In 2015, I, like many of you, made some New Year’s resolutions, fully expecting them not to last. So far, though, they’re holding up pretty well, thanks to a handful of apps I’ve been trying out on my iPhone.
While catching up on Mike Vardy’s new Productivityist podcast, I was introduced to several new-to-me apps and decided that this would be a good time to put them (and some others) through their paces. What follows are the apps I thought were noteworthy.
I picked up Good Habits [App Store, Free with IAP] shortly after its 1.0 release, but in the last two years I unfortunately couldn’t make using it a habit. (That was my fault, not the app’s.) The app uses the “Don’t break the chain” metaphor attributed to Jerry Seinfeld: each day you complete a task forms a link in a chain and your goal is to avoid breaking the chain by skipping a day.
Like all of these apps, Good Habits is easy to use. When creating a new habit, you give it a name, choose a color, and set an optional reminder. You can also specify days off for each habit, so skipping a task on a preset day doesn’t break the chain. Habits can also be paused, should the need arise. Marking a task done requires one tap; to mark it missed, two taps (or just leave it alone—Good Habits doesn’t track skipped tasks).
An optional ($1) in-app purchase allows you to see stats for individual habits: current chain length, longest chain, and more, including distribution. Very geeky stuff. And you can note the reason you broke a chain.
One downside of Good Habits is its limitation to a single daily repetition. A habit that I’m working on is drinking eight glasses of water daily; however, I can’t use the app to track each glass. I’d like to see the developer add the ability to track tasks that need to be done on a “nn times per day” basis.
Mike Vardy’s app of choice is Full [App Store, Free], but after several weeks of using the app I had to delete it. Although its swipe-and-drag interface is easy to use (and it handles not only “nn times per day” tasks, but also “per week” and “per month” tasks), I found that its history feature is too limited to be of any use.
History in the app is displayed per time segment—you can’t look at an overview of daily habits for the month, for example, and instead you must swipe through each day to see your successes and failures. In other words, no chains, no stats.
I also ran across several annoyances: the app opens to a view of your monthly habits (I have none) rather than daily and, since the app never asks for permission (and doesn’t show up in Settings > Notifications), I never receive reminders of my tasks. This would seem to be an issue with the app itself, since most other apps work just fine in this regard. Lastly, an Internet connection is required.
Way of Life
A popular app among those in the know is Way of Life [App Store, Free with IAP]. I like that you can view your list by week or month, not simply by day as most of the other other apps show, and that you can mark a task as skipped. You can filter your view to show only today’s remaining activities and tags offer additional filters. And notes can be added for any day’s activity, not just those that are missed.
Statistics in the app are displayed by charts and they’re very well done. But what’s exceptional is the ability to set multiple reminders and have them focused on individual habits, all habits, your remaining tasks, or tasks with specific tags. You can even choose to have reminder notifications only when tasks in your chosen focus are undone. Smart.
Habits are limited to single daily repetitions, making Way of Life unsuitable for tracking my water consumption. And it’s somewhat annoying that marking a task done requires two taps.
Balanced [App Store, Free with IAP] is different enough to make it interesting, but its take on habit tracking doesn’t work for me. To start, “[reminders] are built around mindfullness. You get two each day, but only if you haven’t checked the app.” I’m not sure what that first sentence means, but the second one means I won’t be reminded when I need it.
Next, history is limited to (it appears) the prior 14-15 actions per habit, showing you a vague timeline of tasks done, skipped, or late. That’s right: late. The app doesn’t track missed actions, so missing three cups of water in a row in one day, for example, only counts as one late.
Habit [App Store, $4] is similar in many respects to Way of Life, both in usage and in stats. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that its developer took some cues from the other. However, there are differences. Marking a task done takes only one tap, but you can’t mark a task skipped. You can have up to six reps of a daily task and note entry is slightly easier, but there is only a single reminder per habit and the app, like Way of Life, only tracks daily habits.
If you care to, both Habit Builder and Way of Life allow you to share your habits with others, although only the former uses a standard iOS share sheet—Way of Life shares to email or Twitter only.
(Habit Builder [App Store, Free] is the lite version of Habit.)
Habit List [App Store, Free with IAP] is in some ways similar to Good Habits and, like Way of Life, has a wide following. One advantage this app has over the other two is its wide number of options for habit frequency: specific days, every nn days, every two weeks, every month, or 1-6 days per week. But, like most of these apps, you can’t specify “nn times per day.”
A nice touch is that your remaining tasks shuffle to the top of the list, while completed tasks are greyed out. Only a single tap is necessary to mark a task done, or a tap and hold to mark it skipped.
Depending on how you like your stats served, you may find Habit List tastier than Good Habits. Although there’s not as much information about chains, you can see your current and longest streaks, as well as six-week and six-month timelines.
Here it is: the Holy Grail. With a caveat. Strides [App Store, Free with IAP] is really more than I need, since it has trackers for not only habit building, but also target value by a specific date; average target value (more or less) by time period; and project completion (with milestones) by a specific date.
But for habit building, it’s very good. There are no limits on reps over a day, week, or month and there seems to be no limit on the number of reminders you can set for an individual habit. (I haven’t actually been able to test reminders, since the app has the same problem as Full, but the developer believes an upcoming update will fix this.) My only nit is that it takes two taps to log a “done” entry.
Stats show your current and best streaks or your goal streak (a separate tracker option), as well as your completion rate. And you can see your completion status by day over the last week and by week for the last seven—but no further.
I have found a few bugs in Strides, but none of them worry me; the developer has been very responsive to my contacts and the version history shows the app is being actively developed. Version 3 is pretty new and it appears it was a massive update that syncs iPads and iPhones with a web-based version of the app.
Now for the caveat: while the app is free, to continue using it after the 30-day trial you’ll need to pony up $5 a month or $50 a year. That’s their “sustainable business model” which will allow them to continue developing the app and the amount is well worth the value you receive if you use the app.
If you need to track daily tasks with no concern for stats or multiple reps, get Good Habits. If you need highly-configurable reminders for daily tasks with no need for multiple reps, get Way of Life.
But to track multiple reps per time period, the only way to go is Strides. If you need multiple reminders and multiple reps for serious habit building, you can get that for about the cost of one of those blended drink thingies at a snooty coffeehouse. And you can use Strides to help you cut back on those, too!