After wrapping up undergrad, the excitement and thrill of my new life as a young professional faded fast. As it turns out, scheduling time between classes for naps and taking zero classes on Fridays is not a great way to spend the second semester of your senior year if you’re trying to prepare yourself for life after college. It only took a couple of weeks of the “9-5 grind” for my day-to-day life to begin feeling like a train wreck transpiring in slow motion.
Basically, everyday would unfold just like this:
- Snooze my alarm clock too many times
- Rush and skip packing a lunch for myself
- Navigate traffic like a crazy person to minimize lateness
- Skip the gym during lunch break to catch up on work
- Spend money on cafeteria food that I had budgeted to save
- Commute home in exhausting amounts of traffic
- Feel too tired to prepare the food I bought at the grocery store
- Spend more money on fast food
- Watch TV to procrastinate going to the gym
- Go to bed far later than I should and repeat this same fun process all over again :)
I felt stuck and I was unable to make progress toward any of my goals outside of work. I wanted to see if I could crack the code and figure out what was holding me in place so I started wading through the oceans of self-help books that exist. Eventually, I established a daily routine that was designed to ensure that I honored the true priorities in my life every day. It was at this point that I realized how truly difficult it is to achieve goals. Even with this routine in place, I felt like I was accomplishing about half of the things I wanted to each week. While I knew what I wanted to be doing with my time, and I was definitely doing it when I was able, it was tough to know how much time I was actually putting in and whether or not I was actually making meaningful progress.
In “Atomic Habits,” one of the best self-improvement books I’ve read so far, James Clear says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” When I read this, I realized that the biggest obstacle for me achieving my goals was an incomplete system. I had a plan but no feedback loop. This is where technology has made my dreams come true.
How Technology Enables Advanced Habit Tracking Systems
With the help of my phone and my watch, I’ve established a system that regularly tracks and guides me toward gradual improvement in areas of life that are important to me, including sleep, diet, physical activity, personal finance, and time management. While tracking metrics in these areas of life has been huge, the real secret behind the system that my phone and watch enables is the gamification of everything.
Every day, I get a dashboard view of what I’ve accomplished in these areas, and it makes it easy to act accordingly. For me, the biggest barrier to making progress was actually recording it in a way that was easy to reference. With my phone and watch taking care of that, I feel liberated to focus on the fun part, which is trying to win the game, and in turn, getting my priorities done every day without having to think about it.
In this post, I wanted to share the apps that drive my system:
Sleep Watch is a relatively new addition to my system, but it is definitely the app on my phone that I am most excited about right now. Finding a good sleep app has been a challenge because collecting accurate and relevant info about sleep can be challenge, but Sleep Watch provides the greatest level of insight into what is happening while you are asleep while also coaching you to make better sleep decisions while you are awake.
You do need an Apple Watch or any another compatible wearable device to get the greatest level of benefit from this app, as it tracks your heart rate and movement throughout the night to measure phases of restful vs. light sleep along with your overall heart rate dip. With this info, along with other data points, the app produces a score for your night’s sleep as well as a running sleep score over time.
While the name makes this app sounds like it is strictly geared toward dieters, I would recommend this app to anyone who is looking for more transparency into daily calorie intake vs. expenditures.
By logging your meals into the food diary portion of the app and integrating it with a fitness tracker, you can see your calorie surplus or deficit at any time throughout the day, which makes decisions around what you should make for dinner or whether or not it would be wise to big with dessert a lot easier.
There are a lot of fitness tracking apps, but as an Apple Watch owner, I prefer the app that is native to watchOS. It offers the greatest level of flexibility in how the data is displayed on your watch face and phone screen, and has the classic “Close Your Rings” promptings throughout the day to keep you on track for hitting your goals. This app will sift through your data over time and present “Trends” to offer more transparency into patterns that are forming in your activity levels.
Mint is one of the oldest personal finance apps out there at this point. Even though there are newer alternatives out there like YNAB and Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar, I’ve found Mint to be perfect for my system, as it is excellent at tracking and organizing my spending and saving activity.
The app integrates with my banking, credit card, investing, and loan accounts to present all of my personal finance info into one aggregated dashboard view. As different transactions are recorded across my different accounts, they are fed into Mint for me to review and if necessary, recategorize to ensure it is counted accurately in my budget.
ATracker is a perfect app for time-based goals. In my previous system, I would simply check the box if I was able to honor the habits I was trying to cultivate each day, but ATracker adds an extra dimension by allowing you to record how much time is spent on each activity.
I record the amount time spent in focused concentration at work, reading fiction and non-fiction books, listening to self-improvement podcasts, practicing self reflection, and studying Cantonese. I have specific time goals I hope to hit for these activities each day, and at the end of each week/month/year I’m able to check in and see how successful I’ve been at executing and following through on goals to cultivate new habits.
Are there any habit tracking apps that you use? Do you see opportunities in the future for business leaders to leverage habit tracking apps like these to improve workforce performance?