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I’m in thrall to my iPhone – and for once, that’s a good thing

My iPhone telling me what to do all the time has made me a happier person. Probably

A few years back, I unwittingly ended up with a wrist-based contraption having me do its bidding. Why? It turns out I don’t have many habits, but some of those I do have are bad.

Much of this is down to me being a freelancer and a writer – a combination that to personal health is as sawdust-flavoured tripe and a pile of dead wasps is to haute cuisine. It’s possible freelance writers are a subspecies of vampire, given our natural tendency to lock ourselves in rooms for endless hours, as if we’re petrified of the sun.

I’m told this isn’t good for you, by actual, real people. Moreover, screaming body parts (bad back; worse arms) have handily pointed out on numerous occasions that getting up and moving around would be beneficial to me being able to function long term. Hence: the Apple Watch.

Recently, after buying a standing desk, my back and arms average a mere 0.3 on the AARRRRGGH scale, but I noticed broader wellbeing and productivity were taking a kicking. Perhaps it was COVID. Perhaps it was something else. Regardless, I had a need for change. My cunning plan: add the iPhone into the mix, to – intentionally this time – infuse better habits into my routine.

Already getting regular dopamine hits from ridiculous things like swiping away notifications (task completion!) and rabidly checking Twitter (more task completion!), I centred on things that mattered. With my steely determination and stubbornness to keep Apple Watch exercise, move and stand streaks going – to a point that borders on obsession – I reasoned I’d benefit from doing much the same with a more flexible system. 

Streaks: micro-managing your way to a better life. Or something.

I plumped for Streaks on iPhone, which I’d used ad-hoc for a while. It’s smartly designed and doesn’t overwhelm, due to limiting visible streaks to six. I started with easy wins, like ‘go outside’ and daily exercise, and added five mindful minutes, a reasonable number of daily work sprint sessions, and limited time on social media and forums. (Streaks includes timers and lets you define negative streaks that fail if you do them too often.) 

With me exercising daily anyway (thanks, Apple Watch!), having that in Streaks felt like cheating. But I did stop checking forums so often. Both tasks were thereby consigned to the void (as in, page two of Streaks). The gaps were filled with a short daily core workout and actually going to bed at a sensible hour.

So, how’s it going? The work sprints, twinned with Bear Focus Timer, have boosted productivity and reduced faffage. Counters have helped me use social media more meaningfully and consciously. Going outside: I do that every day, but will leave the task on page one to stop me locking myself away when winter gloom rolls in. Mindfulness and going to bed on time… I’ll get back to you on those.

Still, it feels like progress – which might sound ridiculous. After all, this is self-reward for mostly simple things I should be doing anyway. But what works, works, right? And it’s nice for once that when my phone goes ‘ding’, it’s saying “hey, good job” or reminding me about my streaks, rather than filling my notifications with a billion Slack messages and emails I will totally reply to at some point before the heat death of the universe. Honest.

Oddly the main problem I now have is not recording my streaks, meaning my stats outside of automated captures like exercise are poor. Perhaps that doesn’t matter, since good habits are being formed and the tech is being used meaningfully. 

Or, thinking about it, maybe I need a streaks app for making sure all my streaks are recorded. Now there’s an idea.