Geek Beat: Apps to Build Better Habits

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‘Tis the season for year-end recaps (see today’s Bytemarks Cafe), top-ten lists (more on this tomorrow), and yes, New Year’s resolutions. For this morning’s Geek Beat segment on Hawaii News Now‘s Sunrise morning show, we covered three apps to help you keep those resolutions.

Of course, our last Geek Beat segment of 2014 had a similar theme, and my top pick then — Coach.me — is still around. But the company has shifted its focus and the “habit tracker” app is feeling more and more like an afterthought. Fortunately, the productivity app space is crowded with a lot of great options.

Streaks

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First up is Streaks, a “Best of 2015” app according to Apple, priced at $3.99. The app credits comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his mantra of, “Don’t break the chain.” Do something daily, and the longer you go without missing a day, the more motivated you are to keep going.

I found it when looking for alternatives to Coach.me, and Streaks stands apart for its apparent simplicity. Coach.me has a social component and the ability to add any number of daily tasks. (It also wants to sell you coaching plans.) Streaks, on the other hand, is focused entirely on helping you track your running streak of success for only six habits.

I’ll admit, the limited number of tasks annoyed me at first, but looking at my own track record on Coach.me, I now think most people are kidding themselves if they think they can build more than six new habits at once (unless you count things like “brush your teeth” and other things you probably already do every day). And Streaks just looks good. Clean, elegant, very Apple-like.

Streaks does more than meets the eye, however. You can customize its reminder notifications, set icons for each habit, and tie certain fitness habits to the built in Health app on iOS. And there’s also an Apple Watch app with a simple complication of six dots that can show you at a glance how well you’re doing any time of day.

Streaks is the app my wife uses to make sure she gets around to a growing number of habits that make her happy: reading, practicing a foreign language (last year it was via Duolingo, now it’s Memrise), going for a walk, and practicing on her electric bass… her Christmas gift from yours truly.

I think Streaks is worth it for the polish, but similar, free apps include Strides, Productive, and Way of Life.

balanced-app

Balanced

If you are looking for a little bit more than six dots and a calendar, there’s Balanced. It’s actually from the same developer who makes Productive, but Balanced has a more pronounced point of view. It’s not just about completing tasks and building good habits, but about living a balanced life. And the app is emphatically positive, built for motivation and focus.

Flexibility is one of the key differentiators for Balanced. You can skip activities without getting picked on, and while it cheers you on for maintaining a long daily streak, it’s also fine to check something off only a few times a week, or even a few times a year. And your lists of tasks can be prioritized, so it always highlights the most important things to you that are left to do.

Perhaps most helpfully, Balanced has provides a long list of suggested activities for your “happiness list,” positive ideas to choose from when you’ve managed to do everything else you’ve set out to do.

The Balanced interface is bright and friendly, gesture heavy (so you can swipe, pull, tap, and shake your way through the day), and includes little delightful touches clearly designed to cheer you on. I like my task managers and apps in general to be sleek and a little cold, but if you’re looking for more warmth, Balanced is a great option.

Habitica

habiticaAlthough I completely blanked on the name of this app on TV (and even got its old name wrong, it was HabitRPG not HabitDNA), Habitica is easily the most interesting habit-builting app out there. It started as an open-source software project, for one, a web tool that anyone could deploy and improve. And it made the jump to mobile platforms via a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $40,000 (well over its $25,000 goal).

The way Habitica motivates its users to succeed is by turning your tasks and goals into a role playing game. If you’ve ever quibbled over hit points in an imaginary battle between wizards and trolls, Habitica is for you.

While other apps may talk about “gamification,” Habitica gets very deep very fast. You start off designing and avatar, and as you progress, you can get fancier clothes and even pets. You have health points that go up when you’re being productive and down when you’re not, and you can collect gold coins for achievements that can then be traded in for virtual or even real-world goodies. You can form teams to work together or fight against each other.

Habitica has by far the most complicated interface of any task and goal tracker that I’ve seen, but that’s in part a result of it starting out as a web-based tool. And if you enjoy getting lost in the minutiae of RPGs, or if you have a mean competitive streak, you might love Habitica.

Like many geeks, I’m probably more in love with the tools and toys designed for getting things done than I am with actually getting things done. But sometimes, if only by accident, lifehacking apps and strategies actually help. What are your favorites? And how are you going to keep your New Year’s resolutions?

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