I have taken Shawn Blanc’s Focus Course a few times now; the biggest takeaway that I had from the course was that daily habits were essential for meeting long term goals. After the course, I restructured my goals into something sustainable that I can do every day (or at least most days).
“Have a successful independent app business” turned into “work on a side project at least four days every week”.
“Blog more” turned to “write for 20 minutes at least four days every week”.
“Read more” turned to “read at least one chapter of a book every day”.
“Know the Word of God” turned to “read at least one chapter from the Bible every day”.
Be healthier was broke up into a few habits:
- Fill my Apple Watch Activity rings every day.
- Do a workout (even a small one) every day.
- Drink at least 68oz of water every day.
- Weigh myself every day.
By breaking big goals into small steps, you make them easier to achieve. If you hit that small step over and over again, you will end up with big results. To steal another adage that I learned from Shawn, the daily habits become the “little strokes that fell great oaks”.
The other advantage of turning things into habits is that you build momentum. When I got back into working out, the first few days were rough. When you are still sore from the day before, the absolute last thing that you want to do is workout again. As you keep doing it, the activation energy that it takes to do that task gets lower and lower. After awhile, it just became something that you don’t have to think about. You just do it.
When I decided that I wanted to get back to incorporating these daily habits into my life, I did what anyone who knows me would expect to be the first step: I found an app. That app is Streaks.
Streaks is a very simple app. You come up with a list of things (up to twelve) that you want to do every day. It will present those items in a 2x3 grid (there will be two pages if you have more than six items). Each item will show whether or not it has been completed today and how many days in a row you have completed it.
You goal is to simply complete every item in your list every day to increase your streak. The idea behind that streak is that if you build up momentum, you will not want to miss a day to break that momentum. If I have read the Bible every day for the last 11 days but I am not really feeling it today, I am more likely to go ahead and read it today so I don’t have to start my streak back over the next day.
Streaks can be tired directly into your Heath database to automatically mark tasks as completed.
For these tasks, it will show the percent completed for that day by filling out a ring around that task’s icon. This is useful because you can get a good sense of how far away you are from completing that goal.
My only complaint with the Health import is that it is not quite customizable enough for me. I have my Workout task as a manual one because I can not yet set it up to record exactly what I want. I routinely take a 30 minute walk at work, but I don’t want that workout to count for this task. I would love it if I could make a task that was “Do a 20 minute workout excluding walks”. All things considered, that it is a pretty minor complaint.
My favorite thing about the iPhone app is that I don’t really have to use it very often. Most of my interactions with Streaks comes via the Apple Watch app and its watch face complication.
The complication is what made this app stick for me. It just shows a grid of dots matching the layout of the first page of streaks. A light gray dot shows an incomplete task and a white dot shows a completed one. By using the grid (instead of just a badge with a number), you can see not only how many tasks you have left, but which tasks are left. Tapping on the complication opens the app, which shows you both pages of your tasks in a scrolling list (where you can, of course, mark them as completed).
Even if you don’t have an Apple Watch, you can interact with Streaks via its widget. You can access the widget in Notification Center or by 3D Touching the app icon. It shows one page of streaks at a time and has a button on the bottom right to toggle between pages. My only wish here is that it supported a larger widget size that showed both pages at once while in Notification Center.
Finally, you can mark tasks as complete from the reminder notifications that the app sends (either from the phone or the watch).
Streaks has a tons of ways to customize both the app’s UI and when individual tasks should be done.
On the UI front, you can change the theme color for the individual pages and change the color of the app’s icon to match.
For the tasks, you can customize:
- How many times a day a certain task needs to be completed
- How many days a week a task needs to be completed
- Which days of the week a task needs to be completed
- If (and when) a task should send a reminder or show a badge
You can also set negative tasks, which are implicitly mark as completed until you tell the app otherwise. This is useful for when you are trying to quit doing something. For example, I used one of these to efficiency remove Dr. Pepper from my life3.
Since I am trying to turn all of these into daily habits, I don’t use many of the customization features. My writing and coding streaks are set to four days a week and my workout is set to six days a week, but that is the extent of my task customization. The simplicity of “do this set of things every day” works better in practice for me.
I have used Streaks to basically gamify changing my default life habits.
- Streaks reminds me to do a certain task.
- I do that task, so I feel good about doing it.
- I check off that task, and then I feel good about getting to check it off.
- If they are all checked off at the end of the day, then I feel good about that.
Keeping track of things you want to do every day both helps build momentum so you keep doing them and it provides a little positive feedback that makes you want to keep doing them.
The New Year is a natural time to try to start some new habits and to make some positive life changes. Use Streaks to help you get from your goal to a daily step you can take to achieve that goal. Get started this weekend so you already have some momentum when January 1st hits this Monday.
I recommend starting with no more than four tasks so you are not overwhelmed. Make a couple of them easy so you can build momentum by checking them off. And then do them every day.
This one is really cool because I have a Nokia scale that automatically sends my data to the Health app. So I can go stand on the scale in the morning and then Streaks will see that new entry and automatically mark that task as done. ↩︎
I mocked the Apple Watch Breath app when it was announced, but I have found it to be useful for prayer time. ↩︎
Anyone who knew me in college could testify that this was a monumental task. ↩︎