Hack Your Real Life with this Digital Trick

Why can’t my real life be as neat and organized as my digital world?  My email is meticulously sorted into folders and subfolders as soon as it is received, while my actual mail piles up on the dining room table.  My iPhone apps are immediately updated, but my car has needed an oil change for almost a month. I have an insatiable hunger to organize my bits and bytes that borders on Digital OCD.  In my real life, I’m human; a bit disorganized, and somewhat lazy.  Why the difference?

I organize in my digital world because computer and gadget operating systems prompt me to do so.  I might be lazy, but I’m good at following direction.  I’ll back up my computer when I’m reminded to. I respond to a chat message because it is hovering in the upper right hand corner of my laptop. The best way to get me to act and organize is Apple’s app badges.


App badges are the red icons that show up in the upper right hand corner of almost every app.  A number fills the circle, calling my attention to something that needs my attention.  If I ignore the alert the badge sits there, patiently, mocking my lack of follow through.  I call this icon “The Red Badge of Discouragement.”  I can’t ignore the red badges.  I am physically obligated to take whatever action the app badges demand.  As a result, these badges make me more organized.  If I can just find a way to harness some of this compulsion from my digital spaces and bring it into the real world, I would be way more organized in everything I do.

What’s the Rich Fix?

Originally, I tried to find a real-world equivalent to app badges.  What could metaphorically represent alert icons in the real world?  Post-It notes and desk organizers are nice, but they don’t tap into my compulsive side the way the Red Badges do.  Then it hit me; why not be literal?  Could a Red Badge of Discouragement give me the motivation to clean up my real-world act?  I printed out some color app badges, taped them to old Tupperware lids, and started dropping them on piles of real life mess. 

Amazingly, my life started to clean itself up.  Try it yourself. You’ll be amazed by the results:

Yes, this was a silly experiment done for the blog, but it was actually great help in bringing priority to the real world.  Placing an app badge on top of pile of mail was easy.  Ignoring it afterwards was impossible.  Today, my mail is as organized as my email. Stepping over a pile of dirty laundry had become habit. Stepping over a pile of dirty laundry with a red “37” app badge was excruciating.  It drew my attention every time I passed it, and nagged at me as only a Red Badge of Discouragement can!  Amazingly, the real-life badges are even better at mocking me than their digital counterparts.

I had created the first “reverse-digital-skeumorphism.”  (Skeuomorphism is when apps are designed to look like their real-world counterpart, like a Notes app designed to look like a yellow legal pad.)  I’ve designed real world reminders to mimic my digital bits and bytes. My behavior has followed accordingly!  Now to continue this digital to real-world process... how do I get people in real life to limit their conversations with me to no more than 140 characters?!?