Habit List: A Sophisticated iOS Habit Tracker

I noted in September that the App Store has seen quite a few habit tracker apps of late.

Why not just use your task management app, you might ask?

Well, one can get tired of seeing the same “Update YNAB” task every day. Or the same “Study Greek” reminder. Habits and tasks aren’t the same per se.

This may be splitting hairs, but since getting past my initial skepticism, I’ve been using one habit tracker or another for much of the fall. The interface of Streaks is unparalleled, and Productive makes a cool sound when you complete a habit.

Habit List, on the other hand, is the most powerful and customizable of the three.


Options Galore


Habit List takes the cake in what it allows you to do with regard to scheduling your habits. Every potential use I imagined I could accomplish with the app.

You can set up a habit with just about any frequency imaginable, whether certain days or x times per week, and set a reminder. If I want to work out three times a week, I can set up a habit for that, without it having to be the same three days in a given week.


Habit Frequency


Set Habit Reminder


I came to Habit List from another app and could easily backdate edit my habits-in-progress so I didn’t have to start at zero just because I was using a new app. This was unexpected and a great touch.

This also means that if you are completing the habit but forget to track it for a few days, you can easily make the manual adjustment in Habit List.

You can view stats for individual habits, presented in a variety of ways:


Calendar Stats


Monthly Stats


There is no limit (at least that I could find) to the number of habits you can track. So, sure, why not go ahead and add, “Take out trash Friday mornings”?

Here is a look at more app settings:


App Settings


For Future Updates?


Marking the completion of habits in Habit List feels very much like crossing off a list. The interface is exactly that. You swipe your finger across a habit to signify you’ve done it. No filled-in circles, no animations, no sounds. This will be fine for many, but there may also be more aesthetically pleasing user interface options for future updates to explore–whether color changes, distinct habit icons, etc.

Maybe this is draconian or just Pavlovian on my part, but I found myself wanting more from the UI that would give me a sense of satisfaction when crossing off a habit. (I know… what do you want, people cheering??? Well….)


Final Words and Where to Get the App


TL;DR: Habit List doesn’t quite have the pretty layout of some other similar apps. But it has the most functionality of any habit tracking app I’ve tried. There are no limits on what you can track, as well as a great degree of flexibility. If you’re serious about tracking some specific habits and don’t mind a minimalist layout, you may have found your app.

Find Habit List in the App Store here.



Thanks to the good folks who make Habit List for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Streaks: Tracking Habits



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.

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

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.

4 Ways to Practice Sabbath Keeping

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 apart 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.”

Two Soul-Piercing Gems from David Allen (Getting Things Done 2.0)

GTD 2The wedding of productivity literature and thoughtful anthropology (let alone spirituality) seems to be woefully uncommon, but David Allen strikes me as a spiritually attuned writer. That’s why I think it’s no stretch to call some of his insights into personal productivity “soul-piercing.” Or, at least, one can better provide oneself good soul care when implementing Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) principles.

Readers of this blog know of my new-found use of OmniFocus, which is really just one possible tool (out of several) that helps one practice Getting Things Done.

Here are two total gems from Allen’s new, re-tooled GTD 2.0:

What you do with your time, what you do with information, and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your priorities–those are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources. The substantive issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real work is to manage our actions.

He says this as a reaction to talk of “managing time” or even “managing priorities.” Allen says you can’t manage time (“you don’t manage five minutes and wind up with six”) and don’t manage priorities (rather, “you have them”). That seems at first like semantics, but his point is:

Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because what “doing” would look like, and where it happens, hasn’t been decided.

So the focus becomes managing our actions. And this is still relative to our priorities.

Phew. Love it. (Also, guilty as charged.)

Here’s the second gem:

Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action). And these are far from self-evident for most people about most things that have their attention.

I’m (actually, finally) reading Getting Things Done cover to cover. It’s already a breath of fresh air. Find it here.