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, has some useful widgets, integrates directly with the Apple Health app for automatic tracking, and offers great 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, people set New Year’s resolutions. This will be the year they get in shape, pick up yoga, run a marathon, give up junk food, eat more vegetables, etc.
But without habits and routines to support those goals, they are likely unlikely to stick. 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. Build these small actions into your daily routine if you really want to move the needle this year.
We’ve got a whole course on building better habits if you really want to dive into the mechanics of how they work, but you don’t have to know everything before you can start making positive changes in your own life. The secret to behavioral change is consistency. If you can make a habit of doing the right thing and repeat it 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 tracker might be just the support you need to make it happen.
Free Webinar: Productive Habits
WHAT: Mike Schmitz will be sharing about 3 ways habits & routines can save you time and create success in every area of your life.
WHEN: Thursday 28, January at 2pm EST // 7pm BST // 11am PDT
HOW LONG: About 1 hour (including time for Q & A)
Why Not Just Use a Task Manager?
The short answer is because we all have too much to do. And if you’re like most people, the list keeps getting longer.
Emails, Slack messages, phone calls — the list of inputs continues to grow. As it does, we need to make tough choices about what’s going to get done and what isn’t.
But that’s not the case with habits.
Your tasks and projects may help you decide what you do, but your habits make you who you are.
People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits, and their habits decide their futures. — FM Alexander
Your task list contains everything you may or may not do, but we view habits as on another level. Tasks and project are optional, but habits are non-negotiable. The problem is that habits are often important but not urgent, so without being intentional it’s easy to let them slip and develop bad habits in their place.
The truth is that we all have habits and routines already. We all have things we do every day, either by design or by default. The moment you decide to be intentional about choosing your habits is the day you start changing your future.
And using a habit tracker is a great way to prioritize these little things that add up to big results.
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 tracker you decide to use allows you to schedule the habits you want to establish and set reminders, it makes it easier to follow through and take consistent action.
- 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.
- Widgets — Widgets are a great way to view your habit progress without having to open up the app. While adding support for widgets takes time and the feature is relatively new, we feel it’s fair to expect at least basic widget support from your habit tracker.
- 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 47 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).
How it Works
Streaks is built around a philosophy of creating behavioral 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. The story goes that a young comedian once asked Seinfeld after a standup routine how to become great, and Seinfeld told 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 your desired behavior change. 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, i.e. Take vitamins)
- Negative Task (habit you want to break, i.e. No junk food)
- Timed task (habit you do for a minimum period of time, i.e. 10 minutes of yoga)
Positive tasks are the default, and Streaks uses a small icon next to the task name to denote either a negative or timed task. Timed tasks can also be repeated, so if you wanted to create a habit of completing four 25-minute pomodoro timers per day, you can set that up as a habit in Streaks. You can also choose if and when you want to receive reminders if incomplete for each habit that you track.
Each task or habit 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 that shows an action for reading The Sweet Setup blog that opens the URL in Safari:
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. For example, you could use the first page to help build a solid morning routine and the second page to help with your evening routine. Instead of trying to track your entire life, Streaks forces you to identify what parts of your daily routine are important to concentrate on right now. Overall, we feel the forced constraints are a good thing.
Tapping on a habit cycles through a couple different available 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 the habit so far and a completion percentage during the last week and the last 30 days.
Streaks also lets you see an overall view of all your habit 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 completions, 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.
Not many of the habit trackers we looked at supported widgets, which is a shame. Widgets are a great way to see the progress of your habits without having to open the application itself, and Streaks has the best widgets of any habit tracker we looked at.
Streaks offers three different widget types:
- App Icon, which shows the streaks app icon with a colored ring showing your current progress.
- Dots, which shows the tasks from a specific page.
- Tasks, which displays up to four tasks.
All the widgets are available in all three sizes except for App icon, which is only available in small and large (since it’s square in shape).
I like the medium-sized Dots widget the best, but they all look pretty great.
Unfortunately, the widgets themselves are not interactive. Tapping the widget simply opens the app. I understand this is a limitation of iOS 14, but it would be great to tap and hold on a widget button to complete a habit just like you can in the app. Something like the Timery Saved Timers widget (which opens the app and starts the appropriate timer when the button in the widget is pressed) for completing habits would be a great.
Making Habit Tracking Easy
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. There’s a lot of cool stuff you can do here, like tracking your Mindfulness Minutes automatically when in a meditation app, which can help you achieve a goal of spending a specific amount of time each day being mindful. I even have a habit in Streaks that tracks how much water I drink, which is updated automatically from Apple Health data that is synced automatically from my Hidrate Spark Steel water bottle via bluetooth.
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 newer automation features available on iOS. 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.
In addition to a universal iOS app, Streaks also offers a native Mac app. It’s a separate $4.99 one-time purchase through the Mac App Store, and runs as a simple menu bar app that shows six dots and indicates your current daily progress by darkening the appropriate dots when the habits are completed. Clicking the menu bar icon opens up the full Streaks app, which looks just like the iOS version and offers full feature-parity and iCloud sync between your devices. It even syncs your theme preference between the iOS and the Mac.
You can certainly get by with just the iOS app — and we prefer to track our habits from our iPhone — but if you want to be able to see your habit data or occasionally mark things off on your Mac, it’s great that Streaks gives you that option.
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 solid habit tracking app with more hand-holding, a very different aesthetic feel, less automation features, and a pretty expensive subscription.
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. The green line connecting the dots will be broken if a habit was missed, but will stay connected if instead a habit was skipped on an incomplete day. 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).
Another unique feature of Productive are the Challenges. These are separate from your habits, but give you a series of pre-configured actions that you can use to create positive behavior change, like a Mindfulness Challenge or a Social media Detox Challenge. When you start a challenge, you are asked to make a promise to complete the Challenge by signing your name before the challenge is added to the app. It’s a unique commitment mechanism that could be very useful if any of the available challenges are a fit for the types of changes you want to make.
When you create a new habit by tapping the big blue plus button at the bottom of the interface, you can select a preconfigured habit from a variety of curated categories or create your own from scratch. When creating your own you can choose the name of the habit, pick an icon and color, and even set a goal for the number of times you want to complete the habit. 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), set an end date, and enable either time or location-based reminders.
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 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 $29.99/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. In fact, when you try add more than 5 habits with the Premium version you get a pop-up that encourages you not to make too many habits at once. There’s lots of these little touches throughout the app that can help increase your chances of positive behavioral change.
Productive also has 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 connect to Apple Health data or support some of the more recent Shortcuts features.
It’s a bit more expensive, but If you want the ability to track more than 12 habits at a time (the maximum allowed in Streaks), Productive is a good option.
A great option for nerdy 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 to feel like you are participating in 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 Streaks or Productive. Where Habitica really shines though is the social features. Peer pressure is a great accountability tool for positive behavioral change, and Habitica uses this mechanism 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.
There are a ton of habit tracking apps out there for iOS. Here’s a list of (most) of the other apps we looked at when writing this review:
- Daily Planner
- Habit List
- Way of Life
Here’s a quick look at some of the more noteworthy options.
Tangerine is interesting because in addition to helping you build new habits like the rest of the apps we looked at, it is also a mood tracker. Tap the button below the date and you can log how your day went, what contributed, and how you felt about it using a few simple prompts. It’s really well done, and adds another dimension to habit tracking that fits really well. Tangerine also has great widget support, with a Cards widget that opens straight to the desired habit when you tap on the appropriate card.
The big drawback to Tangerine is that it’s expensive ($29.99/year or $4.99/month) for the premium features. It also has a unique visual style that isn’t as customizable as Streaks, and lacks the automation features and integrations that Streaks offers.
Henry was the most delightful surprise out of all the apps we tested. Like Tangerine, it takes a more holistic approach to your overall wellbeing by incorporating a simple mood tracker in addition to your daily habits. It has a unique personality as you are guided through the app by Henry, a cute fox character that explains the basics of behavioral change and helps you get your habits set up.
In addition to streaks and stats, Henry also offers motivational quotes to keep you going and a timed break feature that lets you select from a few different nature settings. This feature reminded us a lot of our favorite meditation app, minus the vocal guide. It’s a neat feature that can help you get a little mindfulness when you need it, and can also be triggered via widget.
Speaking of which, the widgets in Henry are fantastic. In addition to triggering a break, you can also see your streak data, how many habits you have left, even log your emotional state straight from the widget.
There’s tons of personality in this app, which may or may not be for you. It lacks the automation features in Streaks, but if you want something a little more fun, check out Henry. The app is a one-time purchase of only $1.99 on the App Store with no in-app purchases, though there are additional characters you can unlock with “keys” that you earn by completing your habits in the app. There’s also a Mac version, which is also a $1.99 one-time purchase.
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, but if you’re just getting started with habit tracking it’s a little too complicated. 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, 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.
HabitShare is a social habit tracker that adds an element of accountability by letting you share your habits with your friends. It’s a neat idea, and you can choose which individual habits you want to share with your friends so you don’t need to share everything.
Unfortunately, the app itself is a bit clunky when compared to something like Streaks. It gives you the tools you need, like the ability to show your streak data, reminders so you don’t forget, and charts to track your progress, but this multiplatform social habit app doesn’t really look or feel like an iOS app, and lacks a lot of native iOS features. It is also completely free, which makes us question the longevity of this app. But if you like the social accountability aspect and can convince some friends to track habits with you, this might be for you.
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 to unlock these features is very reasonable.
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. If you want something that will tell you what to do, Fabulous may be for you. But if you simply want a great habit tracker, Fabulous isn’t it.
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 four years. For that reason, we can’t recommend this one.
Free Webinar: Productive Habits
WHAT: Mike Schmitz will be sharing about 3 ways habits & routines can save you time and create success in every area of your life.
WHEN: Thursday 28, January at 2pm EST // 7pm BST // 11am PDT
HOW LONG: About 1 hour (including time for Q & A)
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.