The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Apps that help build habits

Over the past several years, I’ve used my notebook to track the habits I want to adopt in my life. And I still do that today.

However, I’ve been slowly trying out different apps to go along with this habit. It started with the Google Calendar app for iOS, but from there I began to explore a few of the options in this space. After a year, I think I’ve found a winner. Or maybe two winners.

The options

Here are the various apps I’ve tried.

Google Calendar

The iOS app for your Google calendar is different than what you get in your web browser on the desktop. The biggest addition is the Goals feature. You can set a goal, how often you want to do it, and Google’s AI will schedule times on your calendar.

If you complete the activities at a time the AI did not schedule, it will learn your preferences and adjust its scheduling accordingly.

Overall, it was a nice implementation of AI (the best I’ve used to date), but it did not stick for me. I still used Fantastical for scheduling actual meetings and having two calendar apps was not necessary. More importantly, my habitual activities do not need to be scheduled to a specific time. If I’m going to run on a given day, I slot it in depending on my other activities (whether those activities were on the calendar or not).

Last, while scheduling the habits was easy, seeing your progress and being mindful of it is clearly an afterthought in this app. The focus is all on the scheduling of the activity.

Sorted3

An interesting option, I found the UI on this one different enough that I ended not wanting to use it. I wasn’t interested in taking the time to explore an alternative UI — I just wanted to track my activities.

Overall, this app is focused most on calendar-based productivity. I like that, but I was looking more for something to track how I consistent I was in my habits, not another task manager.

Done

This option did better at offering the functionality I wanted, but in less than ideal package. Function is more important to form, but between two functional apps, I’ll take the one with better form any time.

That brings me to the next option.

Habitify

When I first came across this app, I loved how it looked. But for reasons I cannot recall, it didn’t stick for me at the time.

Streaks

When I first considered all the options above, it usually was from reading some tweet or a link in a blog post. I wasn’t actively searching for a solution of this sort. I finally got serious about it this all and took a closer look at the options in this space with a firm goal in mind. Right away, Streaks jumped out at me. Here are the aspects of this app that I like.

  • The ability to group different habits together (categorize). I can keep all my fitness focused habits in one group, all my work related habits in another, and all my family focused ones in the last
  • The badge! Yeah, I turn badges off for every app on my phone (except for due items in Things). But for Streaks, I want that reminder that there are activities I still want to do today
  • The mechanics of the app. A long press on the habit results in a satisfying completion of the circle around the habit. It’s better than filling in a checkbox
  • The ability to do a specific activity multiple times in the specified timeframe. Stretching is a good example for me. Ever since I started running consistently two years ago, I’ve wanted to stretch more regularly. But I could never seem to find the time to sit down and do a full, proper session of stretching. But with Streaks, I set up an entry for stretching one muscle group — I can take 3–5 minutes to stretch my quads a lot more easily than taking 30 minutes to stretch everything. And in Streaks, the habit is complete when I do two muscle groups per day, 6 days per week.

So I’ve been using Streaks for the last several weeks. I thought it was a clear winner. However, I took the time to review all the apps above once I had a clear goal in mind. Habitify now made a lot more sense to me as well. Both are very good options.

I prefer the looks of Habitify, but I love that Streaks allows me to have several iterations of any given habit in order for it to be considered complete for the day (i.e. stretch one muscle group twice per day). But Habitify comes with a macOS and iOS app, whereas Streaks is iOS only (and the macOS version has a nice menubar option).

At this point, I recommend both of them!

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