Productivity, habit, and routine apps review – do they work? –

Productivity, habit, and routine apps review – do they work? –

My whole life I’ve struggled with time blindness and procrastination, rarely getting anywhere on time.
When I worked in an office, there were consequences to being late, but now I’m a work from home freelancer, I often find myself not sitting at my desk until early afternoon.
The worst part is, I don’t even know what I’ve been doing all morning. 
My problem isn’t sticking to my habits – I love my morning yoga and dog walks – it’s starting them sooner, without being distracted by my phone or non-urgent house tasks.
Determined to get my life back on track, I tested out a number of apps to see if I could curb the procrastination and take back control of my mornings.
Good for: An all-singing, all-dancing life overhaul
Cost: From free, or £43.99/year for premium
At first I thought I’d love this app because when you open it, it plays the sort of jangly music that makes you feel like you’re going into an enchanted forest. However, I soon realised that it’s more like an enchanted forest at a festival when it’s 4am and you should have gone to bed, but instead are sitting next to a random girl called Eden who’s trying to enrol you into a Kangen water scheme.
The app uses behavioural science to help you build healthy habits, and I like that it encourages you to start slow, suggesting your first morning habit – drinking water as soon as you wake up – and asking you to try it out for just three days, which seems doable. You can create a morning routine to follow along with, which is handy for procrastinators as you can see how much time you have left for each activity, rather than just ticking stuff off.
However, the app is incredibly busy – if you want motivational ‘letters’, daily coaching and ‘journeys’ to go on, then this could be the one for you, but you’ll need to purchase the premium version to unlock these features. If you’re looking for a simpler morning routine app, there are definitely better options, though it’s possible to build a limited morning routine on Fabulous using the free version.
I found the app quite confusing at times – there was way too much going on and even if I signed up to specific ‘journeys’, it wasn’t clear what I was supposed to do to complete them. 
I did warm to Fabulous during my seven day free trial, but after cancelling it, the notifications encouraging me to come back were incessant. Any temptation I had to pay the subscription was gone by the 3567th notification, when I deleted the app and vowed never to utter the word ‘Fabulous’ again. 
Download on Google Play or App Store
Good for: Forming new habits
Cost: From free, or £2.69 flat fee for premium
This app – unsurprisingly – works on habit streaking, where you repeat your desired task(s) over a continued period. The aim of the game is to not break your streak, although habit progress is pretty basic, only showing you your longest streak for that task, with a calendar view.
Streaks is super simple and good for if you’re trying to start a new habit (like exercising every morning, or getting out of bed at a certain time), but it was too basic to motivate me. 
You can only add five habits per day on the free version, so it wasn’t right for my morning routine, which has more. I set it to send me reminders to complete the tasks, but sadly, it never did.
The premium version costs £2.69 flat fee, which unlocks tracking for unlimited habits.
Download on Google Play.
Good for: Breaking bad habits
Cost: £4.49 flat fee 
This app has the same name as the Android version but is by a different developer, and much more sophisticated. Streaks is available in multiple languages and can be used in conjunction with the iOS Health app (as well as your Apple watch) but is also useful for more general morning routines.
It’s got a much more exciting interface than other ‘streaks’ apps, with large icons for each task – to be pressed when completed – which allows you to easily see what still needs doing. 
This one’s handy as you don’t have to set each task for every day, which is a limitation in some of the more basic apps, and you can have up to 12 tasks in your routine, which should be plenty. 
Goals can be added to tasks e.g. instead of just ‘going for a run’, you can add a distance or time goal. Negative tasks can be added e.g. going on Instagram as soon as you wake up, to help you avoid those.
Progress is shown on a graph so you can see what you need to work on – definitely worth spending the money on this if you’re determined to start a new routine.
Download on App Store
Good for: Accountability
Cost: From £13/month, billed annually (for the annual plan) 
GetMotivatedBuddies is a web-based programme that can be used on your desktop (a huge plus point for me, as I get distracted as soon as I pick up my phone) as well as on your phone, which works the same way as an app by installing a web shortcut on the homescreen.
The app works with positive reinforcement, rather than ‘streaks’ like some other apps, and I like that you can make different plans for different days. For example, my morning routine on days that I go for a run is different than on the days that I don’t.
SMS or email reminders can be scheduled, that request you to ‘check-in’ before each individual activity in your plan – these work well as it’s a small contract with yourself that you’ll actually complete that task. Then, you mark the task as complete once finished.
However, I started to find the reminders annoying as I had so many tasks, but I do think they’re necessary in the early days of trying to stick to the plan. Once you’ve got into your groove, you can try turning them off. I also found it frustrating that you had to set your time for the tasks, and couldn’t complete them early (as a freelancer, I have the privilege of waking up without an alarm, so I don’t start my routine at the same time each day).
This app’s niche is that you can find yourself another user as a real-life accountability ‘buddy’ for each of your plans. Having been brought up Catholic, I thrive on shame, so thought having someone knowing what a failure I was would get my butt in gear. However, the fear of shame is so deep-rooted that I never ended up buddying up with anyone. 
I found that spending a little time making a bespoke plan the night before saved me so much time the next morning. I’m incredibly time blind so underestimated how long it would take me to do things, but after a few days I’d sussed it and was at my desk by the allotted time by day four. I’m not joking when I say this is the first time this year (potentially ever) that I’ve started work on time. 
This was one of favourites of all the apps, but sadly, it was way out of my budget for what I wanted it for. However, if having an accountability buddy would work wonders for you, I’d say it’s definitely worth the investment, and you get a five day free trial at the start to test it out.
Sign up on the website.  
Good for: Tracking progress within your habits
Cost: Free
The Habits interface is pretty dull, but it’s simple and does the job. You create your routine, set reminders for each task, and tick habits off as you go (the app will remind you if you forget to tick them off). Setting them to disappear for that day once completed helps with motivation, and you can colour code your habits, which is useful if you want to differentiate between types of tasks. Clicking on each habit will show your progress.
You can set ‘yes or no’ habits (as in ‘did you complete this habit today?’) or measurable habits, where, for example, you can log how many miles you walked, or how long you spent doing something, which is great for monitoring progress.
The app works on building ‘streaks’, and habit frequency can be set as daily, weekly, or monthly, which is a bit frustrating as I run every other day, so that would be a useful option. However, instead, you can tap twice to skip that habit for the day, which won’t affect your streak (though it could lead to cheating).
I didn’t find this app that useful for my anti-procrastination needs, but those looing to form healthy morning habits might.
Download on Google Play or App Store (the iPhone version is technically a different app, but it’s identical).
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Good for: Getting organised
Cost: Free
Roubit’s another app that works with ‘streaks’, allowing you to input your routine (with start and end times for each task) and set individual reminders.
Unfortunately, I found the reminders easy to miss, as it will simply flash up, ‘Yoga’ rather than something more motivating like, ‘Are you ready to do yoga?’
However, the app is great as you can create a different routine for each day of the week, scrolling through easily to see what you have coming up in the days ahead.
Progress tracking is pretty basic, showing you your highest streak for each task, and your current streak, as well as a calendar view with happy and sad faces.
The interface isn’t too exciting, but it does the job – can’t complain too much as it’s free.
I’d say the app is best suited to someone who doesn’t rely too much on reminders, and simply needs a little help planning their morning routine – it was my favourite of all the ‘streaks’ apps, but not useful enough to help with my procrastination.
Download on Google Play
Good for: Procrastinators 
Cost: From free, or £8.49/year for premium
This was my favourite of all the apps, as you set your routine (deciding how long each task will take) and then once started, there’s a countdown timer for each task (shown as a cute little balloon), so you can see how long you have left.
It’s great as you can start it when you’re ready, rather than at a rigid time. I wake up without an alarm, and set my reminder to go off at 6am so it’s there when I pick up my phone, then start the app when I get out of bed. You can change the order you do your tasks in easily, and pause them, which is useful if you want to switch tasks halfway through.
You can also check your progress, though it does it for the entire routine and not individual tasks, which is limiting.
I like that this one as it tells you how long you’ve gone over on each activity for, and it really showed me what a procrastinating little weasel I am, which encouraged me to try a bit harder.
The graphics are very childlike and the font is a bit comic sans, but I can put up with that as I’m not paying a penny.
You can create one routine with the free version, or multiple routines with the affordable premium version (only £8.49/year), which is perfect for if you have a different schedule on different days.
Uplifting isn’t a miracle worker – I still procrastinate, but it’s really helped me see which tasks I put off, so I can try to work out why. 
One negative is that I wish there was a widget reminding you that a task is running, as I often forget to complete tasks on the app. I also keep getting notifications berating me for not using the app, when I use it every morning, which annoys me.
Download on Google Play or Apple Store.
As I’ve discovered, simply downloading an app won’t change you as a person, but it can help you see what you need to work on.
‘The heart of procrastination lies in your ability to manage your emotions.’ says psychologist, psychotherapist and high performance coach, Nova Cobban.
‘When you put something off, it enables you (in the short term) to maintain your current emotional state. Even if you’re feeling excited about your work, getting started on that requires you to change emotional gears in some way, and we can resist this if it feels like it might be difficult to manage.
‘Apps might be helpful short term to give you a renewed sense of motivation for change, but unless you learn to understand your emotional state alongside this they are unlikely to have a lasting positive impact. 
 ‘A more useful app in terms of combating the core reasons behind procrastination would be one that tracked your mood. 
‘Putting off getting to your desk is not going to improve your mood, but getting to your desk on time might!’ 
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