The best habit tracking app for iOS (or any platform, for that matter) is Streaks. It offers everything you need to create good habits (or break bad ones), features a great design that is very customizable, and offers lots of automation options by integrating directly with the Apple Health app and offering phenomenal support for Shortcuts. At only $4.99 on the iOS App Store, it’s also a bargain.
Habits: The Real Driver of Productivity
Every year, the gym is packed with people who make New Years resolutions to get in shape. This is the year they are determined to make positive change in their lives. Sure, they said the same thing last year, and the year before that — but this year, they mean it. This year, things will be different.
So, they join the gym. Then they buy new workout clothes. And at the beginning, they do go every day. Within 2-3 weeks, they stop coming. Something throws off their plan or they lose motivation because they don’t see any significant change (yet). Their good intentions are not enough to see them through.
It happens to almost everybody. In fact, research at Scranton University says that 92% of New Year’s resolutions will fail. In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear tells us why:
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
If you really want to achieve a big goal this year, the way to do it is to create a system, or habit, that makes success inevitable. Want to lose weight? Don’t chase a goal — make a habit of going to the gym. Want to write a book? Make a habit of writing every day.
There’s a lot written on the science of habits if you really want to dive into the mechanics of how they work, but you don’t have to know it all before you can start making positive changes in your own life. The secret to achieving big goals is consistent small actions. If you can make a habit of doing the right thing every day, success becomes inevitable. With the right habits, this can be the year that you join the 8% who actually achieve their goals.
And the right habit tracking app might be the support you need to make it happen.
Criteria for the Best Habit Tracking App
In selecting the best habit tracking app for iOS, we used the following criteria to select the winner:
- Overall Design & Ease of Use — A good habit tracking app is well-designed, making it easy to add habits and track them regularly.
- Reports & Statistics — The habit tracking app you decide to use should give you easy-to-understand information in the form of stats, graphs, and charts that make it easy track your progress.
- Scheduling & Reminders — When you’re trying to create new habits, you might need a little help getting started. If the habit tracking app you decide to use allows you to schedule the habits you want to establish and set reminders, it makes it easier to follow through.
- Shortcuts Support & Automation — Forgetting to record a habit when you’ve actually completed it can be frustrating, causing your streak to be reset and undermining your motivation. A good habit tracking app allows you to automate this process using Shortcuts.
- Update Schedule — The habit tracking app you use should have a track record of being well-supported to minimize the risk of it suddenly disappearing, forcing you to figure out a new tool (and possibly losing all your data).
- Sync — There’s no shortage of habit tracking apps available for your smartphone, but you should consider how your data will be synced if you want to track your habits from the web or your Mac.
- Cost — What’s a few bucks when compared to the positive impact the right habits in your life will make? But with so many options available, you can afford to be a little picky when it comes to price.
The Best Habit Tracking App: Streaks
Streaks is a great looking app that makes it easy and fun to track your habits, offers a lot of automation-friendly features to help you do so effortlessly, and gives you the data you need to document and measure your success.
The first thing you’ll notice about Streaks is that it is absolutely beautiful. The design is top-notch, and there are a ton of options available. I counted 22 different color themes to pick from, and each one has three different states. Here’s an example of the different versions of the default orange theme:
There are also 46 different home screen icons available that you can pick from to get Streaks looking just the way you like it. I personally like the blue icons on the black background (which looks amazing on OLED screens).
Streaks is built around a philosophy of creating positive change by repeatedly doing the right things (or repeatedly avoiding the wrong things). This “Don’t Break the Chain” strategy is based on a motivational technique that is popularly attributed to comedian Jerry Seinfeld. There’s a story about how a young comedian asked Seinfeld how to become great, and Seinfeld responded by advising the aspiring comic to get a big wall calendar and put a big red X on the calendar for every day that he wrote new material. Each day that he was able to put another X on the calendar, the longer the chain would become. The longer the chain became, the more motivated he would be to not break the chain.
The brilliance in the design of Streaks is in how it reinforces this principle throughout the app, providing motivation to keep going with the positive habits you are trying to create. Each habit you track in the app shows the number of days in your current streak. To mark a habit as complete, tap and hold the task icon.
There are 3 different types of tasks you can track in Streaks:
- Positive Task (habit you want to create)
- Negative Task (habit you want to break)
- Timed task
Positive tasks are the default. There is a small icon next to the task name to indicate if it is either a negative task or a timed task. Timed tasks can now be repeated, so if you wanted to create a habit of completing four 25-minute pomodoro timers per day, you can do that in Streaks. You can also choose if and when you want to receive reminders if you haven’t completed the task yet.
Each task also has the ability to open a URL through a feature it calls the Action Button. This allows you to open an external URL by tapping the button on top of the task icon in Streaks. Here’s an example:
What’s really cool about this is that it works with callback URLs as well. So for example, you could go into Ulysses and use the Share Sheet to copy the callback identifier for a specific sheet, then put that in the Action Button for a task like Write my NaNoWriMo novel and tap the button in Streaks to go straight to your novel and start writing.
You can track up to 12 habits at a time in Streaks (6 per page x 2 pages that can be toggled by the button in the middle of the bar on the bottom). To some this may seem limiting, but this feels like an intentional design choice to help you focus on the behaviors you want to change. Instead of trying to track your entire life, Streaks forces you to identify what habits are really important to concentrate on right now. Overall, we feel the forced constraints are a good thing.
Tapping a habit cycles through a couple different views. The first is a view of the current month, with solid dots for the previous days you’ve completed the habit and a circle to indicate the current day. The next view shows a couple of progress bars, showing your best streak for this habit so far and a completion percentage during the last week and the last 30 days.
Streaks also gives you an overall view of your data. Tap the star icon in the lower-right and you’ll see a stats overview screen that shows you your best streak, all-time completion percentage, total number of competitions, and a couple of charts to show you your habit history. The default view shows you stats for all habits on that page, but you can swipe from right-to-left to see the same data for individual habits as well.
The killer feature in Streaks is the phenomenal automation support. There’s a couple of features Streaks offers that make tracking habits a breeze.
First is the built-in integration with Apple’s Health app. This allows Streaks to look at your Health data and mark tasks as complete when the associated data is recorded. There’s even a Health category when you create a new task in Streaks with a bunch of pre-made healthy habits you can choose from:
This allows you to track things like whether you exercised automatically from your Apple Watch, or whether you closed all your rings today. One I particularly like is the Mindfulness Minutes, which can help you achieve a goal of spending a specific amount of time each day being mindful:
When this task is created, Streaks will automatically track your progress on this task based on the amount of time you spend in apps that have permission to write time spent in the app to the Health app. A couple examples of this are meditation apps like Headspace or 10% Happier and journaling apps like Day One. With the proper settings in those apps, you can create a daily goal in Streaks and automatically track your progress.
Another awesome automation feature is the support for Shortcuts. While most of the other apps we looked at offer basic Shortcut support, Streaks does a great job of integrating with the new Automation features added in iOS 13. This allows you to take action in Streaks whenever an automation is triggered, like opening a specific app or starting a workout on your Apple Watch. For example, I created a Shortcuts automation that marks the task “Read Bible” as complete when I open up the YouVersion Bible app on my iPhone (part of my morning routine).
But that’s just the tip of the automation iceberg. The Shortcuts support in Streaks goes far deeper than any other habit tracker we’ve looked at, giving you the ability to do things like select a task at runtime and provide output parameters for workflows. This allows you to do things like create a generic “complete task” shortcut that prompts you to select a task when you run it. You can also return information about the task you just completed. For example, you can create a shortcut that sends a message to a friend with your current streak for that task when you complete it.
Streaks is also great on the Apple Watch, allowing you to easily complete tasks from your wrist. You can even customize the look of the complication for the different watch faces or select which habits you want to show up on the Siri watch face. And if you want to use Streaks on your iPad as well, it is a universal app that allows you to do so and all your data syncs seamlessly between devices via iCloud. At $4.99 in the App Store, this makes Streaks an incredible value.
The Runner Up: Productive
Productive is another great habit tracking app, although not quite as polished as Streaks, not as automation friendly, and significantly more expensive.
Just like Streaks, Productive is built on the “Don’t Break the Chain” concept to help you string together days of preferred behavior. The Stats screen shows your “Life log” using a monthly calendar that displays a large green dot for all the days that you successfully completed all your tracked habits.
Successful days are linked together with a thin green line, giving you a visual indicator of the length of your chain. The days that you don’t follow through and complete all your habits are marked with an empty circle, a visual indication that your chain was broken. It’s fairly simple, but it does the job — it inspires you to keep going and not break the chain.
This principle is reinforced on the Today screen as well. Each habit clearly shows the length of your chain for that specific habit. While the Stats screen may show that your perfect day streak is done if you mess up and miss one thing, it doesn’t break the chain for all your other individual habits.
One of the things that makes Productive unique is the way the interface incorporates swipe gestures. For example, there is no button to mark a task as completed — just swipe from left-to-right to mark it as done, or right-to-left to “skip” (which allows you to keep your chain intact without marking the task as complete). To add a new habit in Productive, swipe from top-to-bottom and a colorful banner appears at the top of the screen telling you to Pull down to add.
When you create a new habit this way, you can select a preconfigured habit from a variety of categories or select Write my own to create a custom habit. The next screen allows you to name the habit, pick an icon and a color, and even set a timer for how long the habit will take. After that, you can choose how often you want to repeat the habit (daily, weekly, or monthly), select which days you want it to repeat on, choose a time of day you want to perform the habit (morning, afternoon, evening or any time), and whether you want to set a reminder.
You can set reminders for morning, afternoon, or evening in the Free version and control when these reminders will fire in the Settings. For most people, this will be more than enough and doesn’t require you to manually choose a time for each habit you want to create. If you want more granularity, you can set time-based reminders or even location-based reminders if you pony up the $23.99/year for the Premium features.
In addition to more powerful reminders, the Premium version gets you unlimited habits (the free version is limited to 5), better stats, a passcode feature you can use to lock the app, and a light theme. At $23.99/year, the pricing in our opinion is a little steep when compared to Streaks, but if you don’t need the extra reminders or only want to track a small number of habits, you will probably be just fine with the free version. It’s also worth noting that at the time of testing, you could skip the offer to upgrade to Premium at the beginning and use the app for an hour before the discount went away.
If you really want to make something a habit, Productive also has a feature called Boost Mode that will set reminders for every half hour. You can only boost one habit at a time, but it can be nice if you need a big push to get started with a particular habit.
Productive does have an Apple Watch app that allows you to check off habits without your phone, which is easy to read and has large touch targets that make it more functional than a lot of Apple Watch apps. But the support for Shortcuts is somewhat limited when compared to Streaks. You can create trigger phrases for marking off specific habits (for example, “Journaling done”), but it doesn’t offer the ability to tie to the Apple Health data or support some of the newer Shortcuts features in iOS 13.
It’s a bit more expensive, but If you want the ability to track more than 12 habits (the maximum allowed in Streaks), Productive is a good option.
A great option for social habit tracking: Habitica
Habitica is a different approach to habit tracking that applies the concept of gamification to creating (or eliminating) habits. It’s made in the mold of a classic role-playing game (RPG), and the design will appeal to anyone with an affinity for retro video games. Like all RPGs, the goal is to make your character as powerful as possible. This is done by repeating positive habits and avoiding negative ones.
The first thing you do when you launch Habitica is create an account and design your character. Like any good RPG, you can control the class of your character as well as customizing their physical appearance. Once you have created your character, it’s time to add your habits.
Actions in Habitica are broken down into a couple different categories: Habits, Dailies (tasks scheduled in a known, repeatable fashion)*, and To-Dos *(tasks that need to be done once or not on a regular schedule). Habits can be either positive or negative, with good habits giving you experience, gold, or mana for completing them and bad habits causing you to lose health or mana. Your goal is to complete habits and acquire experience points that will allow you to “Level Up” without running out of health points.
Habitica’s RPG-like elements run surprisingly deep. You can even acquire gold and use it to “buy” rewards in the app. The app has an 8-bit style, which is nostalgic to anyone who grew up playing Zelda on their NES (guilty), but it’s not nearly as pretty as Productive. Where Habitica really shines though is the social features. Positive peer pressure is a great tool for forming good habits, and Habitica uses this brilliantly.
While you can use/play Habitica solo, it gets really fun when you start collaborating, competing, and holding each other accountable. You can go to the Tavern if you want to chat with other Habitica users, but you can also join up with other players in a Party or a Guild.
Parties are groups of users who play Habitica together, support each other, and follow each other’s activity. Once you create or join a party, you are able to communicate with other members of your party and embark on challenges where you can fight monsters and earn prizes. It’s a great way for you to connect with your friends and hold each other accountable for creating good habits.
Another community aspect of Habitica is guilds. A guild is a social group within Habitica that allows users to discuss similar interests and participate in group challenges. Unlike parties, guilds are free to join, and allow you to connect with other like-minded individuals who can help keep your motivation high.
Unlike Streaks or Productive, Habitica has its roots as a web app. It is available natively on both iOS and Android, but it is also accessible on the web. That means it’s not going to integrate as nicely with iOS system features or Shortcuts, but it is going to give you the ability to access it from almost anywhere via a web browser. It is also (mostly) free to use, although you can purchase Gems via an in-app purchase (which allow you to buy costumes for your avatar, backgrounds, and a few other things). There is also a subscription that allows you to buy gems with gold and gives you access to exclusive monthly items, but it’s completely optional. You can use Habitica just fine without the $4.99/month subscription.
If Streaks, Productive, or Habitica don’t quite work for you, check out one of the other apps we looked at and you’ll most likely be able to find something that tickles your fancy.
If you’re looking for something that can do a bit more, Strides may be for you. Strides is a very powerful habit tracking app that allows you to track things four different ways:
- Habit, which allows you to track good or bad habits by swiping to log yes or no.
- Target, which lets you enter goal values by date and gives you a pace line so you can see if you’re still on track.
- Average, which shows how long you do something (like tracking how long you sleep each night).
- Project, which gives you milestones and percent complete sliders.
It’s a solid app and you do get quite a bit with the free version (including a native Dark Mode), but if you’re just getting started with habit tracking it’s a little too complicated, in our opinion. Strides Plus is available as an in-app purchase for $4.99/month, $29.99/year, and also offers a Lifetime Plan which is $79.99. All of the Strides Plus plans give you an unlimited number of habits, a web app and sync between devices, and a whole lot more.
Habitify is a solid app, but it just doesn’t quite live up to the high bar set by Streaks or Productive. It does offer unlimited habits, multiple reminders, CSV data export, privacy lock, and the ability to skip habits with Habitify Premium, which is $5.99/month, $24.99/year, or $39.99 Lifetime. Habitify Premium also gives you access on all platforms, allowing you to track your habits on your Mac as well. There’s even an Android version, so if you need to track habits on different platforms, you may want to give Habitify a shot.
Way of Life
If you like charts, graphs, and trend lines, Way of Life may be for you. It provides a ridiculous amount of customization when it comes to analyzing your habits. It’s not nearly as pretty as some of the other apps we like, but it does give you a lot of options and the in-app purchase to remove the habit limit is only a one-time cost of $7.99, which is quite a bit less than some apps we looked at.
You can also purchase individual themes for $0.99 via in-app purchase. There are five to choose from, including a Dark and an Even Darker theme. But with built-in Dark Mode in iOS 13, paying via in-app purchase a for a Dark Mode just feels wrong.
Coach.me is a great service, but it really doesn’t fit what we were looking for in a habit tracking app. In fact, you don’t have the option of creating your own habits! Instead, you search for and join a community with a pre-defined focus or goal. You can then ask questions, get encouragement, and find accountability within that community. If you’re the type of person who would benefit from an online community and can find one that matches your goal/habit, then Coach.me is definitely worth checking out. But if you want to join a group of friends in creating habits together, we still prefer Habitica.
Done is a simple habit tracker that uses horizontal bar graphs to track progress on your habits. It’s really well-designed and gives you all the features you need (unlimited habits, iCloud backup, passcode, CSV export, etc.) for a single in-app purchase of $6.99. It’s also available as part of a bundle of five apps called the Growth Bundle which includes other productivity and lifestyle apps by the developer for a subscription of $2.99/month or $15.99/year.
An Editor’s Choice award winner in 2016, Today looks great and is a little more visually interesting than a lot of the habit trackers we looked at because it allows you to select a beautiful and motivating full screen photo cover for each one of your habits. You can pick from their selection of photo covers or use any of your own photos. It also allows you to build your own dashboard by using several different “cards,” like milestones, stress levels, streak calendars, and Apple Health charts. If you don’t like the standard look of most habit tracking apps or want a little more control in setting up your own custom reports, the $4.99 one-time in-app purchase for Today is very reasonable and might be for you.
Habit List is a solid app that has been around for a long time. It has a clean, intuitive user interface with all the basic features you need. A one-time in-app purchase of $4.99 unlocks unlimited habits, passcode lock, and a dark mode that looks great.
One minor complaint is that it doesn’t do a great job of showing you how many non-specific days are left for habits that require it. For example, if you set a habit of going to gym 3 days per week, the Habit List interface will show you how many days you’ve gone so far, but won’t tell you how many are left. You can get this info by tapping on the task and leaving your list, but we prefer the way both Streaks and Productive show you this data.
Fabulous is a gorgeous app that was “incubated in Duke’s Behavioral Economics lab,” promising to help you create a better you in only 19 days. Based on other research around habit building that says it takes at least 21 days and often more like 66 days to create positive habits, this seems like a bit of an outrageous claim to us. It’s built around the concept of Journeys, guiding you down a path instead of selecting specific habits you want to create or eliminate. At $49.99/year, it’s also very expensive compared to the other apps we looked at.
Momentum was a great looking app when it launched, and it also offers a native Mac app which may appeal to some users. However, neither the iOS or Mac apps have received an update in the last 3 years. for that reason, we can’t recommend this one.
There’s an abundance of riches when it comes to habit tracking apps for iOS, but our favorite is Streaks. It gives you powerful features, almost unlimited customization options, and integration with Apple features like the Health app and Shortcuts to automate much of your digital habit tracking. Productive is another great option with powerful features (like Boost Mode and location-based reminders) at a bit of a premium. And if you like the idea of gamifying your habits or want something more social, check out Habitica.