Better Work Habits Through… Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Remember March 2020? We didn’t really know what to expect from the next weeks or months, and sought comfort where we could find it… some baked bread, some finally learned to play guitar… I’m one of the ones who chose Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ve played almost every day since its release on March 20, 2020, and my island is still my happy place. The other day, I realized that it has taught me some good habits I can apply to my work, so I wanted to share these insights. Don’t worry… if you don’t play, it’s still good advice.

Welcome to Xanadu 1 (My husband named it before we knew we had to share an island, don’t judge me)

Keep Your Tools on You, and in Good Shape

A lot of what you do on your island requires tools (bug net, shovel, fishing rod, etc.) and you never know what opportunities you’ll run across while walking around, so you should always keep your tools in your pockets, so you’re prepared for anything. Also, your tools will break after a certain number of uses, but you can reset that clock by customizing them, so if you keep on top of that “maintenance,” you can vastly prolong the life of your tools, and have to buy or craft new ones less often.

This advice overlaps with the number one lesson I’ve learned from years of watching Food Network: mise en place. Set up your physical AND mental workspace with all the tools you use frequently close at hand and ready to be used. Sharp pencils, fresh notebooks, a fat stack of Post-Its… and for your mental workspace, dust out the cobwebs with a brain teaser, or write down the to-do list swirling around in your head. Whatever you need to get the job done, have it ready to go.

Hard work pays off… my first lily of the valley appears!

Ten or Fifteen Minutes a Day Is Enough to Keep Things Tidy

Most days, I just do a single pass around my island to pick up fallen branches, dig up new fossils, pull any new weeds, and check on things in general. This takes about ten minutes (unless it rained the day before and there are a ton of rogue flowers springing up everywhere). It’s enough to keep the island tidy and earn me rewards, like the particular flower that only grows if your island is in really good shape. I don’t have to rearrange houses or build a new waterfall every day.

I also spend ten or fifteen minutes every workday morning just tidying up… my calendar, my to-do list, my email inbox, my desktop (both physical and virtual). Dedicating that time every morning keeps things tidy enough to make room for the actual work to happen. I wouldn’t start construction on my island without pulling weeds and transplanting flowers that are in the way; I don’t start work projects until my schedule and email inbox are under control.

Greta gives the best advice

Skipping a Day is Okay; Skipping a Lot Is Not

(I’m not talking about vacation… Use your days off, they’re part of your compensation!)

Sometimes, if I have a busy day, or I go out of town, or I’m just not feeling it, I don’t log into the game, and I skip a day on the island. No big deal. There will be a few more weeds the next day, I miss an opportunity to buy things from a particular vendor who only comes once a week, it’s fine. But if I don’t log in for weeks, I get cockroaches in my (virtual) house, the weeds overrun the island, and the animals that live on the island start to think I don’t like them anymore and get upset.

Having a light, easy day at work when you need it is like skipping a day in the game. When you can, give yourself a day where you’re not working on big, heavy projects, and do whatever type of work you find relaxing and easy. (In my case, schedules and agendas are very relaxing work.) But if it turns into procrastinating and never tackling the difficult work, your island (work) will be overrun with weeds (projects) and the villagers (your coworkers) will get made at you (will get mad at you).

Sometimes mental health looks like a pocket full of scorpions

Visit a Mystery Island for More Resources

You can collect a lot of usable resources on your island: stone, gold, clay, wood, weeds, flowers, etc. But your island is a finite space, and sometimes you can’t find enough resources there, so you can buy a ticket to fly to a “Mystery Island” and collect resources there to bring home.

In this metaphor, the resources are your patience, inspiration, creativity, and sometimes literal resources like people to work with or space to work in. If you’re in a rut (out of resources), try visiting a different space. I know that, where COVID restrictions are still in place, this can be difficult, but if you can’t pick up your laptop and go work in another room, building, or campus, try rearranging your office. Even if you can’t move the furniture, redecorating your desk can make it feel like a new space. If possible, go work in a coworker’s office with them for a while. If you’re working from home, move from the living room to the dining room (or my favorite, the porch on a nice day! Soak up that beautiful fall weather, if you have it!)

I spent a whole weekend last October blocking out every blank space of grass on the island, so the randomly-assigned rocks would pop up where I wanted them. A. WHOLE. WEEKEND.

Planning Terraforming Is More Fun than Actually Terraforming

This is an ongoing joke in the Animal Crossing community. You have a lot of control over the layout of your island… you can build up a second level above the ground, dig up waterways, add inclines and bridges, and move buildings around. But many players have found that planning major changes like this is more fun than pulling out your shovel and actually digging it up, because it can be tedious.

Don’t get stuck in planning stages. It’s a problem I frequently have: I love a list, a plan, and a schedule, but getting to the actual work is a whole different story. I have read a little about how you get dopamine in the planning stages and for some people, that’s sufficient and they (we) no longer feel motivated to seek the dopamine from accomplishing the planned-for goal. Don’t give in; do the terraforming!

This would not have been possible without visiting someone else’s island… Get by with a little help from your friends, as the Beatles would say.

Get Help from Friends to Accomplish Your Goals

When you first start your island in the game, it is randomly assigned a native fruit (peach, apple, orange, pear, or cherry). You can find two of the other fruits by visiting Mystery Islands (see above), but the other two will never show up for you naturally… you must visit other people’s islands to collect them. There is no way to collect all five fruits without help from another living human being.

The lesson here, of course, is: teamwork makes the dream work. Expecting yourself to accomplish everything alone is not realistic (and sometimes, like in the fruit example, literally impossible), so bring in outside help when you need it. And know that everyone else is in the same situation; sometimes you can trade fruit (help) with someone, win-win!

The tambourine makes me happy, it makes the cat happy… best in-game item, if you ask me.

It’s Your Island

Do things your way. Not everybody logs in every day. Not everybody participates in the world events. Not everybody buys and sells turnips (it’s called the Stalk Market, you can extrapolate from there). Not everybody plays all parts of the game, and that’s fine… it’s your island, play it your way. I carry around a tambourine in my pocket because it makes me really happy to pull it out and hit it sometimes. I put up signs naming my waterfalls and bridges, and not all of them are family-friendly. It makes me laugh. You do you; it’s your island.

The flip side of “it’s your island” is that it’s your responsibility, too. Nobody else is going to log in and move those trees around the way you want them. The villagers aren’t suddenly going to dig up that rose garden you made a year ago and are sick of now. You have to change it if you don’t like it.

So do your work your way (within the confines of the rules of the “game,” of course), but also take responsibility for it.

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