The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is easily one of the most influential books I have ever read, and I have been inspired to follow its principles ever since reading it in its entirety. To those who have not read the book, Covey shares that people should strive for “Personal Mastery” first, which are the first three habits that form the basis for the last four. These are powerful lessons that can change the way you live and work, so it would do well for me to summarize the first three habits before delving into how Streaks can actually help you achieve your aims for personal change.
On the Road towards Personal Mastery
The first thing you should know about Covey’s “habits” is that they are not “habits” in the usual way that you might understand the word. It is less about particular activities such as flossing your teeth twice a day and more about having a kind of perception and way of thinking, which Covey terms a “paradigm.” His first three habits, “Be Proactive,” “Begin with the End in Mind,” and “Put First Things First” seek to establish a mindset that empowers the self through focusing on things that are truly important.
“Be Proactive” is a mode of thinking that makes us recognize that, in all hardships and situations, we have choices, and that we should focus our attention on activities within our “Circle of Influence” (things that we can control) rather than those in our “Circle of Concern” (things beyond our control). “Begin with the End in Mind” is based on our ability to imagine what we want to achieve in our lives. “Put First Things First” is the natural follow-up to the first two: we should not be working on every task that comes along our way; rather, we should prioritize and focus on tasks that bring us closer to our objectives.
Focusing on “Quadrant II” Activities
All activities and tasks can be categorized in the diagram below, taken from Covey’s chapter on “Put First Things First”:
It is possible to separate all your tasks by magnitude of urgency and importance. Urgent activities are those that demand our immediate attention and give us stress, and important activities are those that further our goals and relationships.
There are four categories of activities in total. Activities in quadrants 3 and 4 are time-wasters, and Covey suggests that we redirect effort to activities in quadrant 2. By focusing on important tasks and goals, we give ourselves space and allow our relationships to grow. Granted, tasks in quadrant 1 are sometimes unavoidable, but by concentrating on quadrant 2, we can, over time, reduce the number of tasks in quadrant 1 caused by our neglect and inattention towards things that are important to us.
So what are quadrant 2 activities? These are related to your mission, ambition and purpose. For me, I want to be a filial son, a loyal friend, and a good brother. Activities that may bring me closer to these goals include spending quality time with family and close friends and calling home a few times each week. I know that I have some issues with temper and stress management that affect my relationships, so activities that may help include meditation and therapy sessions. If I want to be sought after in the startup industry, I should pick up technical skills such as coding or even a new language or two. If I want to keep abreast of current affairs and to broaden my general knowledge and critical thinking skills, reading would really help. However, these activities tend to be crowded out by more urgent – but ultimately less important – daily tasks.
The problem that I faced, as did many people who read the book, is in translating the book’s concepts into concrete actions. I was full of fire and intent after getting inspired by Covey, but I was in danger of losing steam and slipping back into laziness and my old routines. I needed an app or a tool to remind me of the important activities that I should be doing, so I ploughed the web for solutions. I tried desk organizers marketed by Franklin Covey, as well as calendar and to-do apps like Wunderlist and Google Calendar, but they did not meet my expectations because it was a chore to constantly update the tools and I had the tendency to not follow to-do lists when life got in the way.
Criteria for a Great App for Building and Breaking Habits
- Clean and Simple Interface: The app must be quick and easy to use. I don’t want to waste time figuring out how to navigate the app.
- Customizable Reminders: What’s the point of having a task-reminder app if it doesn’t allow us to set when we want to be reminded for those important activities?
- Rewards People for Sticking to Habits: There should be a counter that indicates how long you have kept to a habit. New research has emerged that the time it takes for a new habit to be formed and an old one to be broken is about 2 months.
- Features Apple’s Health App Integration: This is a bonus, but an app that syncs well with Apple’s Health app will support fitness activities and body measurement updates that will prove incredibly useful in getting that six pack.
- Review Option: For keeping track of achievements!
The Winner: “Streaks”
Many “habit-building” apps that we assessed over a week seem confused and unfocused. They either function like calendars or generic to-do lists, or are a mix of both. Personally, I don’t have any use for another to-do or calendar app because I’m already using one for work-related and deadline-oriented tasks. Thankfully, there’s an app that’s very focused in its role as a habit formation app: Streaks. (Do note that there are two apps with the name “Streaks.” The one that I am referring to is by Zervaas Enterprises and has an orange and white app icon).
Clean and Innovative Layout
The Streaks app is clean – it features minimal words and only 3 colors (white, black, and a base color that can be changed at any time). All your tasks are presented in the form of cute icons enclosed in circles. Goodbye, boring lists!
To add a new task, tap on the conspicuous button on the default screen which will open a new screen. You can create and name your own tasks or select from the many presets. Of special note are the “health enabled” tasks such as walking and sleeping. You are able to sync these tasks with Apple’s health app, but don’t bother with the preset for “Run” because the app cannot tell the difference between walking and running.
On the next screen, you can select your icon and select your “task days”, where you can assign to do your tasks every day, on specific days of the week, or for a number of random days per week. Select “Save Task” and you’re done!
Unattempted activities – or failed attempts – are represented by an icon bordered by a gray circle, and the small number below the icon indicates how many consecutive times you’ve fulfilled the task. When you want to “complete” a task, press and hold onto the icon for a second and the icon will flush white: impressively quick and easy. I can enter the app, update a habit, and be out in 3 seconds.
Customize Streaks to your Liking
At the bottom left of the main screen is the settings button. Once you’ve pulled the settings screen up, you can change the base color of the app, set the parameters of individual tasks, and export the data of your habits into a CSV file (awesome!). Also, the notification function’s extremely nifty; you can set when exactly you want to receive custom reminders for each task, so you can actually tailor the app to fit your unique tasks and habits.
Review Your Progress
You can toggle the view on your app to view your progress on each individual task. Tap quickly once on an individual task icon or select the calendar button at the bottom right of the screen to view all the tasks. You will see a calendar view of the days you have successfully attempted the task (white dot) and the days you missed (black cross). If you need to edit the history, you can press and hold onto the calendar view and it will enlarge, allowing you to edit it.
Other Great Alternatives
While Streaks is polished, responsive and has great features, the app can be limiting because it allows only 6 tasks to be tracked at one time. This can be a little restrictive, so if you want to monitor more tasks at once, here are other notable mentions that can do the job well:
Balanced – I really like this app, and I would dare to venture that this app is the closest competitor to Streaks. The design is clean and minimalistic, and the fonts and icons beautifully match. The free version is ad-free and supports five habits, but you can upgrade to the premium version for $3.99 to unlock more features and enable the tracking of more activities. However, the free version does not track the history of a habit or your progress, so make sure you upgrade to get the premium (it costs as much as Streaks does anyway).
Habit Streaks – This app has a simple, soothing interface that is also a pleasure to use. While the free version can only support three habits, you can upgrade to the premium version for $3.99 to track unlimited habits and access the custom reminders function. The app is presented in the style of a list, and while its design is not as sleek as the rest, it gets the job done. What’s also great is that the free version doesn’t have ads.
Coach.me – Coach.me is not just a habit-tracking app but also a coaching app. While this app can pass as a personal habit tracker (the app’s features are free anyway), this app shines for its one-on-one coaching, useful tutorials and supportive community. Its many preset habits such as “Strengthen Your Abs While Sitting” and “Wake Up Early” have links to videos giving you tips on how to achieve your goals. You can “join” these activities and “check in” when you complete the activity with thousands of people around the globe who use this app, which is fantastic if you are the kind who thrives from the energy and the motivation of others. You can also find “coaches” for a particular activity or habit you are seeking to build, but take note the service comes at a hefty price tag: a minimum of $15 per week. (I personally feel the price tag to hire coaches for some habits is ridiculous. You honestly don’t need to hire a coach at $15 per week to give you tips on how to wake up early… do you?)
There are many habit tracker/builder apps out there, each with their own unique features and target users. If you have the personal discipline to succeed, Streaks will serve you well for up to 6 habits. Beyond that, Balanced and Habit Streaks are fine apps that will also help you achieve your goals. On the other hand, if you are a person who feels more motivated within a community setting, you might want to consider Coach.me.