To use a habit tracker app or not to use a habit tracker app

 In Effectiveness, Efficiency, Productivity

To use a habit tracker app or not to use a habit tracker app

Getting into a habit tracker app (apps that help us remember to study our Spanish, do our push-ups in the morning and drink at least 1½ liters of water) are springing up.  Do they really work?  That’s a question I had been grappling with for some time, and I’ve concluded that we can definitively live without them but if used in moderation, these habit tracking apps can certainly take us to new levels.

I’ve been experimenting with a habit tracker app called Habit List for nearly a year.  I’ve tried some others, but this one seemed to be the most appropriate and least disturbing for me.

I think that the important thing to understand about habit reminder apps is that they can take you from feeling guilty about not doing something you know you should be doing to making it an automatic activity in your day, and it works – mainly.

What I’ve found is that there are three important guidelines to using habit tracking apps:

Don’t conquer the world in a day – or even a month (habit change comes one day at a time)

When I started out, I added about ten different routines that I wanted to establish (down from 20!)  The app gives you three for free.  The process worked for a while, but then one day I realized I had gone a week without even opening it.  Notifications didn’t faze me. I ignored them.  I started over, and this time I reduced the number of habits to five, which worked fine for me.  The truth is if I gained any one or two of these habits over a one-year period, my life would be greatly improved, so there’s really no need to go overboard since it doesn’t prevent you from acquiring good habits on the side.

Take breaks

Taking breaks allows us to monitor how we’re doing with the habit acquisition.  It doesn’t mean that we stop doing the habit; rather, it measures how well the habit is being adopted.  Certain things, like drinking water, studying my Spanish on Duolingo (which is cheating since Duolingo has THE most intuitive notification system) and doing my push-ups, stick, but I never got to first base with regular yoga practice (even though I really do enjoy yoga) and evening water drinking.  I think I know why, but that’s a topic for another day.

Keep it to yourself

I know that there are those who say that sharing your goals with someone helps you maintain your perseverance, but there is also a lot of research that says that by sharing your goals you can get a feeling of having achieved them to some degree, which might reduce your persistence.  I tend to agree with the latter wisdom.

For me, the app is my habit tracking buddy.  Once I’ve acquired the habit for say a year, I’ll probably share my success because a year is a significant milestone.  Before that though, my newly forming habits stay between me and Habit List.


 Michael Hoffman

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