animal Crossing its urgency. If you don't play all the time, and at the specific times that the game wants you to play, you'll miss out on things that are crucial within the context of the game.
The next thing that gives the game immediacy, if not urgency, is that there's virtually no planning required. Beyond making sure you're playing when you need to, nothing has to be prepared in advance. If you sit down to play without any clear purpose, things will grab your attention and you can work on them. It's safe to assume that you're always doing the "right" thing, because there are no "wrong" or incorrect things that you can be doing. You can also be assured of making progress regardless of how little time you give the game. If you have five minutes, that's long enough to get something done.
The lack of planning is a major difference from real life. When I first left my job in January, I was operating on the no planning model and was being fairly productive. Since then I've started worrying about when and how I'm going to start making money and the steps I need to take to make that happen, and my productivity has suffered. Rather than the minutes timescale of Animal Crossing or the days timescale of the design work I've done on this blog, I'm now trying to think in terms of months. Where do I have to be in June? What does that mean I have to be working on at the end of March?
Beyond that, the rewards are unclear. What if I get to June, have everything in place, and it doesn't work? Or if I hit some insurmountable obstacle in April? In comparison, if an animal asks a favor of me in the game, it will take a few minutes to complete it, at which point the animal will be happy and I will probably get a piece of furniture as a reward.
Long term thinking is much harder for me. Sometimes it seems that I would rather sit around and do nothing than work on planning things in advance. And there isn't much urgency on a day to day level. If I don't complete this task today, there's always tomorrow.
What I would like to do is develop a way to give my life the same sense of urgency that the game has. Of course, the game is purposely designed for that, while life appears to have no design at all. If I could figure out a way to give my life urgency, I could probably ignore my other plans and just sell that instead.
This isn't intended to be defeatist, just thoughtful. Animal Crossing keeps me coming back. Can I get the rest of my life to keep me coming back the same way? And if not, how do I encourage myself to keep going back anyway?