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Streaks: Tracking Habits

September 1, 2015



A new breed of task management app seems to be proliferating in the App Store as of late: the habit tracker.

The idea behind a habit-building app is not just to help you cross things off your list, but to actually build the kinds of repetitive practices you’d like to be a part of your everyday life.

Streaks is one such app, and perhaps the one with the most aesthetically pleasing presentation.


What I Like About Streaks


The first thing to appreciate about Streaks is its layout:


home base

You can change colors from the default orange to 11 other options:

Colors and settings

As you complete (or miss) habits, the app makes it easy to access statistics from the main screen with just a tap. Check this out:

Some stats
More stats

The reminders are customizable, so they can be as obtrusive or unobtrusive as you want them to be, depending on what you need to get your habits in place:

Alt text
Checking off habits is satisfying. You just hold down the circle till it fills in:
Alt text
If you missed a day, Streaks knows it:
Alt text
There are a ton of habit icons from which to choose, and they look better than any I’ve seen in other comparable apps (some of which are just icon-less lists):
more icons
yet more icons
Setting up habits is quite easy:
running habit

What I Found Lacking


Probably the biggest miss in the app is that there is no way to adjust a habit you forgot to check off more than one day ago. If you missed marking a habit yesterday, you’re all set, but you can’t check off habits you completed two days ago but didn’t note. I lost some streaks this way (at least within the app) when I was on vacation last month. I was completing habits, but not on my phone as often as usual; there’s no way to adjust to get your statistics to reflect such a reality.

I would love for future updates to Streaks to include some sort of sound when you fill in a habit circle. This is just personal preference, though.

Streaks maxes out at six habits that you can be tracking at a time. The developers have a reason for this–it’s hard to maintain more habits than that on a regular basis, but the limitation does not allow for as great user control as some other apps do.

One other lack: you can’t make a habit to do something, say, three times a week, without also having to specify the days. So I can have “Exercise” three times a week, but only if I assign days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)–I couldn’t set it up for any three days.


Final Words and Where to Get the App

Limitations notwithstanding, Streaks is easily one of the three best habit-tracking apps for iOS. It’s clearly designed with the user experience in mind, which makes charting habits through this app fun. As long as you can stay on top of tracking your practices each day, Streaks is a worthy aid in helping establish regular life patterns.

Find Streaks in the App Store here.

Thanks to the good folks at Streaks app for the review copy of Streaks, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

The quantifed life is not worth living…

August 31, 2015

Tyme app



Discuss. Would love to interact with you fine readers around this idea in the comments.


August 29, 2015
5K race bib

My Bib

I ran a 5K today. Not my best time ever, but an improvement on recent times. It’s been a very long time since I’ve raced–I’d forgotten the energy boosts that come from family and friends (and complete strangers) cheering us runners on!

Two Resources (One Paid, One Free) for Getting On Top of Stuff

August 28, 2015

It’s Friday, so hopefully you’re winding down a bit and thinking about how to relax rather than how to be more productive–so file this away for Monday (or read it now if you work weekends).

Here are two resources–one paid and one free–to help stay on top of email and tasks.


1. Dispatch App



I’ve never understood the logic of apps that allow you to “snooze” email. Handle it once and move on, I think. Emails are often calendar appointments or tasks in disguise, and our Inboxes are no place to be keeping tasks. Inbox Zero is elusive (though see here), so an app that helps you get your Inbox messages into tasks quickly is appreciated. This is the goal of Dispatch app, newly available on iPad. Check it out here.


2. Free Podcasts from GTD


You might also check out free podcasts from David Allen‘s Getting Things Done:

Our GTD podcasts are here to support you at every stage of your GTD practice. You will hear interviews with people from all walks of life about their journey with GTD, from beginners to those who have been at it for years. The podcasts include personal and professional stories, as well as practical tips about GTD systems for desktop and mobile, using apps and paper. Start listening now and you’ll be well on your way to stress-free productivity.

Find the podcast page here.

Review of SHARKK® 15W Bluetooth Wireless Speaker

August 27, 2015


I’ve been jamming to some sweet tunes with SHARKK’s 15W Bluetooh Wireless Speaker recently. I’ve used it around the house for some organizing projects, as well as took it on a trip with me.

Here are the full specs from SHARKK:

◦ Rock the House with this Powerful 15 Watt Bluetooth Speaker with 2200Ah Lithium Battery which supports up to 10 consecutive hours of playing time.

◦ Subwoofer + high-performance amplifier combine for incredible volume and high quality sound.

◦ Can also be used to charge your phone or other rechargeable USB devices with its built in Power Bank.

◦ Supports AUX, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC with Siri/S Voice Functionality. Make and receive phone calls with the built-in Mic.

◦ Includes Charger, Carrying Pouch, and a 3.5mm audio cable.

Here is what it looks like out of the box (images via SHARKK):



Sharkk Speaker: What’s Awesome

Battery percentage indicator


You can see the battery level right next to the phone battery percentage—it’s always visible from the device from which you are streaming music. There’s no real battery life indicator on the speaker itself, so being able to see it from your device is neat.


Sound decent for cost


The sound is good for the cost. Not stellar, but solid. The bass is noticeable, if not wholly sufficient, and the highs and the mids come out, though perhaps not as crisply as one might want for a speaker at $80. Still, the sound is decent.


It remembers your device


Once you connect a device to the speaker via Bluetooth, the SHARKK speaker remembers it, so you don’t have to keep setting it up each time. I really appreciated this.


Totally portable


The speaker fits on a towel rack in the shower room. It’s easy to hold in one hand and move around the house to follow you from room to room. Highly portable and light enough to carry around, if you want.


What’s Not Awesome

The speaker died one night


One night, for no reason that I can discern, the speaker died. I charged it overnight. It still didn’t work. I charged it a second night. Still nothing. Then on the third day (I don’t mean this to be a religious parallel), it sprang back to life and has been working fine since.

Support was responsive throughout the issue, but I never could figure out why the speaker stopped responding like that.


No remote control


Lacking is a remote way to control the speaker. You cannot do it via remote control or from your phone. I know it’s not a huge deal to get out of your chair to turn it on or off, but a speaker in this price range should support remote control.


Play/pause button flashes


The play/pause button flashes blue when the speaker is on. I noticed this one night in the middle of the night from across the room, when I had forgotten to turn the speaker off. A minor nuisance, and certainly not a deal-breaker. But an auto-off feature would be nice.


Cloth carrying case


The speaker comes with a cloth carrying case, which is handy, but doesn’t do much to protect the speaker. On a recent trip where I wanted to take the speaker (it is very portable), I just packed the speaker up in its original box, which was a much better solution.


+ and – buttons


It’s awesome that you can play and pause your iTunes or even Spotify app from the speaker itself. One tricky thing, though, is that the “+” button fast forwards the track. Only holding the button turns the volume up (the expected result from a button like that). So, too, with the “-” button. It turns the volume down, but only if you hold it. Otherwise it rewinds the track. I found this less than intuitive, and still think it’s an odd design decision, but I got used to it over time (mostly). It is nice to be able to change tracks from the speaker itself.


Concluding Evaluation

I can recommend the speaker, but only with the reservations above. I’m not sure it would be my first choice for a sub-$100 speaker, but it does have some nice features that make it an attractive option worth considering.

Find the speaker here (SHARKK) or here (Amazon).


Thanks to SHARKK for the review sample, given to me for purposes of review but with no expectation as to the content of this post.

4 Ways to Practice Sabbath Keeping

August 26, 2015

This Sunday I preached about Sabbath-keeping as a way of life. The below is the concluding, application-based portion of the message.


Keep Calm It's Sabbath Day


Let’s get specific for a minute, and talk about how a Sabbath way of life can make its way onto our calendars.


For an hour


You could think small, to begin with: one hour. Right, God didn’t say, “Remember a Sabbath hour and keep it holy,” but I think observing a Sabbath hour is very much in line with God’s intentions for our God-centered rest.

I’ve alluded a couple of times from the pulpit to my inordinate love for personal productivity literature and related apps. There’s a classic book called Getting Things Done by David Allen. His basic goal is to get his readers and clients to a point where they are not using their brains to keep track of commitments—get everything out of your head and into a trusted system you know you’ll keep coming back to. The end result of implementing such a system is that in any given moment, you know that you are doing what you should be doing. What you are saying yes to is what you should be saying yes to, and what you are saying no to is out of mind.

This may seem simplistic, but if you don’t have a dedicated hour like this each day or at least every other day, the alternative is that every hour available to you is an hour where you could be doing something… anything… 100 hundred different things. A Sabbath lifestyle, on the other hand, includes setting part chunks of time where we put all work aside and rest. And we don’t feel guilty about it, because we are doing it deliberately, as a way to train our attentions on God.


A Daylong Sabbath


Another way that we can put Sabbath-ing into our schedules is through a weekly Sabbath day. Sunday is a good candidate here. It didn’t take the early church very long to move from the observance of Saturday as Sabbath to Sunday as Sabbath. One big reason for this was that Sunday was the day of resurrection, so it became the day the church gathered weekly for worship. To make their Sabbath about both leisure and Lordship, it shifted to Sunday.

Which day we take a Sabbath is less important than that we have one every week. And times when we can least afford to take a Sabbath are the times we most need to. So put it into your day planner or phone or wherever you keep your schedule—make it a daylong appointment: “Sabbath.” And if one of your primary vocations is parenting or caretaking, and those sweet loved ones of yours won’t let you observe a “day off,” talk to one of your church leaders and we’ll help you get childcare lined up!


Get Away


You could go even bigger with Sabbath-keeping: a day or half day every month where you go on retreat… not just taking a day off, but actually physically going somewhere else—to the beach, for a daylong hike in the woods, for an overnight camping trip.


Techno Sabbath


Finally—one more suggestion for a specific way to practice keeping a holy, God-focused Sabbath: one of our former church attenders shared with me his regular practice of a techno Sabbath. No, it’s not a day devoted to Electronic Dance Music (though that’s not a bad idea), but it’s a Sabbath from technology. I’d heard of these and always thought about taking one, but there was something about a conversation with him that made me feel like I finally had permission to unplug, to disconnect.

Of course, you can turn all your devices off for a short period of time—an hour, for the morning, during dinner and after it. But I’ve found a full 24-hour break each week from technology is both embarrassingly difficult and surprisingly life-giving. It serves the same purpose as fasting. Rather than reaching for a device that has a potentially life-changing notification on it, I try to offer those energies instead to God.

At first, there are feelings of withdrawal—no access to notifications that increase the rush of adrenaline and excitement when someone replies to that email you were so eager about, or when someone hearts your Instagram photo or retweets your witty observation about humanity. All that stuff just goes on… without you. At least for a day.

You could even try to have your techno Sabbath coincide with your weekly Sabbath.


Establish Your School Year Practices Now


As we begin a new school year, we have the opportunity to establish and re-establish practices of faithful living. Take some time this week, if you haven’t already, and think about what Sabbath-keeping this fall is going to look like for you. If you have other people with whom your schedule is interdependent, involve them in the conversation—sit down with your calendar and actually write in your Sabbath-keeping practices, so that they don’t get forgotten, or scheduled on top of.

I pray that God would give us the strength to be deliberate about making Sabbath observances central to how we go through our hours, days, and weeks. As we do so, may we find that prayer of Isaiah fulfilled: “O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength.”

AppTastic Tuesday: Prune

August 25, 2015

Prune is a really fun and enjoyably challenging game for iOS.

It’s got a simple, minimalist, beautiful design. David Sparks of MacSparky even used a screenshot from the game for his iPad lock screen!

You start with a screen like this:


Alt text


Then you swipe up to start your tree growing.


Alt text


You can pinch to zoom to get a closer look, which you will need as your tree grows in multiple directions. When it is time to prune the tree, which you do to get it to grow toward the light, just swipe your finger across the branch you wish to cut, and it will fall off.


Alt text


You beat a level by pruning to create the predetermined amount of blossoms on your tree.


Alt text


Alt text


The graphics, music, and sound effects are all beautiful and relaxing.


Alt text


Alt text


You will want to avoid things like red suns, or your beloved tree burns up:


Not like this

Not like this


But like this

But like this


Once you spend the $3.99 on the app, there are no further in-app purchases or ads.

One might be forgiven for wondering how engaging an app with this premise can be, but it really is fun to play. Apart from its gorgeous design and responsive controls, users will quickly find they are eager to make progress through the game’s various levels. Prune came recommended, and it’s been even better than expected.

Find it in the App Store here.


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