We all strive to be more productive at work. We dream about having a perfectly crafted to-do list that you actually stick to. I've unlocked this achievement, but it wasn't at the office. My perfect to-do list helps me get things done...in video games.
This may seem incredibly silly, but it works for the same reason it does in real life. The human mind is fallible, and in an open RPG like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto, there's too much to do for you to keep track of it all in your head. So, as classic productivity advice dictates, you're better off getting it out of your head and into a system.
To-Do Lists Succeed Where Your Quest Log Fails
Most open-world RPGs have some sort of "quest system" that keeps track of what you have to do. "Lord Doucheking the Third requests that you find this cave and kill the spiders and bring him the other half of a medallion that he lost when he was drunk in wizard college". You know, typical video game stuff.
But as those quests add up, the in-game quest log becomes inadequate for tracking them all. Skyrim, for example, doesn't let you abandon quests, which means quest clutter adds up quickly. The Witcher 3 only lets you track one quest on your map at a time, which makes it harder to "kill two birds with one stone" while on that weekend getaway in Skellige. And games almost never take into account non-quest tasks, like collecting components for that awesome set of Dragon Bone Armour you want to make.
For example, here's a general overview of things I have to do in Skyrim right now:
- Do a thieves' guild quest near Riften
- Search for a cult that has set up camp east of Windhelm
- Visit a statue west of Solitude, which will start a quest that gets me a shiny new sword
- Talk to some guy in Windhelm because my friend told me it starts a really cool quest
- Offload some of my loot in Riften
The quest my friend told me about isn't in my log yet, because I haven't started it. I know I'll want to get that sword before doing anything else, since it will make the other quests easier to tackle. Both Windhelm quests are near one another, so I should do those together. I also need to remember to offload this loot at a merchant, which is near one of my regular quests, but isn't in my quest log because it isn't really a "quest".
You can see how the quest system isn't built to manage this type of task organisation. But Wunderlist is:
A to-do list helps you fill in the blanks where the quest system fails. You can look at your quest log and in-game map to plan out the stuff you want to do next efficiently, rather than trying to remember the ideal order and non-logged quests.
To-Do Lists Give You Context
Furthermore, quest logs don't always give you enough information to remember the entire backstory behind a quest. "Wait, why am I looking for this amulet?" "I'm supposed to talk to this person, but it doesn't seem to move the quest along. Was there something else I needed to do?" "What the heck am I supposed to do with this talking dog?" When your game doesn't offer context, your to-do list can.
When I add new stuff to my to-do list, I'll often take some of the more complex tasks and add a link to a quest walkthrough. That way, when I inevitably forget why I was going somewhere, I can check the Notes field in Wunderlist for more information. You can also jot down your own notes, like loot you want to pick up along the way, or spells you'll want to have at the ready.
To-Do Lists Help You Pick Up After Time Away from a Game
This article may make it seem like I never leave the land of Skyrim, but I'm actually a pretty casual gamer. Real life always comes first, which means I'll occasionally go days or weeks without playing. But that means that when I come back, I inevitably forget my grand plan for all the cool stuff I was going to do next.
This is what originally inspired my first Skyrim to-do list: No matter how much time you take off, if you've written down where you are and what's next on your docket, you can pick up your game without skipping a beat. Without my to-do list, I'd spend 15 minutes just getting re-acquainted with my quest log and mapping out my next moves. I don't have time for that. I only have 30 minutes to play before I have to get dinner on the stove and spend some time with my wife.
To-Do Lists Get You Through Your Backlog of Games
Lastly, to-do lists help me make my way through my Steam backlog. Yes, it's not an in-game to-do list, per se, but it's still incredibly useful. If you're anything like me, you have quite a few unplayed games, undoubtedly from last year's Steam Summer Sale. I use my to-do list to track them.
I have a list in Wunderlist dedicated solely to what I'm playing next. The order isn't set in stone -- I can rearrange things depending on my mood at any given time -- but a rough skeleton keeps me from playing too many games at once, and helps me alternate my 6-hour shooters with my 40-hour RPGs so I don't get burned out on one genre. I'll even check howlongtobeat.com and put the number of hours in the Notes section, so I know what I'm getting myself into before I move a game to the top of my list. Like the other tips above, it's a little thing that makes a big difference.