Streaks App

Earlier today I downloaded Streaks, an app to track habits you want to keep.

My habit-keeping habit has been abysmal this year, and I needed a fresh approach.

I have used Habit List to good effect in the past, but I’m thinking a shiny new tool might rejuvenate my commitment to routines that make my life better. 

John Gruber of Daring Fireball recommended Streaks recently. I took a look, and it looks ideal for what I want to do—track my follow through on just a few key daily habits. It has a gorgeous and simple design and looks like a fun app to use. 

Not an hour after I purchased Streaks, I saw on Twitter that the app just won a design award from Apple today as one of the best apps of the year. 

I’ll give Streaks a go and try to revitalize some habits and revitalize my commitment to living a more excellent life. 

Alto’s Adventure: A great iOS game

I’m not much of a game player, but occasionally one will come along that is just delightful. The newly released Alto’s Adventure for iOS is that game.

It’s two bucks and well worth it for its gorgeous design and satisfying, immersive experience. You ride a snowboard down a mountain and collect stray llamas. Really.

I loaded it on my kids’s devices today and all of us have been locked into it. So good.

I remember having a similar feeling playing Canabalt on the original iPad five years ago.

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Daily apps: Useful and delightful

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My current iPhone home screen.

These are my most frequently used apps at the moment. I have six other screens of apps that mostly don’t get much use.

Those apps that merit inclusion on my home screen are ones that serve a regular useful purpose and are a delight to use. They do their jobs well.

Useful and delightful. A solid couple of traits to value and aspire to in more than just the apps on your devices.

A daily app: Pedometer++

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We have daily carry items. Everyday I put my keys, phone, and wallet in my pockets before leaving home. Now, most of us have daily apps, phone apps we use every day. These are the apps that stay on your home screen or not too far from it.

I’ve recently begun using Pedometer++ to track the number of steps I take each day. It only works with iPhone 5s, 6, and 6 Plus. The app design is simple and bright, and its function is basic: it just tracks how many steps you take in a day and the number of floors you may have climbed.

You can set the app to list your current steps on the little red badge on the app icon making it unnecessary to even open the app if you just want to check the number.

It makes me want to walk more. I love seeing the steps number go up. I’ll even make an extra effort to put my phone in my pocket at home, even in my pajamas, to make sure steps don’t go uncounted.

It’s a free app, but ads appear at the bottom of the display. With an in-app “tip”, you can support the developers and get rid of the ads. Yes, for me, to both.

This is a tiny little tool that is tweaking my routine and my consciousness in a healthy way and merits its use as one of my daily apps.

Hardcore History: Blueprint for Armageddon V

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I was delighted when I opened my podcast app (Overcast) and found a new episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I’ve raved before about how great Carlin’s work is, but new episodes don’t appear very often. And when you listen you understand why. I can’t imagine the hours that go into creating each episode. The research alone for a single episode must take weeks or months. And a four-hour episode flows seamlessly, meaning the preparation and editing involved in laying out the narrative so smoothly has to take a lot of time.

This latest episode is the fifth in his series on World War I. The complexities of that conflict are overwhelming, and I would not, even after hours of listening to this series, be able to recall the names of the constantly changing cast of generals and political figures. But what I get from this podcast, from the accretion of details and small stories and heartbreaking anecdotes, is an overarching sense of the insanity of our history. It’s fascinating and compelling to follow the flow of events and lives that collide in often tragic circumstances.

I listen while driving alone or while walking. My drive to work is only around fifteen minutes, but I look forward to Dan Carlin regaling me in those short bursts of time with true stories of humanity’s biggest events and told with Carlin’s characteristic enthusiasm and drama.

Here’s a good interview with Dan Carlin that explores how this podcast came to be and how he works.

If you haven’t discovered podcasts yet, Hardcore History is an excellent one to start with. It’s not light or quick. But it’s as rewarding a show to listen to as any I’ve discovered.

App sale: Day One is 99 cents till Dec. 26

One of my favorite and most used apps, Day One, is on sale now through December 26 for only 99 cents. It’s normal price is $4.99.

If you’ve been holding out because you think five bucks is too much to spend on any app, here’s your chance. But, really, an app that brings value to your life is easily worth a few bucks, especially considering the silly things we all waste money on that bring no value in return.

Day One, of course, is a journal app, and it’s lovely. It reduced the friction that kept me from ever sticking to a journal habit and actually made it fun to chronicle my life. I treat it like my own private Twitter, that no one sees but me.

As I’ve been looking back over the year recently, Day One has provided a delightful way to remember what has happened and what has mattered most.

Day One is just one of many apps that are on sale right now. Here’s a great list of the great deals from MacStories. I also love Tweetbot, the best Twitter client, and SolarWalk, a gorgeous exploration of the solar system.

Five weeks left in 2014: Don’t break the string

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Today is the halfway point of my ten-week countdown to the end of the year. There are now only five weeks left till December 31. I’ve not missed on any of my chosen habits. I’m keeping the string unbroken, and I’m finding it satisfying to check off each habit in the Habit List app each day.

My ten-year-old committed herself to playing guitar every day with the goal of being able to play “Here Comes The Sun” by New Year’s Eve. She was eager to use the Habit List app on her device, and she has now got a 7-day string going. This is the most consistently she’s ever played the guitar since starting lessons more than a year ago. It seems more like a game to not break the string. Sticking with a habit just feels easier when it’s monitored this way, with the pressure to keep the streak alive.

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While consistency is key, those sessions still need to be high quality to bring about real improvement. They need to involve deep practice, the kind of effort that keeps bumping up against limits and stretching and refining skills. If I just do enough push-ups to check the box without actually feeling any pain, I won’t get stronger. The key is to go to failure and then try to go a bit further; that’s what leads to progress and makes the difference.

But first you’ve got to just show up, get the quantity in so you can eventually get to quality.

What habit can you lock in in the next five weeks to finish the year on a roll?

 

 

 

A great podcast: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Podcasts have almost completely replaced the radio for occupying my driving time, and I often listen to podcasts on my daily walk. There are so many good podcasts to recommend – TED Radio Hour, Serial, The Tim Ferriss Show, Jeff Garlin’s By The Way.

But the most impressive and engrossing podcast I’ve encountered is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Carlin goes deep and produces what are in essence audiobooks about each historical topic he takes on. But he delivers these amazingly well researched stories in a conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re sitting with a really interesting friend who knows everything about history AND who can tell a great tale.

His latest series on World War I is stunning for its detail and for its effectiveness in conveying the staggering tragedy of the first modern war. He doesn’t gloss over or minimize the stark, often shocking realities of what humans have done to each other throughout history, hence the name “Hardcore History”. His podcasts are not light entertainment. But they are remarkably good.

It’s easy to make a podcast now. You just need a microphone and a computer and you can talk your heart out and post it on iTunes. But what Carlin and the best podcasters create are works of art, carefully, painstakingly crafted with strong content and excellent production values.

Carlin goes deep into his subject, reading voluminously on the topic and laying out his narrative carefully before recording. What he delivers ends up sounding effortless. This level of commitment to quality content and production, though, makes a show like Hardcore History shine.

If you’ve got some time in the car ahead of you this holiday week, Hardcore History or any of the other podcasts I listed above are a great way to fill a few hours.

*My podcast app of choice, by the way, is Overcast for iOS.

Mindfulness in ten minutes: Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk and meditation app

My friend Jill came by my office yesterday. She reads this site and often sends me an encouraging message. I’m kind of freaked out when anyone lets me know they read this. It’s still in my head that I’m writing this just for my own benefit. Thanks to anyone who spares a moment for anything I’ve shared here.

Jill was telling me that she’s been using Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app for a daily meditation practice. (And there, over on that Headspace link, you’ll find Hermione herself giving it a thumbs up. Brilliant!)

I’ve downloaded the app, and it’s impressively designed. I’m going to give it a go. Meditation has been on my to-do list for a while, but I just haven’t made it a habit. I’ve even got a couple of mindfulness books lined up in iBooks waiting on me. But this app just might be the tipping point for me. It literally talks you through the practice. I might have room for one more daily habit to track.

And here is Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk advocating taking just ten minutes each day for intentional mindfulness (and there’s juggling, which is a fun bonus).