My husband stumbled upon this really awesome website a couple weeks ago. It's called HabitRPG. Basically, it turns your routines, to-do lists, and things you wish you could get yourself to do into a game. You create "dailies," "habits," and "to-do's" for yourself (in real life) and you get rewarded (in-game money and experience) for completing them and penalized (lost in-game health) for skimping out on them. The tasks change color according to how well you're keeping up with them and offer more reward for harder tasks or ones that have been sitting longer on your list, to give you the incentive to stop procrastinating.
Psychologically speaking, the program does a great job:
#1. I'll start with the best part - that Habit allows you to see, in a concrete way, where you're doing well, where you can improve, and how you are improving as you accomplish each task. Seeing progress made is a HUGE motivator and oftentimes it can be hard to see in real life.
#2. The reward system (especially with some of the challenges and achievements), I feel, inspires a longer-term feeling of intrinsic reward in completing tasks. Intrinsic motivation is always stronger than extrinsic (ie. the feeling of a job well done works better than, say, money).
#3. There is a mixture of continuous (given predictably every time a task is completed) and random (given only some of the times a task is completed, and unpredictably so) positive reinforcement. Random rewards actually have really strong reinforcing effects. Really strong.
#4 There is a social system set up for accountability and encouragement through Parties and Guilds. So important. Think Facebook if it were more positive and it inspired you to do stuff in real life. I mean, really, imagine if all of your time spent on Facebook was actually going toward accomplishing real life stuff.
This is one of those things that you can take and run with as far as you want to go. Whatever you're looking for they have, or you can create it (p.s. it's open-source for any coders out there). There are Challenges to participate in, Guilds to join with like-minded individuals pursuing similar goals, and lots of fun little additions to brighten your day. I've actually stopped using my paper planner altogether because this just works better for me. I use Habit's website for my to-do's (and their phone app - which is not as good, but it lets me check things off) and I'm starting to keep dates on Google calendar.
Really - just give it a trial run and see for yourself. You can watch some short videos to better understand what I'm talking about here: #1, #2, #3, #4. And if you want to join our Party (a group of people who go through the "game" together and encourage one another), email me or leave a comment or send a Facebook message or whatever and we would love to have you join us.
(Did I mention there are fun pets? There are fun pets :) )