Your Achievements List

Most student affairs professionals I’ve met are a competitive bunch. We strive to do more, see more, learn more, and achieve more. That’s not unlike many modern games where we are awarded for the little steps along the way known as achievements.

The badges we earn on our FitBit, candy we claim on Waze, and miles we gain on our credit cards affect our actions, shape our habits, and influence our behaviors.

This is the power of games.  The effect that these little nudges can have on our lives can be huge which is why I’ve chosen to study gamificaiton and games-based learning as part of my dissertation work.

The Power of Gamification

Gamification is the use of game like elements in non game settings.  Gamification can be used as part of a larger world in games-based learning where educators emphasize activities and encourage behaviors in a motivating way.

Gamification has been used to increase organizational productivity, engage users in flow, promote recruitment for groups, and encourage people to interact with the world around them.

Student affairs professionals can take advantage of one of the most popular implementations of gamification: the achievement list.  Doing so will help them achieve more, explore new areas, and become a better educator and administrator.

What is an Achievements List?

An achievements list is basically a list of everything you have achieved. Think about a resume, but more fun. An achievement list outlines major personal and professional goals like completing grad school or moving out on your own for the first time.

These are traditional achievements, but you can also include some more fun accomplishments: think about a loyalty card to Starbucks.  How many professional development conferences can you attend? How many in-service workshops can you go to. Have you considered taking a Coursera course.

These are a list of big achievements, but you can also set small ones. How many hours of student contact can you have in one week? How many times have you gotten out of your office and walked around?  Those are a list of smaller achievements that you can accomplish on a daily or weekly basis.

Create One: See What is Out There

So it’s time to create your achievements list. What do you want to do? What do you want to achieve? Do you have an idol? A student affairs professional that you want to learn everything from? See what that person has done? Have they led an office before? Better put becoming a director on your achievements list. Have they ever presented at a conference? Put it on the list. Do they have a doctorate? Put. It. On. The. List.

Strive to Accomplish: Set Goals and a Plan

Now that you have your list you’ll need to break down those items into different goals and a plan to achieve them. You don’t want to approach a big goal like become the vice president of student affairs head on. Instead, you’ll need to break that down into smaller parts.

Set smaller goals for yourself along the way towards reaching this achievement. You may want to become a director of a department first, achieve a doctoral degree, or gain more experience supervising people before applying for a vice president position.

This whole process is called “chunking” and it’s a great way to take a large task and break it down into smaller and more meaningful ones. Games do this really well. No one plays Tetris thinking that they’re going to be arranging blocks for an hour straight. Instead you just worry about each piece one at a time: when it’s coming, where it fits, and then sliding it into place before worrying about the next one.

That’s how you should approach this. One Tetris piece at a time.

Flow State: Low Entry and High Ceiling

Has anyone ever described a game to you that was “easy to learn and hard to master?” A big example is chess and poker. Games with these elements have “flow.” They engage players easily with their simple play but require a much deeper strategy to master.

These games are also said to have a “low barrier” and a “high ceiling.” It’s easy to get into but hard to reach the very top. You should use this for whatever achievements you are trying to hit.

Remember when you said that you wanted to earn a doctorate? Maybe the first step towards doing that is meeting someone that has one?

The first steps of your achievements don’t have to be long or complicated. They can be as simple as “#1 Find someone with a doctorate.” That’s it. You crossed it off the list. Your steps after this can be bigger or more difficult like “#5 Complete a grad school application” or “#7 Study for the GRE’s.”

Really concentrate on: starting soon, starting early, and starting easy.

Remember: LOW barrier. HIGH ceiling.


In this post we’ve learned about the power of gamification, what it is, and what it can do to help motivate yourself to achieve your goals. That list of goals is your achievements list. It represents what you want to accomplish and what expectations you set for yourself.

Once you have your goals laid out, it’s time to start creating a plan. You can do this by taking a big goal and breaking it down into smaller chunks that you can work on one at a time. Giving yourself small wins sets you up to gain momentum in the long run.  Also breaking big projects down into smaller parts makes it easier to stay on track.

Remember that great games have an excellent “flow state” that has a low barrier to entry (easy to get into) but a high ceiling for achievement (difficult to master). Your achievements should be no different. Make sure that your small tasks don’t take more than 30 minutes to complete.

You already have all the motivation you need.  Now get out there and achieve!


Dave Eng

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