Behind the Scenes: Tips for Burnout Prevention and Recovery from the Habitica Team!

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The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!

Hello Habiticans! It’s November, which means we’re right in the thick of the school year and at the start of the rush into the holidays. And after that, we’re into the New Year! How time flies. At times like this, we may find ourselves extra busy, and when we’re extra busy there’s a chance that we may experience the dreaded burnout! In this Behind the Scenes post, some of the Habitica Staff + Mods share their tips and tricks for preventing and recovering from burnout.

Beth, AKA Beffymaroo:

My number one tip is to remember that being overwhelmed shouldn’t be a natural state of being or a state to aspire to. There’s a lot of pressure from different parts of our identities, surroundings, and the people in our lives to be constantly on the go or busy, and then when we actually have a moment where we’re not doing something work-related or “productive”, we feel guilty, like we’re wasting time. You should have moments of quiet, fun, or even just inactivity in your day so you can recharge your body, mind, and soul. Don’t let the “always busy” culture or comparisons with other people make you feel guilty for taking a moment for yourself or for keeping your workload manageable. The time you take for yourself and the boundaries you set for self-care time are an important part of being sustainably functional and productive!

Alys:

Make sure you take regular time off no matter what, and ask for help even when you know the people you’re asking are also busy. Accept that your feelings of burnout are normal and correct. You are meant to feel like this when you have been working too hard. It’s your mind and body’s way of letting you know that changing your processes is necessary to help yourself and to help the people you are doing work/favours/etc for. Also check out Vicky’s post about Meditation.

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Even the bravest bug-smashers need break time!

 

Paglias, AKA Matteo:

I’ve found it super useful not to work after a certain hour in the evening. It’s improved my sleep a lot and together with trying not to work during the weekend, this has really helped with burnout 🙂

Vicky AKA Redphoenix: Things that are on my short list for burnout recovery:

  • Physical workouts. Running, hiking, yoga, calisthenics, helping a friend move, whatever. This is because the next item on my list is
  • Sleep. Burnout for me frequently manifests physically, and one of the issues is that I start not sleeping well. The point at which I realize I need to pull back a little for sustainability is when I basically lose an entire day to sleep recovery.
  • Non-work blackout times. This frequently self-enforces without my consciously noticing it, but I do try to carve out spaces in my day where I tell myself I’m allowed not to be working. Generally applicable tip: Look for activities where you hit flow state, but are not work-related. Then SCHEDULE THEM IN as a non-negotiable obligation, either by putting them on your calendar, or scheduling to meet with a friend, or pulling together the physical supplies you need to do the thing.
  • A Treat. ideally something out of the ordinary. This doesn’t have to be expensive. My favorite little treats for myself have been: dressing up for a gallery show, trying out a new coffeeshop, sub $5 fountain pens. Occasionally, the Treat has been as small as “going outside where I can sit in the sun for a while”.

Leslie AKA Lemoness:

  •  Pay attention to your own personal burnout triggers. Productivity and self-care are very personal things, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Finding a way to keep track of what does and doesn’t work can be useful in developing your own strategies.
  • For me, I have to be cautious about getting too into the zone with work, to the point where I’ll keep working all night, every night. I can handle a few days like this, but long-term, it’s proven to be a recipe for disaster. The way that I combat this on a day-to-day basis is by setting a designated time where there is a very clear break point to stop working — in my case, dinnertime. Then I have someone who can keep me accountable and prevent me from returning to my work afterwards.
  • The time when I have to be the most cautious is actually during the burnout recovery period, when I start feeling energetic again, but my battery has a more limited charge (so to speak). History has shown that I tend to think, “I’m better! Time to massively overcommit again!” and then REALLY wreck myself. This is the equivalent of injuring your ankle and then, after a week of rest, saying, “Hey, I can stand again! Let’s run a marathon this weekend.” Although it can feel frustrating, like you’re holding back your potential, it is critically important to continue your recovery behaviors for longer than you think is necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be out of commission much longer.
  • Finally, if your burnout becomes a long-term, persistent depression, consider seeking help from a professional. There is no shame in reaching out to a mental health professional when you’re suffering, just as there is no shame in going to the doctor when you have pneumonia.
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Don’t let this guy turn you into an Exhaust Spirit!

Sabe AKA SabreCat:

The “take a break” type advice tends to send me into a spiral of doing nothing / doing only recreational-recuperative things. So rather than step back, I prefer to scale down:

  • Reduce sources of pressure and overwhelm. In Habitica, move things from Dailies to Habits wherever possible, and drink a Fortify Potion to blank out the stressful redness. Swap in low-pressure social activities, like board games, for high-pressure ones, like dinner hosting.
  •  Find a minimum comfortable degree of productivity, and stick to that: the “No More Zero Days” approach. Does working the inbox feel crushing and impossible? Resolve to respond to just one message. Too many dirty dishes? Polish one up and put it away. You’ll almost always end up doing more, but getting started won’t feel so frightening.

Keith AKA TheHollidayInn:

Building small habits of doing work daily helps prevent burnout. Slightly counter-intuitive, but for me building coding, reading, etc in small bits to my daily routine outside the 9-5 helps integrate the flow so that I don’t get the feeling of “Oh, it is 9 o’clock, time to change my mindset completely and work hard on problems.”

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We hope these tips and strategies help you prevent burnout, and help you recover if burnout has already taken hold of you! We’d also love to hear your tips, either as comments here on the blog or in the Tavern Chat! Until next time. 🙂

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Behind the Scenes: A Costume-Making Adventure with Beffymaroo!

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!

Hello Habiticans! In this post I’m going to talk a little bit about one of my hobbies, which is costuming.

You may have seen my moderator avatar before, either in my profile or maybe on an image somewhere on the site. Like all the Moderator and Staff avatars, mine was created by the fabulous Lemoness! (Look for an upcoming Behind the Scenes post in the coming months about how she creates the Staff and Mod avatars!) And, also like the other Mod and Staff avatars, the way my avatar appears is based on requests I made, and how Lemoness incorporated those requests.

In my case, when Lemoness asked me if I had any requests for my Mod avatar, I sent along a photo of myself in costume- specifically, a picture of me in costume as a fantasy character I like to dress as at various events.

 

(left photo courtesy of Fantasies Muse Photography)

You can see the resemblance, I’m sure!

Are you interested in creating your own costumes? Here are some tips from what I’ve learned:

  • It’s totally OK to use something pre-existing to create a costume. Making things totally from scratch is great if you have the time and skills, but you can definitely look great using pre-made items. If you’re interested in Renaissance Faires or events like the Masquerade I attended, you can find lots of things you can use as a base just at department stores (particularly if you want to use garments from the womens’ and juniors’ sections) because a sort of Renaissance/Medieval look is in-style right now (I’m guessing this is Game of Thrones-related). Thrift stores also can have some great hidden gems if you have time to hunt for them.
  • The internet also never ceases to amaze me with what you can find. It’s easier than ever to get wings, prosthetics, special-effect makeup, lights, pre-made embroidery, and all sorts of fun things by searching Amazon and other sites. If you see me around Habitica, feel free to ask for recommendations!
  • If you get a pre-made garment, item, or prop, try dressing it up with your own touches to make it unique! Try adding paint, jewels, flowers, or hemming it to a length you like, or anything! You’ll stand out from the crowd.
  • Never be afraid to try something new. When I came up with the plan for this costume, I was pretty intimidated because it was all things I’d never tried before or was new at, such as dyeing and wiring lights into a garment. Definitely take it slow and be careful, especially with expensive materials, but don’t let fear of failure keep you from trying!
  • Join a group or community of fellow costumers/garment makers. It’s awesome to have support and folks that you can come to with questions (or people who can re-wire you when something breaks…). Maybe you have crafty friends, or maybe your community center or school has sewing or crafting hobby groups or classes you can meet up with. Habitica also has some wonderful Guilds you can join! Check out The Seamstress Collective or  Cosplay and Costuming.

If you are interested in how I create costumes, read on for a step-by-step adventure with me as I made a very special outfit for a big event!

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The costume I created for Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade. Image courtesy of Fantasies Muse Photography

This year, I decided to attend the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball, a huge costume ball held in Los Angeles each year. I had many friends who had attended in the past, and it sounded like something I’d really enjoy. Plus, it gave me a chance to try a fancier costume! Most of the things I have are designed for outdoor events where they may get dirty, or where I will probably be way too warm all the time and will sweat a lot. Hence, they tend to be things that are light, easy to wash, and made of natural fibers. A masquerade ball indoors, at night, at a hotel, definitely opened up some new possibilities.

For some time I’d wanted to try something with LED lights- they’re getting cheaper and easier to find these days, especially with small and easy-to-conceal battery packs. At some point this idea clicked together with my bridesmaid’s dress from my brother’s wedding in May. It had layers of mesh, which provided some interesting possibilities for adding lights.

I decided I wanted to dye the dress a darker green, attach flowers to the mesh layers to create a floaty and fun classic fairy look, and then wire in the lights. I wanted the lights to shine through the flowers, so it appeared that the flowers themselves were illuminated. I also wanted to create matching accessories for my hair to unify the look.

So, first things first! I acquired my supplies:

-Dress (a rather expensive one at that, but I guess the conceit with bridesmaid dresses is that you’re never going to wear them again, so any re-use is a win, right?)

-Green dye (as this dress was polyester, a dye specially made for artificial fabrics was needed- you can find these at most craft and fabric stores)

-Lots’ o silk flowers!

 

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They’re surprisingly expensive if you’re picky about realism.

-I also supplemented the flowers with feather butterflies for even more magical fae vibe.

-stiff felt or other backing for hair accessories

-strong clips for the hair accessories

-Multicolored LED lights, lots of them!

 

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Fingers shown for scale
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Cat shown for scale

The very first thing I did was dye the dress. Dyeing artificial fabric takes a long time and has to be done over the stove, so it was quite an undertaking.

The next step, unfortunately, was a LOT of very gentle, careful ironing on a very low setting. The dyeing process had wrinkled the dress a lot. Polyester is by definition a wrinkle-free fabric, so once you get wrinkles in they don’t want to come out! If you encounter this situation I recommend extreme caution (and research) to avoid burning or melting delicate fabrics.

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Duct tape: never overrated.

Next, it was time to attach flowers! In order to have the dress hang similarly to the way it would fit on me, I rigged up a homemade dressmaker’s dummy from a duct-tape form of my torso stuffed with a pillow, a chair, and a few dowels.. It looked weird, but it worked! If you are doing costuming and would like a dressmaker’s dummy, but don’t have the money or space for one, I highly recommend trying out the duct-tape dress form technique (you can google to find lots of tutorials for this!). A duct-tape dress form can also be a great addition to a traditional dressmaker’s dummy if you want it to be more customized to your shape.

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At this stage my Instagram captions became increasingly ridiculous.

I planned out the shape of where the flowers and butterflies would go more or less in my head and started to pin them to the netting layers. After pinning a half-dozen or so, I’d hand sew each flower on with thread that approximately matched them in color. Does that sound tedious? Because let me tell you, a hundred or so flowers in, it was.

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It’s all fun and games until your fingers start getting sore.

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Now the fun part: wiring in the lights! I cut small holes from the inside of the dress through the solid layer so I could snake the wire with the LED lights through. As I positioned the wire, I sewed the wire to the netting layers so it would stay up and hold its shape.

 

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Photography in dark closets was another skill set I developed in this process.

Finally, wowee! A light-up dress!! Time to accessorize.

I created the hair accessories by attaching lights to stiff fabric backings attached to strong clips with hot glue. Then I added flowers and butterflies on top (with more hot glue!) so the lights would shine through them. Each one had a battery pack on the back of the piece where I could switch them on and off, and even put in new batteries if needed.

The very last thing I did was wire more colored lights around my antlers so they would also light up.

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Yet more selfies in dark closets. Good times.

All in all I estimate that all of this, not including shopping time, took about 40-50 hours.  And if you’re wondering, yes, when I checked off my checklist To-Do for making this outfit, I got a LOT of XP. 😉

As you might imagine, I was very excited to share the results of my work at the ball! But [dramatic music] there was one more trial ahead!

As I put the dress on the night of the ball, one of the battery packs snapped off the wiring! [cue Scream emoji] My friends Michael and Ale stopped their own getting-ready processes and actually wired both sets together to one battery pack! Using a grooming kit and sewing scissors, they stripped the wires, twisted them together, and then we insulated them with band-aids and doused them in hot glue for security. I can’t even convey how lucky I am to have such caring friends with awesome MacGuyver-like skills!

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After this very tense moment and happy resolution, I was finally time to share the outfit by wearing it to the ball! I was super proud of my creation, and had a great time with my friends enjoying the fantasy scene and admiring the beautiful costume and makeup work of all the other folks in attendance! If you’d like to see more of these fantastic outfits for yourself, you can find a gallery from this year’s event here.  And if you ever get a chance to go to this event or another masquerade ball, definitely do!

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While I still consider myself a novice in the world of sewing and costume, I hope my discussion of one costume-making process and the tips I’ve given here inspire you to look into the subject for yourself! I’d love to see you all posting about your projects on Habitica! And let me know if you enjoyed this post! If there’s further interest I’d like to make more posts about sewing, crafting, and fantasy costuming.

Behind the Scenes: Habitica at Comic-Con

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The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!

Hello Habiticans! If you’re on any form of social media and/or are a devoted fan of movies, TV, video games, or comics, you may have heard a thing or two about San Diego Comic-Con over the past few weeks! San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC for short) is a huge event dedicated to geeky pop-culture fun in all its forms. And, as staff members of a productivity RPG and devoted geeks, Habitica’s Lemoness (aka Leslie), Redphoenix (aka Vicky) ,and Beffymaroo (aka Beth) were there to represent. On our agenda: networking, attending relevant panels, our Habitica meetup, and having a good time!

San Diegan Beth happily hosted Vicky and Leslie at her apartment.

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The real head of the household, Beauford, also approved of the guests- especially Leslie.

In addition to providing sleeping and chilling space, the apartment was ground zero for Operation We-Need-a-Banner-for-Our-Meetup.

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Vicky carefully measures out the right amount of Royal Purple fabric, surrounded by Beth’s many miscellaneous craft supplies and, of course, cat toys.
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Beth works on sewing the banner. Note the important supplies: Scissors, pins, a saw, and most importantly, tea.
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Beauford shows off a new accessory she acquired in the banner-making process, the Official Habitica Royal Purple Cat Kerchief™. Official Royal Purple Gryphon Cat Helms™ are still in development.
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Hey look! A banner. Something is missing, though…
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Yeah, that’s the ticket! Thanks to designer piyorii (aka Sara!) for sending us a great Melior stencil template.
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Now to paint the stencil! Note Beauford loafing nearby, showing off her new accessory while letting Leslie and Beth do the hard work.
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After a day or so of drying, the time has come for the big reveal!
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Ta-da! (note that on an official level Habitica does not endorse standing barefoot near cacti, no matter how cute they are)

When they weren’t hard at work preparing for the Habitica Meetup, Vicky, Leslie, and Beth attended a variety of panels and events, some about relevant super-serious business, some about media they enjoy, and some about exciting topics such as cosplay!

One event that Beth, Leslie, and Vicky attended was the Viking Funeral on San Diego Bay to commemorate the passing of a character from the History Channel’s show “Vikings” (no actual deceased people were involved, just a mannequin and a boat). Beth and her partner Mike attended with the Viking Guild they belong to, the Guardians of Midgard, and were lucky enough to be a part of the festivities!

 

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Can you spot Beth?
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A photo Vicky fondly calls “Viking Gothic”
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Meanwhile, Leslie fields important questions.

On Saturday Beth, Vicky, and Leslie scooped up a choice spot at a hotel lobby near the convention for the official Habitica Meetup! What a view!

 

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Staying classy in San Diego, indeed.

We really enjoyed meeting and talking with the Habiticans who attended, so a big shout-out to those who stopped by! We hope that you enjoy your promo codes and gryphon stickers 🙂

Finally, what discussion of Comic-Con would be complete without talking about cosplay? There were an amazing number of talented crafters, costumers, and fans who wowed the Habitica crew with their amazing interpretations of some favorite characters!

 

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Overall, we had a real blast, and we’d love to see some of you there next year at the SDCC 2018 Habitica meetup! Until then, we hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our Comic-Con experience.

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Behind the Scenes: Spotlight on King Manta

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Today we’re doing something a little different — we’re expanding on the fictional world of Habitica by spotlighting one of the characters who commonly crops up. Enjoy!

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Becoming one of Habitica’s Masterclassers is often described as a “transformative experience,” but for the Master of Mages, the transformation became much more literal. King Manta is currently renowned as the benevolent merman who rules the undersea city of Dilatory, but his life started out quite differently.

Backstory

Born Prince Adamant I of Dilatory, he quickly became known for being a jolly, highly creative mage of prodigious talent, who was constantly weaving together spells in new and interesting ways. One of his most unconventional moves was spending time studying the natural magic of the Mantis Shrimps that surrounded their island city. King Adamant even helped craft new spells with them, including one that transformed him temporarily into a merman. Because of his prowess, he was offered the post of Master of Mages, and he heartily accepted.

Unfortunately, King Adamant was so stubbornly focused on his magical work that he let many of his other To-dos lie neglected. The citizens of Dilatory followed their leader’s example, and soon the streets were laden with Dark Red To-dos. Their bright color attracted an ancient, hungry predator from the deep: the fearsome Dread Drag’on of Dilatory. Its first vicious flurry of attacks struck the cliffs beneath Dilatory, and the entire city crumbled into the sea.

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Hah, that monster doesn’t seem so tough… until you realize that it’s five miles away.

Though all seemed lost, the Mantis Shrimps moved to save the citizens. They combined King Adamant’s transformation spell with their natural magic to enchant the waters around Dilatory so that all the people were metamorphosed into merfolk. Seeing what had befallen his city, King Adamant rallied all of his skill and power into battling the Dread Drag’on. As it chased them into a deep crevasse, King Adamant hurled spells at the monster each time it lunged for the citizens, but the Drag’on’s innate healing abilities left them at an impasse. Realizing that massive reinforcements would be critical to defeat the creature, King Adamant also wove a powerful sorcery that greatly slowed time within the crevasse, allowing years to speed past unnoticed. He triggered the spell to break only when help was available.

And finally, help did arrive. Hundreds of thousands of brave Habiticans rallied together to defeat the vicious Dread Drag’on in battle, freeing the citizens of Dilatory at last. Despite this, most of the citizens of Dilatory decided to remain together in their undersea city, and King Adamant changed his name to King Manta to renounce the stubbornness that had endangered his people and instead honor the Mantis Shrimps who had helped to protect them. He now rules their undersea city wisely, and the Dilatorians welcome the Habiticans into their city every Summer Splash gala. Thanks to King Manta’s spells, Habiticans and Dilatorians can transform back and forth simply by swimming into or stepping out of the enchanted waters.

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Meet some of the many denizens of Dilatory!

Personal Life

Most of the time, King Manta can be found in the throne room of the castle of Dilatory, overseeing issues brought to him by his people. Despite that, his work as the Master of Mages requires him to constantly monitor the underlying magic of Habitica to ensure that it is always growing and thriving, so he has been known to travel all across the land.

During his travels, he often visits the other Masterclassers. He’s close friends with the Joyful Reaper, who is old enough that she remembers him from the ancient times when Dilatory was above the waves. He has also bonded with Lady Glaciate over their shared love of interesting creatures, and was impressed when she managed to single-handedly saddle and ride the Kraken of Inkomplete, leading to a particularly unforgettable round of the Dilatory Derby.  His relationship with the April Fool is akin to that of an amused grandfather, and he often assures everyone that the lad means no harm. The astute have tartly noted, however, that his domain in Dilatory is the one area of Habitica that is mysteriously unaffected by any of the Rogue’s magic pranks, almost as if not a single spell is able to take hold.

King Manta is known to dote upon his adopted daughter Advantageous (known as Adva for short). He frets about her too, however, particularly after the frightening incident when she was mysteriously possessed. She has shown a burgeoning skill at magic herself, and he hopes that someday she will be named the Master of Mages after him.

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Adva is much nicer without that cursed necklace!

When he’s not consulting with his Mantis Shrimps or inventing exciting new spells that test the limits of magic, King Manta can be found curling up in Dilatory’s enchanted underwater library with a good book. “Luckily, I had waterproofed the entire collection,” he’ll explain to anyone who asks. “Actually, they’re also enchanted against fire, mold, pests, thieves, stabbing, and even inappropriate citations. Frankly, you could wield them in battle! But please don’t.”

We hope that you enjoyed this month’s spotlight! Read more about the other Masterclassers of Habitica here, and stay tuned for more in the future.

Behind the Scenes: Habitica House!

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!

Some of you might remember that last year the Habitica Staff took a Southern California roadtrip for work, bonding, and a touch of shenanigans. This year, with two new members on staff, the team decided it was time for another get-together.

Staff members came from far and wide. Vicky, Leslie, and Beth, the Californians of the group,  rounded up our more far-flung colleagues: Matteo, from Italy; Phillip from Germany; Alys from Australia; Sabe from Wisconsin; and Keith from Texas!

In two cars (the “fun bagel car” and “the spaceship”) we all journeyed into the desert. We hoped to get some work done, but also to have a good time and bond as a team.

First, we made a stop for supplies. You can see that we kept our priorities very practical.

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Phillip spent much of the retreat in a fearless quest to taste test every possible peanut butter and chocolate product available.
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Alas, the T-Rex cookie jar and the pizza slice pool float did not make the final cut.

Once at the house, we took some time to unpack the sensible items we had all brought for the trip.

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The force is strong with Alys! She’s demoing a cool lightsaber her housemate made!
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Leslie and Beth took the time to personalize the shower curtain purchased for the ladies’ powder room in grand Habitican fashion.
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We perched on the house’s many couches and worked away for the majority of the super hot daytime hours. Imagine, if you will, the soothing sound of eight keyboards softly clicking.
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When discussing exciting new features, things occasionally moved to the carpet. In lieu of toy cars, remote controls served as placement markers!
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We had a meeting with several of our fabulous designers to discuss exciting new features coming to the site and apps! This meeting, however, came to a sudden stop…
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…when the staff spied a road runner on the patio! However, we did not see a coyote in pursuit, nor we did experience the deployment of any Acme products.

Although we spent a lot of time focusing on work, we definitely took time to enjoy ourselves.

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Keith proved himself a worthy Grill Master (as a Texan apparently this comes naturally!) and Vicky introduced us all to the exciting world of grilled fruit.
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We enjoyed the fresh desert air while having lunch al fresco!
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Some team members took a night hike in Joshua Tree National Park! We had a lot of fun exploring the desert with its eerie Joshua trees, beautiful plants, and rock formations.
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This wouldn’t be a proper gathering of Habitica staff members without some silliness. And animal hats are exactly the kind of silliness we appreciate. Beth, Leslie, and Vicky are getting in the mood for the Summer Splash Gala!
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Although arguably Matteo found the best hat. Flying Pig for the win!
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As the retreat drew to a close, we stopped for a peaceful picnic in a scenic canyon oasis.

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All in all we had a wonderful time, filled with jokes, exotic chocolates, delicious food, desert scenery, and great company. You can check out our Tweets and Instagram posts from the retreat for more fun- search the hashtag HabiticaHouse!

Until next time! 🙂

Establishing a Meditation Habit in 60 Seconds per Day (or Less!)

Hello friends! It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and while behind-the-scenes posts usually cover some aspect of how HabitRPG, Inc. runs as a company, I’ve had several conversations with both friends and business contacts about how I established my meditation practice. It’s been a stressful year in a lot of ways, and meditation plays a critical role in making sure I don’t run out screaming into the night, never to return. This post is for those of you who’ve added a “Meditation” daily to your Habitica tasks, but haven’t quite managed to make it stick. Without further ado….

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Why meditate? An introduction:

Before getting deep into the “how,” let’s begin with the “why.” There’s plenty out there about the benefits of meditation and why you should start. Wikipedia has an overview, the Buffer blog has an excellent post breaking down some of the physiological effects of a meditation practice, and finally, Chade Meng Tan’s book, Search Inside Yourself, covers a lot of the science and applications of a mindfulness based stress reduction practice, particularly in the workplace.

Some benefits that I’ve experienced personally since establishing a regular meditation practice:

  • I can offset the effects of sleep deprivation if I take time to meditate, i.e. if I should have gotten 90 minutes more sleep, taking 20 minutes or so to observe my breathing helps balance out some of the crankiness and the tendency to overreact to things.
  • It’s easier for me to recognize when my brain is basically a barrel of monkeys and take action to mitigate it or redirect my attention towards high-energy, low-cognitive load tasks.
  • I’m better at engaging with people and being patient with them even as my first reaction is a negative one, like irritation, or annoyance. (Not perfect, but improved.)

For the remainder of this post I’ll be operating under the assumption that you know meditation is a thing, and you want to do that thing! Only you haven’t quite yet cracked the “how” of it and the daily is starting to go dark red.

The “How” of Meditating:

There are plenty of different types of meditation. Here, I focus on mindfulness meditation. (Technically, “mindfulness based stress reduction” pioneered for the secular corporate world by people like Jon Kabat-Zinn. Whatever title works for you!)

Basic Technique: Make yourself comfortable, whether standing, seated, or lying down. Focus on your breath. You know how to breathe! Keep breathing. That’s all: one breath in, one breath out.

Too simple to be true? Yes, in a way–when it comes down to it, a breath isn’t necessarily a straightforward thing.

  • It has stages: when you inhale, when you hit the top of your inhale for a split second before pushing all the air out of your lungs, when you exhale, when you hit bottom of the breath but aren’t ready to inhale yet.
  • It has qualities: the temperature of the ambient air. The speed at which you’re breathing. Whether you’re inhaling through both nostrils equally, or one side more than the other (hooray, allergies). If your breath hits the back of your throat, or hovers somewhere above the roof of your mouth.
  • It has physiological effects: If you’re breathing too fast, you get lightheaded (and maybe should slow down a bit). Your chest may raise and lower, or your belly.

While you’re in a meditation session, you want to pay attention to your breath. I think of meditation as “dedicated time to get better at feeling myself breathe” and spend my session trying to pay attention to the above sensations.

 

One breath in, one breath out.

 

Repeat as necessary.

 

Next level:

I’m going to assume you managed the aforementioned just fine. If that’s all you need, you can stop reading here and count it as a session! For others, that’s not enough–you don’t feel like you’re meditating yet. Keep reading.

One full breath-cycle of an inhale/exhale takes me about 10 seconds. It might take you longer, or you may breathe faster and require less time. In any case, you can manage a focused meditation session of one breath-cycle now, so your next stage is 3 cycles of breathing and breathing out. Doable, yes?

Now you’re ready for a minute-long meditation session. This is usually where people start feeling a bit daunted, especially if they’ve been trying and failing to build a sustained meditation practice. But if you think about it, a minute breaks down into roughly 5 or 6 cycles. My suggestion, when you’re at this level, is to use a timer–I like Calm, which is beautiful and has timers available in a web browser at : https://www.calm.com/meditate/program/Htq1PUleuW or in their apps for iOS and Android. But you can really use any timer of your choice. I personally gravitate towards soft bells to announce the end of a session, but there are plenty of other options.

Remember, the technique is: one breath in, one breath out.

Then repeat 4-8 times, however many breath-cycles it takes for the 1 minute timer to ring.

If you’re human (I hope you’re human! I’m pretty sure I’m not qualified to talk about how meditation works for non-humans) your brain is going to be bouncing all over the place like kittens being lined up for a photograph.

Don’t worry; that’s normal. Just notice it–and by “notice it” basically do the mental equivalent of nodding at someone in the hall like “oh hey, I see you” and continue on to your business. In this case, your business is BREATHING LIKE A CHAMP. (Seriously. Not dead? YOU WIN AT BREATHING.)

When the timer goes off, that’s it! Congratulations, you’ve completed a 1 minute meditation session. That’s really all you need to build the habit–a spare sixty seconds per day to ride your breath.

Moving beyond the 1 minute meditation session

At this point, you’re either nicely settled into the 1 minute meditations and feeling like you could take on more time because the sessions are too short, or you find yourself wondering when the timer will go off. There are a couple of different choices you could make here, all of which are equally valid:

  1. If you feel ready for more time, increment the session length. Calm’s timer intervals go 1, 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 minutes (…etc. Calm also does an 8 hour timed meditation that I suspect is more for sleep than for actual meditation). Consider this the “check-in” method. Doesn’t matter if you managed to have a focused session or you find yourself ten million miles away when the bell chimes. I have seen comments like “It’s called meditation _practice_, not meditation perfect” which is kind of a dad joke but also true.
  2. If you keep thinking “are we done yet?” try replacing the timer with a stopwatch. That is, instead of having something count down from an arbitrary period of time, have it count up–and give yourself permission to finish your session when you feel done. This was a trick I used to get myself to sit for my first sessions that were longer than 10 minutes. It is also useful because it lets you get a feel for what the best sessions could be like, when you get into the flow of returning to the breath and aren’t worrying about when the timer will go off.
  3. Try the stopwatch, but with intermediary chimes. Calm has an “open ended meditation” feature that lets you choose intervals for a bell to chime. The intervals are useful reminders to check in on where you are–are you watching your breath? (In my case, hardly ever–and the chimes are a cue for me to get back on track.) However, Calm’s intervals are set at 2 minute lengths. If 2 minutes is too long, Spotify (free!) has an album that does 10 minute sessions in shorter intervals:

    .

Troubleshooting your meditation session:

Posture: Classical meditation has the practitioner sitting cross-legged, often on a pillow. If you can do that, great! If you can’t, great! You can also meditate while sitting in a normal chair, which helps decrease the likelihood that you’ll finish your meditation session and realize that your feet have fallen asleep. If you have terrible posture and sitting for meditation causes you stress, try lying down and doing your session that way! (I usually assume the corpse pose from yoga: feet relaxed apart from each other, hands a little ways out from the body with palms facing skyward, chin relaxed but lifted for easy breathing.)

Falling Asleep: Sometimes you might drift off while sitting quietly. If it’s chronic sleep deprivation, consider whether or not your time might be better spent sleeping rather than meditating. If you choose to tackle meditation, ramp up your sitting times slowly, or rely on the frequency bells as an outside reminder to bring your attention back to your breath.

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It happens to the best of us. Fanart by Promsien (deviantArt)

All the monkeys in the brain: normal. Carry on as before: note that there are monkeys, then refocus on the breath.

A word on habit-building:

These days I meditate much the same way I drink water: usually at the beginning and end of the day, plus when I feel like I need to. To incorporate a regular meditation session into your routine, it’s easiest to schedule it before or after something you already do regularly–after sitting up in bed, before you log on to your computer, or after a meal. Don’t forget to reward yourself afterwards! Perhaps by checking off your “Meditation” Daily in Habitica?

What are your strategies for making meditation work for you? We’d love to hear them!

Behind the Scenes: Spotlight on the April Fool

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Today we’re doing something a little different — we’re expanding on the fictional world of Habitica by spotlighting one of the characters who commonly crops up. Enjoy!

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None of Habitica’s four Masterclassers is as famous — or as frustrating — as the lovable scoundrel who calls himself the April Fool. It’s true that the Master of Rogues may seem elusive and lazy, but there are hidden depths beneath his cheeky exterior.

Backstory

Very little is known about the April Fool’s past, and it might be tempting to assume that the flippant young man simply sprang out of the mist surrounding his floating city. Certainly when he first sailed across the borders of Habitica on some enchanted clouds, he was subject to considerable suspicion. What use was this layabout in the land of productivity?

Interestingly, it was the oldest and hardest-working of the Masterclassers, the Joyful Reaper, who first advocated in the Fool’s favor. When the Fool’s illusory skills inverted all of the domain’s major landmarks, the Joyful Reaper declared that she hadn’t laughed so much for a century, and encouraged Habiticans to embrace the opportunity for fun. (And if she noted any resemblance between the Fool and young Assiduous Fuss, the long-lost heir to the Flourishing Fields‘ most upright and uptight family… Well. For a skeleton, the Joyful Reaper can be surprisingly close-lipped.)

Eventually, Lemoness and Redphoenix struck a compromise with the Fool: he could continue his entertaining pranks if he contained the majority of his mirth to a single day. Since then, he has distracted and delighted us every year during the Spring Fling gala.

When asked about his greatest success, the April Fool tends to proclaim that his most recent prank has surpassed all his others. Indeed, he has only ever been ashamed of one: the shenanigans that lead up to the attack of the Be-Wilder. Other than that “minor mistake,” he insists that he has been “a paragon of perfect taste.” Whether or not you agree, most Habiticans can point at a favorite prank.

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The Time Travelers frequently revisit their own favorite April Fool’s Day.

Personal Life

When he isn’t causing havoc, the April Fool lives in the city of Mistiflying. He likes to drift over Habitica’s various domains, although some have noted that he avoids the Flourishing Fields — dare we say it — assiduously.

More often than not, Mistiflying hovers over the Stoïkalm Steppes, since the April Fool is engaged in a highly enthusiastic (and occasionally combative) courtship with Lady Glaciate of the Mammoth Riders. Though the brusque Master of Warriors may seem like an improbable match for the Fool, he spends a considerable amount of time concocting wildly over-the-top plans to win her love — and she spends a considerable amount of time rescuing him when those plans go dramatically awry. Both claim to be in it solely for the amicable bickering, but their compatriots are not convinced.

Within the city of Mistiflying, the April Fool is constantly renovating his house, since his boredom drives him to constant creative heights. One week’s flashy cottage may be next week’s towering castle. The only constancy is the April Fool’s ridiculous use of rainbow palettes. Although he favors bright hues for his artwork, his apparel, and even his hair, the April Fool’s favorite color is secretly a mundane shade of dark brown: the color of Lady Glaciate’s eyes.

Some of the April Fool’s favorite hobbies include card-playing, karaoke, and keeping his citizens entertained. The messenger-mages of Mistiflying admit that their ruler is capricious, but insist that variety is the spice of life. “Just yesterday, he got all the Mistiflies to switch our latest mail deliveries with freshly-baked pizzas,” one messenger said. “I mean, our routes are terribly delayed now, but the pizza was delicious, and there’s something to be said about that.”
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We hope that you enjoyed this month’s spotlight! Read more about the other Masterclassers of Habitica here, and stay tuned for more in the future.

Behind the Scenes: Apps We Use

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Illustration by JessicaChase

 

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!

As you might guess, the Habitica Staff puts the Habitica app at the top of the list when we think of our favorite and most-used apps, but today we thought we’d share some of the other apps we use. Some are other productivity tools, some are educational, and some are just fun! We hope you enjoy our list, and that it helps you discover some new and helpful apps for your own use!

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Beth, AKA Beffymaroo:  “I have a lot of fairly mainstream apps on my phone for the most part, but a surprisingly useful one I have that’s not as common is Luna Solaria (Android, iOS; free) It has info on the Sun and Moon’s rotational and orbital (in the case of the Moon) cycles relative to the Earth- so when someone looks up and says, ‘Oh hey, is that a full Moon?’ I can easily confirm or deny. Also handy for finding exact sunset/sunrise times! :)”

Phillip, AKA viirus: PCalc (iOS; $6.99). Because next to being a calculator, it’s also super handy for unit conversion and you can fully customize the UI to contain the features you want with one tap.”

Vicky, AKA redphoenix: “Brain.fm (Web, iOS; 7 sessions free, then subscription)  counteracts noisy working environments. There’s one track that makes me nauseous and their ‘classical music’ option is distracting because my brain keeps trying to break down it into the harpsichord part and other components, but otherwise it’s been very effective for kicking off a hard focus session when it’s not possible to get a completely distraction-free environment. Also, their sleep tracks have been effective in helping me get to sleep in strange new places.”

Leslie, AKA Lemoness: “My favorite non-Habitica app on my phone is Overdrive (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Kindle; free)! My work schedule is tight, so I’ve come to rely on audiobooks to fill my life with stories even when I don’t have time to curl up with a novel. Overdrive lets me check out audiobooks from my local library and download them on to my phone with a single tap. (If your own local library doesn’t use Overdrive, they may still use a similar app, so be sure to ask them.) Nothing’s better than listening to epic battle sequences while I prep Habitica’s pixel art! I can’t recommend it highly enough.”

Sabe, AKA SabreCat: Sleep as Android  (Android; free) is my alarm clock of choice. It provides soothing sounds to help me go to sleep, and when it’s time to get up, I have to get all the way downstairs to the office and scan a QR code on the wall to silence the alarm!”

Matteo, AKA Paglias:  “Lately I’ve decided to get serious about tracking my expenses and after a long search I’ve settled on Wallet (Android, iOS; free). It’s a spending tracker with tons of features like budgets, recurring expenses and so on, but what I like the most is that despite all the features it’s very easy and quick to use. It would be great to integrate it with Habitica if they introduce an API one day.”

Keith, AKA TheHollidayInn: “Duolingo (iOS, Android, Windows Phone; free) is an app that is in my daily routine – as a Habitica daily, of course. While I spend all day speaking to computers, it is nice to learn human languages as well 🙂 ”

We hope we’ve given you some ideas for more apps that can help you in the goals you’re using Habitica to reach (or are just plain fun!)! See you next time. 🙂

BEHIND THE SCENES: Our Beloved Pets

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!
Many of you have seen our fancy pixel pets on display next to our avatars, but in honor of today’s love-filled holiday, we wanted to show you some of the real-life pets that we adore. Enjoy!

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Autumn frequently uses Stealth, so it can be tough for Sabe to capture a photo.
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On the other hand, Sabe’s dog Menchi is a more outgoing adventurer…
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…as is Watson the Basenji! (Elementary, my dear pup!)
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It’s fitting that Verily the cat is so fond of decorations, since her owner is Leslie, the Seasonal Sorceress!
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Verily is always on the alert for new ways to earn gold and experience…
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…and never misses the opportunity to battle a Boss!
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Meanwhile, Vicky’s dog, Ruby, is thrilled at the prospect of checking off her “Exercise” Daily with an awesome hike.
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Since brain is just as important as brawn, Ruby also makes sure to spend time organizing her tasks…. her tasty, tasty tasks.
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After a hard day improving your Strength, Intelligence, and Perception, don’t forget to get plenty of rest to boost your Constitution!
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Phillip’s cat Muffin is a constant coding companion…
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…even when he falls asleep on the job!
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Keith’s dog Izzy is eager to meet you 😛
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Plus, his cats Talulah and Pilgrim know that being in a Party with friends is a great way to stay accountable to your tasks… even when your only To-Do is “Sit on the Rug.”
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Beth’s cat Beauford has lots of Dailies, including “Test Pillow Softness”…
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…”Play Sports”….
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…and even “Model on the Catwalk!” (Believe it or not, Beth made that bandanna herself.)
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Alys’ cat Anya might need to add “Studied Reading Comprehension” to her Dailies, but at least Kissy the dog can click the (+) on her “Sharing Graciously” Habit!
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Meanwhile, Alys’ cat Ben is prepared to leap into battle, dragons or no.
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Cantras’ dog Alvin says, “Don’t let anyone make you feel silly about the stuff you love! Even if you love a ball wrapped in an old sock.”
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Alvin also wants you to know that when your tasks are hard, you should never be afraid to ask for help.
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Megan’s cat Taz doesn’t even WANT to look at all those dark red To-Dos!
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Meanwhile, Megan’s other cat, Casper, shows us that he knows quite a few tricks, including rolling over for kibbles!
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Hulk the bunny needs to consult with her owner, shanaqui, about which class to choose. Should she be a Rogue, since she’s so good at disguise?
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Or should she be a Mage, since she’s so good at studying?
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This is too exhausting for Hulk. Time to Rest in the Inn.

We hope that you enjoyed meeting our real-world companions 🙂 Even though none of them are Gold, Red, or Cotton Candy Blue, they make up a spectacular menagerie.

Until next time!

BEHIND THE SCENES: Habitica Staff New Year’s Resolutions!

The “Behind The Scenes” series is a chance for us to give you a glimpse into the inner workings of HabitRPG, Inc., the company that makes Habitica. Every so often, we’ll treat you to some silly staff shenanigans or show you the work that goes into your favorite features. Enjoy!

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2016 is behind us, and that means that it’s the season for New Year’s Resolutions! Since we’re all working on planning out our goals, we figured that we should let you in on the fun. Besides, this post means that we’re all eligible for the new Official Habitica New Years Resolution Challenge!  If you want a chance at being one of the five users to win 15 gems, you should definitely check it out.

So without further ado, here are the staff’s #HabiticaResolutions!

Leslie, AKA Lemoness:
“I want to get better at staying in touch with my long-distance friends! I’m hoping to build more frequent communication into my schedule. I’m making:

* A positive Habit for reaching out
*A Daily that repeats once a week, on the weekends.”

Sabe, AKA SabreCat:

“My 2017 goal is to drastically reduce the amount of time I spend on video games and social media. To that end, I have:

* A Daily, “No video gaming or recreational Internet”, active Monday-Saturday. Sunday is my cheat day!
* A + Habit “Resist a gaming or social media impulse”
* A – Habit “Fail to resist a gaming or social media impulse”. (I like splitting up + and – Habits so they return to yellow over time.)

It’s already leading to good results on my existing tasks, like the Habits ‘Pomodoro of focused effort’ and Reading, per chapter!'”

Keith, AKA TheHollidayInn:

 

“My 2017 goal is to finish 3 open source projects of my own (I’m terrible at posting my own stuff). 2 code and 1 hardware/code. To accomplish this goal:

*I have a ‘weekly setup daily’ which has the three project items as a check list.
*I then build out 3 todos every Sunday – one for each project. Then, it is my goal to complete those todos before the next week.”

Vicky, AKA redphoenix:

“My 2017 resolution is to go out and have new experiences at least once a month!

I’ve set a Daily for this resolution to pop up every Sunday as part of my weekly reflection, with four checklist items that I’d rotate through depending on where I was in the cycle. Here’s what it looks like:
Do A New Thing!
* Wk A: Research and Pick the next Thing
* Wk B: Plan the Trip
* Wk C: Do The Thing!
* Wk D: Debrief and brainstorm other New Things to do

(Can you tell that I’m as anxious for Monthlies as everyone else??)”

Phillip, AKA viirus:

“My 2017 goal is to be able to run a half marathon by fall. I won’t participate in one, but I want to be able to run the distance by then. As a stretch goal, getting below 2 hrs would be awesome, but not sure if I’d make that.
* A daily on 3 days a week to go for a run
* A positive habit, that I score when a run went particularly well
* One todo each for running 5k, 10 and then 21k”

Wish us luck!