There is a productivity method popularized by Jerry Seinfeld that is referred to by some as “don’t break the chain”. The idea behind is that doing something every day (or at regular intervals) is not only a way to form habits, but also the way to get better at something. This evolved into a productivity method that started with the low-tech solution of putting a monthly calendar on the wall and putting a big red ‘X’ through a day when the habit/task was performed. Of course it was only a matter of time before someone took this concept and put it into app form. Here are four apps that setup to help a person form habits:
Clever Routines ($0.99)
One of the issues with Clever Routines is that it remains somewhat out of date. It has not been updated even once since it’s initial release in September 2013 and still features the pre-iOS keyboard and aesthetic. That doesn’t bode well for long term survivability. It’s nice looking though, and pretty easy to use.
Routines are given a name, and optional description. A decision has to be made whether the schedule for that routine is “flexible”, which means does it have to be performed on/by a certain day/time or not. If certain days and times are selected, all the details one would expect are there (day of week, frequency and units of repeating). A final setting for reminders for the routine are available and come in four flavors: none, only if time is running out, only if the routine is not on pace to finish, or persistent reminders.
Where Clever Routines falls short is that there is no historical tracking. For things that need to be performed daily, it’s not possible to go back and check days missed. The slate is essentially wiped clear with each new interval for a given routine. This means that the app is really nothing more than a recurring checklist. It is not recommended.
Full is a very pretty application that does include some tracking of progress, but unfortunately the way routines are setup is very different from the other applications on this list. Full is specifically designed to handle things at the month level. In other words it can only be used to track whether habits occur ‘X times in a month’. This philosophy works great for things that need to happen every day. It also works great for things that really could happen at any point. But if a goal is to “work out 3 times per week” this app doesn’t help with that. Instead a person could just work out any 12 days in a month and call it a victory. Perhaps that is OK is some cases, but most people prefer a more granular level.
The graphs that show how well a month went are very nice, and the interface as a whole is very pretty. But the application also doesn’t track any sort of streaks/chains of habits and therefore somewhat defeats the purpose.
Habit List ($2.99)
Habit List is the first app covered here which really seems to hit the mark as a true habit tracking app. In addition to be able to select specific days for the event to occur, it also features less specific options such as “Every [x] days” or “[x] days per week”. Each habit features a reminder that can be set to a specific time of day as well. The home screen displays the current day and all habits. Next to each is the current streak, either positive or negative. This is a nice though that also helps a user understand how long it’s been since they did something in particular.
Clicking on a habit brings up a calendar view that highlights the days the habit was performed as well as show the current streak, total completions and longest streak. Another bonus feature is the include of stats, shish show completion rate by week and by month, as well as aggregates for all-time, the last six weeks and the last six months. This data can be reset at any time, per habit.
It includes a couple of other small features, like just a general daily reminder, a passcode lock, icon badge support and a few font choices.
The combination of looks and deep functionality make this an excellent option.
Goal Streaks ($3.99)
Goal Streaks does not have the same kind of iOS 7-esque design, but still looks good, and offers at least some minor differences. Like Habit List, it allows goals to be slotted for specific days, intervals or non-specific days. This flexibility is what makes Habit List and Goal Streaks stand above the other options here.
On the home screen for Goal Streaks all of the goals are listed with 7-day calendars. Clicking on a spot in the calendar makes an X and connects to previous X’s if the current streak is continued. This creates a nice visual effect and lines up more to it’s physical counterpart of a big calendar X’s on certain days. It also displays the current streak, and best streak as well. Clicking on a specific goal essentially expands the calendar to as much screen real estate as is available. On an iPhone 5s this ends up being about the last 8 weeks or so.
While it also includes a passcode lock, there isn’t much else. It does not include any data tracking like Habits List, and outside of the current and longest streaks there are no other stats at all. The 8-week calendar is a nice touch, but doesn’t add a ridiculous amount of value. This is a solid option though.
Habit tracking is not just a good way to get better at something, it’s also a simple way to not only build better habits, but “gameify” them to add to the sense of accomplishment. When a person sees visually that they haven’t missed a workout in 40 days, it’s an extra little bonus to get that workout in so the streak continues. Sometimes this is how people’s minds are wired, and it makes them more productive. Habit List is probably the strongest offering, and is also cheaper than Goal Streaks. There might be other options out there as well, but amongst these four, it’s a pretty easy call.