The iPhone habit: apps that help you keep your New Year's resolutions


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With the new year upon us, a lot of us are looking at our habits—good ones we want to pick up and bad ones we want to give up. There is some science supporting the idea that, if you do something on a daily basis for a month (or two or three), it will become a habit and so be a lot easier to do regularly from then on.

For me, that has meant that it’s time for “habit apps” for my iPhone. While in theory I should be able to just do these things without any electronic assistance, I’m geeky enough that tracking habits with my iPhone actually provides me more motivation to keep up with them. I know I’m not alone. Talking to geek friends, I know many of them, too, are using habit trackers these days to start doing things like keeping their inboxes empty, taking their daily meds, and cleaning the garage every Sunday.

The right app for the job

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The Habit List app lets you quickly and simply compile a list of habits you want to establish, with flexible reminder times.

When I first started tracking habits, I did it in OmniFocus, my task management application of choice. But it wasn’t a great fit: I didn’t like my habit-related tasks mixed in with my work and personal ones. The app didn’t provide an easy way for me to monitor my historical progress, either.

That’s why I opted instead for more specialized apps. For a year, I used one called Good Habits (free). It’s a well-designed app that easily lets you set up and track habits.

In the list view, Good Habits displays your current streak on each habit you’ve chosen to track. (So, for example, it can show that I’ve flossed every morning for the last five days.) It can also show your longest streak for each. (I once flossed in the morning for 37 straight days; hooray for dental hygiene!) Tapping on a habit opens a month-view calendar that displays when you did (and did not) perform that task. Good Habits also has the ability to send you daily reminders at a specified hour—useful if you need a little extra bit of nagging.

As much as I liked Good Habits, however, I’ve replaced it with another: Habit List ($2.99) is actually pretty similar to Good Habits. The screen includes a list of your habits that are easily updated and ticked off as you go about your day. There is also a monthly view showing your progress on your individual habits and a reminder system. Habit List also shows you a monthly calendar view of days when you were successful.

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But while Good Habits lets you set reminders on the hour only, Habit List lets you set them for any time you want. You can also set reminders to occur on specific days of the week, at regular intervals (every three days, say), or a certain number of times per week. For habits that need to be obeyed only on certain days, you won’t see them on your list until the designated day. For example, I’m trying to scan all my mail every Saturday; that reminder doesn’t show up on my habit list until Saturday.

Habit List also knows enough not to send you a reminder if you’ve already ticked off the habit as accomplished. For example, I set a Morning floss reminder for 9:00 a.m., but rarely see it on my iPhone since I’ve usually ticked that accomplishment off before then. Habit List also adds a statistics screen for each habit that shows your percentange of success by week and for all time.

While these additional features are nice, the real reason Habit List has replaced Good Habits for me is its design. Since I’m in my habit app several times a day, I want it to be easy to use and to look good. Good Habits has been looking long in the tooth every since iOS 7 shipped. Habit List has a nice, clean iOS 7 design; it’s a pleasure to use.

Making habits social


Everest enlists your social-media friends in your quest to change your habits.

Neither Good Habits or Habit List have any social media features. That is just fine with me. I don’t feel any desire to share my daily dental hygiene with the world. For some people, however, social sharing and the peer pressure that comes with it may just provide that extra prod they need to get to the gym every day. There are several apps that add such social features.

Two of the most popular are Everest (free) and Lift (free). Both services allow you to share your goals and habits with friends (or strangers) and publicly share your progress. With Lift, if you create a goal that others are also trying to achieve, it will show you their progress, too. Everest lets you assemble teams of motivators and also tells you who else you’ve motivated as you move toward your goals.

But, as we move into 2014, I’m happy with Habit List. I’m just geeky enough that having an app to help me establish new habits makes it that much more likely that they’ll really stick this time.

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