Rick Carlino

Personal blog of Rick Carlino, senior software engineer at Qualia Labs, co-founder of Fox.Build Makerspace. Former co-founder of FarmBot.

Journal Apps with Reminders Help Make and Break Habits

For many, the new year signals a time of reflection and also a time to cultivate and modify habits in the year ahead. A New Year’s resolution can be a powerful tool for modifying behavior, achieving goals and reflecting on ones accomplishments. Despite these benefits, following a New Year’s resolution to completion is incredibly uncommon. One source has stated that the failure rate is as high as 80%. Although a New Year’s resolution can be difficult to complete, it is by no means an impossible task.

One strategy that has helped me complete most of my New Year’s goals and resolutions is by using a micro diary app for my phone that includes scheduled daily check-ins. The app is called Daylio and it is available for Android and iOS. Although the app’s main function is to be used as a journal and mood tracker, the “activity tracker” feature is the main reason I have used it for the past three years or so.

When opening the app, you will be prompted to enter your current mood. Although that’s not habit-related, it is not a bad thing to track! After logging your mood for the day you are presented with a list of user-defined activities. It is at this point that you can mark wether or not you have completed any number of activities. I typically populate this list with activities relating to long term goals, such as “continue reading list” or “go for a run”. Habits that involve cessation can be entered by framing them in a negative wording. For instance, if you are trying to stop smoking, you could enter an activity called “No Smoking”. You may also attach a photo (useful for dieting) and a short text entry.

As your habits progress, you will be rewarded with various in-app awards and streak counts. The activities are also viewable on a calendar, which is essential for tracking long term goals.

The most critical part of the app and what makes it better than basic tools like paper journals, is the ability to set regular reminders. This feature has been essential for me to maintain long term habits. After many months of experimentation, I’ve found the perfect check-in interval to be once per day and as early as possible. Checking more than once per day leads to “reminder blindness”, where I see the alerts so often I ignore them. Conversely, setting the check-in period to higher intervals (like once a week) has resulted in lower completion rates on my goals. I’ve also noticed that if I put the reminder too late in the day, it will often go unnoticed due to distractions and higher-priority demands that come up during active times during the day. The early reminder time also creates the perfect opportunity to set an intention for the day rather than treating a goal as an afterthought.

Although I am very happy with Daylio, it is not the only option available for habit tracking. A notable alternative is Habitica, which is similar to Daylio but heavily gamified. Another strategy that is not software based is to form support groups or “mastermind groups” with like minded peers where your peers will regularly solicit progress reports towards your habits and goals. The perfect tool will depend heavily on your personality and intentions. With any habit, the hardest part is getting started and no tool is perfect, but they definitely help! If you are aware of similar tools that have helped you make or break habits, please do reach out and let me know.

I wish you the best of luck as you navigate your goals and habits in the year ahead.

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