Habit-Forming Applications

Habits are a funny thing. Bad ones are so very easy to create and good ones are so simple to break.

I have several habits, few that are good, yet lately I find myself trying to shift the balance towards the positive. Thankfully, there is a proliferation of tools geared towards helping us make more of the good habits and, perhaps, can help us break a few of the bad.

There are several apps out there that seek to help you form and track your habits (i.e. write 500 words a day, don’t swear, practice guitar, don’t take out the iPhone during dinner). I did not try them all. I did however try a few of the more popular ones including:

Lift – While likely the most popular, this was easily my least favorite. Lift is a social network that encourages you to seek out and create habits for yourself that friends and strangers alike can participate in. The hope, I guess, is that your network will serve as a support system and that your competitive nature will help you achieve some of your smaller goals. While this may work for some and has the added benefit of working across multiple devices and platforms, the network effect just did not work as a motivating tool for me. Lift is a free app (although it requires that you create an account), you can download it for iOS, Android or use it on the web.

Habit List – Far and away the most robust of the applications I tried. Habit List does not offer the social features of Lift and does not offer any kind of cloud sharing. It’s meant to be used by you and you alone. It’s easy to add new habits, set a frequency either by specific days, intervals or even non specific days, and you can set a reminder that helps keep your habit top of mind. If you’re moving from another app, their history function makes it possible to fill in previous information with relative ease. My biggest gripe is how it handles misses habits. Habit List focuses on your current streak, which includes negative numbers. After a prolonged lapse, you’re greeted with a negative number reminding you just how many days its been since you last attempted your habit. Habit List is available for the iPhone, costs $1.99 and can be purchased here.

Good Habits – While less powerful than Habit List, Good Habits has become my fast favorite. It was a breeze to set things up, in fact adding in my backlog of habits was surprisingly easy. I also like their approach of showing your current streak (with no negative numbers) compared to your personal best. This subtle difference makes me want to beat my own record, rather than regret whatever deficit I occasionally found myself staring at in Habit List. My preference aside, the free Good Habits is not as robust as its paid counterpart. You can only create once daily habits and the reminders can only arrive hourly (Habit List lets you chose things down to the minute). While others may love the fact that it’s free, I wish there was a better way to support a very well done application. Hopefully they offer a pro version or in app purchase that provides more granularity and perhaps even sync for those who would want to keep their iOS devices in sync. You can download Good Habits for iPhone here.

Due – While not an app for creating and tracking habits, I’d be remiss not to mention one of the best guns in my app arsenal for not forgetting the little things. Due may not be the right tool for the habits I’d like to do, there’s nothing better for the habits I have to do. If I want to write 500 words a day, any of the tools listed above will help remind me and allow me to track my progress. If I need to ensure that I take my medicine every morning or not forget that thing that my wife needs (there is always something that my wife needs and things would not go well if I forgot) then Due will harass me until the need is met. Due is a universal app and can be purchased for $5 in the App Store. There is also a Mac version that allows you to sync your reminders over iCloud.

Your mileage and needs may vary, so be sure to take a look at any of the options that look as if they might meet your needs. This may seem like a bit much, especially if you use a robust task manager like OmniFocus, but having focused tools that help ensure that you maintain, and in many cases track, your habits can go a long way towards ensuring that there are a few more positive and far less negative ones in your life.

What, if anything, are you using to improve your habits?

14 Responses to Habit-Forming Applications

  1. Do you think the social aspect of say, Lift, is less of an incentive than a pillory-type feature? We’ve been considering adding some game mechanisms to our email app, but more along the lines of Good Habits (or Codecademy), where achievements are tracked but only privately celebrated.

  2. I tried all of the ones you mentioned…and ended up going with Habit List. The user interface is gorgeous and I like the fact that I can have more than just daily habits. For example, I have created a habit for my GTD Weekly Review. I also appreciate that I can set a specific reminder time for each habit (e.g. notify me if I haven’t marked this habit complete by 9pm).

    • Hadn’t thought about it for my guilt tool for weekly reviews… I’ll be interested to see what you think of the negative numbers in Habit List, it’s the one thing that throws me off. The rest of the app really is far superior.

      • I haven’t seen the negative numbers (I guess I’m just too good at keeping up with my habits ;). It might be worth dropping the developers a line. I was in touch with them with a few suggestions and found they were very receptive.

  3. I have been testing My Wonderful Goals,Lift, and Good Habits. I agree with you about Lift and would also add that it only seemed to support daily habits. I could not see how to do something on a weekly basis.

    Right now my favorite is My Wonderful Goals. It has sync (iCloud) and is universal.

    Based on your recommendation, I would like to try Habit List but I can’t tell if it has any sync abilities. I like to have reminders and logging on the iPad and phone. Does it have sync?

    Thanks again for the great post.

  4. I used James Altuchers’ ‘The Daily Practice’ (http://www.tdp.me/) for a while, which was really good while it lasted – I found that it being a web based app rather than a native iOS app stopped me using it to it’s full capabiliities.

    I agree with you on Due, I use it for everything I must NOT forget – even more so combined with the Mac app. I just wish it would sync a bit better (without having to open the iOS app to sync with dropbox).

    I think I’m going to give Habit List a whirl.

    • Same here, I wouldn’t end up using it. Plus the reminders are a nice way to stay on track. Think Habit List will be better for many, but I just hate the whole negative number thing.

  5. While also thinking that trying to manage everything in OF, I started using Lift a few months ago but found it to be a little bit circumstantial. I’m currently using ‘Daily Deeds’ (…done dirt cheap :-) but I’m definitely giving the other ones in your list a try. Thanks for the recommendations.

  6. I was very surprised to not find the Habit Factor in your list. Besides Due, I’ve tried all of the ones you’ve mentioned, and the Habit Factor used along with the book easily wins hands down for me personally. However, I’ve only been using it for around 3 months, but I used several side by side for the comparison value. I honestly thought I had just missed it when I quickly scrolled down. Compared to most, it does seem a bit pricey at $6.99 and the book at $7.99, but $15 to change your life seemed reasonable to me. :)

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