Last week I discovered a pretty amazing, simple way to track a habit on my phone—it’s a “habit hack” that has made a huge difference in my daily routine. Today I’m going to teach it to you. But first, some backstory. (Scroll down if just want the hack and not the background behind it.)

Making Habits Simple

Lately I have had two different habit “strategies” on my mind. The first is a fantastic new approach that Victor Mathieux came up with. Here’s the idea: if we have a simple, constant reminder about a habit, we’ll be way more likely to achieve it. Victor designed a very cool, sleek wristband that he calls a “flipband.” When you achieve your habit for the day, you flip the band so that color changes and a big checkmark is showing. You can visit the website to see how it works. The flip band is an excellent visual reminder to achieve a habit every day.

The second strategy that I’ve been thinking about is one that James Clear wrote about in an essay just a week ago. In it, he tells the story of very successful stock broker Trent Dyrsmid. Here’s James telling the story:

“Dyrsmid made immediate progress as a stock broker thanks to a simple and relentless habit that he used each day.

On his desk, he placed two jars. One was filled with 120 paper clips. The other was empty. This is when the habit started.

‘Every morning I would start with 120 paper clips in one jar and I would keep dialing the phone until I had moved them all to the second jar.’ —Trent Dyrsmid

And that was it. 120 calls per day. One paper clip at a time.”

The paper clip strategy is so effective because, as James explains in his essay, the visual cue is such a powerful reminder. Just like the flip band, the paper clips are always there as a mental note of the habit that needs to take place.

The Tech Problem

I love technology, and my phone in particular, so naturally I’ve tried to find a way for that to be my “visual cue.” I’ve used dozens of apps to track my habits, but the biggest problem with apps is that the visual cue isn’t as strong. Sure, you see an app on your home screen, but there are dozens of other apps, too. And after just a day or two you’ve become accustomed to ignoring your precious habit app.

In addition to the lack of a visual cue, most apps take a few taps to open, choose your habit, and track that you completed it. Those few taps create friction; every additional tap decreases the likelihood that you’ll actually track your habit. Technology only works to create habits if it’s incredibly simple to use.

Last weekend, however, I finally found a solution. I found an incredibly simple way for me to create a strong visual cue on my phone and still have the habit be easy to track.

The Simple iphone Hack

So, here’s what I did. I created a custom home screen on my phone. It says, “Habit Check-in” with a big YES on the right, and NO on the left. Like so:

bg1-no-check

Then, I created an app icon with a checkmark in it to track whether I did my habit or not. Here’s a video of me checking off my habit. I hold down and press on the checkmark so that the icon becomes moveable, then slide it over.

Pretty cool huh? Just dragging over a simple icon. The huge benefit is that now I have “Habit Check-in” right at the top of my home screen every time I log in. Plus, I don’t have to open a app or anything, I just hold down on the checkmark and drag it over.

Wanna try it on your phone? Well, no problem, I’ll tell you how I did it. Plus: I created a giveaway of 5 custom wallpapers that you can download for free to set it up.

Here’s How to Do It

First, a little disclaimer. I called this a “hack” specifically because your phone skills need to be pretty sharp to get everything set up right. There’s nothing technical, and if you’re adept on your iPhone, it should only take 10 minutes. If it seems too complicated, you can always ask someone for help. 🙂 But I’ll do my best to explain here.

Here are the steps:

1. Download my wallpapers (or create your own) and set one as your new home screen wallpaper.

Click HERE to download the free habit wallpapers

ProductBG

2. After you download the files, you’ll notice that there are two versions of each background—one with the checkmark, and one without the checkmark. Set the background on your phone’s home screen as the image WITH the checkmark.

3. Open the Safari browser on your phone and go to Makeovr.io. Scroll down the page and select “I’ll use my own background.”

4. Follow to instructions that Makeovr.io gives you. They explain how to do the following: take a screenshot of your current home screen by swiping to an empty screen, upload it to Makeover.io, and then save each icon as a bookmark, one at a time. Except you do not need to create icons for your whole screen: only create one icon (by creating a bookmark) for the image with the checkmark.

Here’s a short video of me saving the checkmark to my home screen, after I’ve already uploaded my background to Makeover.io:

5. Now change your home screen wallpaper on your phone to the second version of the background, the one WITHOUT the checkmark.

6. Go back to Makeovr.io in Safari on your phone, then follow their instructions again, this time with your new home screen that does not have the checkmark. Upload the new background to Makeovr.io. Then, follow their instructions to create bookmarks, adding all the remaining icons (using the same process as in the video above).

When you’re done, you should have 8 icons on your home page, for the top two rows. Then you can leave your normal apps in the rows below. If you prefer, you can continue to add icons for the whole page (this would hide your apps on the second screen) but leaves you the nice full image below your habit check-in. (Though it takes a while to add all of the icons.)

Questions?

I suspect some people with have questions about this. If you have questions about how to set it up, just ask me in the comments below or on Twitter and I’ll do my best to help. If you decide to try it, let me know! I’d love to see what your screen looks like when you finish.

Max Ogles

Hi, I'm Max Ogles. I'm a behavior designer, entrepreneur, and writer focused on psychology, technology, and business. Read My Full Bio