What a Magic Ball Has To Do With Framing Goals
Magic 8 Ball
In a past work setting, we had a "Magic 8-Ball" to occasionally resolve ties during meeting debates. While never the final arbiter, it provided some light-hearted opinions from the realm of randomness. For those who don't know, a Magic 8-Ball is a novelty device typically full of a liquid and die, which after shaking, reveals an answer to a "yes or no"-style question.

At some point I was curious how the device worked, and found that a standard 8-ball has 20 possible answers: 10 "yes", 5 "no", and 5 "try again."

My initial reaction to learning that there were more "YES" possibilities than "NO" was to conclude that it was an unreliable judge since it was biased in favor of YES. I thought to myself, "No longer can I trust in the wisdom of a random toy for unbiased guidance!" But my concerns were quickly alleviated after considering that the relevance of a YES or NO depends entirely on how the question is framed. For example, on any given day I might just as easily ask "Should I go for a run today?" vs "Should I skip my run today?" -- a YES clearly means something different in each case. And thus my faith in the "magic" was restored.

While I'm of course being facetious with regard to using a magic ball for anything serious, it's generally interesting to consider the framing of questions, and indeed goals. In the context of this blog, and the Habit Zap app, habits are frequently thought of as something gained, like building a flossing routine, or learning a new skill. But it's potentially useful to remember that you can use the same tools and techniques to remove habits you want to limit or break entirely. For example, using Sessions and Streaks, you can track how many days you did not eat candy, or whatever else you might be trying to reduce or eliminate from your life. It's all in how you frame it!
Habit Zap v1.1.0 - Sessions and Streaks
We've released a new version (1.1.0) of Habit Zap, which is available online now. While the update includes many small enhancements, the two most significant features are the addition of Streaks, and the ability for all free accounts to save session logs online. The latter should be self-explanatory, so let's focus now on how Streaks work in Habit Zap.

In this initial rollout, Streaks are tracked at the level of each Activity List on a day to day basis, with respect to the time zone configured in the user account settings. A banner will appear on the Reports and Activity List pages, showing how many days in a row you launched a session of any duration for a given list.

Streaks are intended to encourage daily attention to your activity lists. If you use Habit Zap in a different way, or don't like the idea of streaks, you can simply click the "X" next to the Streak banner, and it will no longer show up. You can restore the banners by enabling them in the user account settings.

While Streaks are currently only shown at the level of the activity list, we're currently exploring additional features that would let you view session results in much greater detail (for example, streaks for individual activities within a list, streaks in the past, etc.) We are still trying to decide the best ways to present the data, in terms of the user experience of viewing and querying the session data, so if you have any suggestions or requests, feel free to let us know!
Are New Year's Resolutions Worth It? Build Routines for 2022
To be blunt about it, there is nothing particularly magical about the start of a new year. That is to say, I suspect that deep down you know that you do not need a new year to start a new routine. However, given that we humans generally take notice of patterns, such as the start of a new year, we can leverage these special events as launching point opportunities to kick off new routines and habits. In that sense, the flipping of the calendar serves as a convenient moment to stop, think, and act.

No matter what your goals are for 2022 and beyond, if you are like most people, relying on willpower alone is unlikely to be the strategy that gets you there. What usually works best for the long term are systems. By putting a strong system in place to help manage your time, goals, and accountability, you can free up mental space to focus on the things you actually want to do. The system will still be there to let you know if you are veering off track. The system will still be there even if you have temporary lapses in consistency. The system will still be there if you end up "forgetting" the feeling you might have now-- the determination to take action-- to make wonderful things happen in your life. You can use whatever system works best for you, but the system we recommend, the system we built, is Habit Zap.

How do you use Habit Zap to achieve goals or build habits? The first step is to decide where you would like to end up. Take a moment to think about what areas would lead to the biggest improvements in your life if you were to address them. Some common examples including focusing on health and wellness, learning new professional skills, or learning new ways to relax or reduce stress. Consider making a list of the things you would like to achieve, and the type of work, learning, or practice, that you would need to put in to achieve them.

Habit Zap is designed to help you build habits and routines by managing repeatable activities that you intend to do on a regular basis. This can be as simple as reminding you to take your vitamins every day. Or to do 5 minutes of jumping jacks. Or to practice guitar scales for 10 minutes. Or all of the above. It's like a "productivity playlist", where you have listed out the things you would like to complete each time you launch an instance of that session. And how exactly do a handful of seemingly random tasks turn into habits or routines? Each day, you load up your activity list, start a session, and check off each reminder or timer activity, one by one. It's that simple. In this fashion, you can work toward building whatever skills and routines you believe can move you closer to your best self. If you do this on a regular basis, you may well find that not only does putting in the work become second nature (and often fun), but the progress you can achieve from dedicating even small amounts of time to specific tasks, over and over, will lead to incredible gains as the weeks and months add up.
Habit Zap
2022 is a convenient starting place for a new beginning-- to focus on yourself, your loved ones, and/or where you would like to end up. Whether you decide to try out Habit Zap today or not, we wish you the very best for the new year! Have fun, and make it count!
Focus: Online Study Timer using Habit Zap
If you are a student of any kind-- formally, or informally-- FOCUS is your superpower. But it can also be one of the most difficult things to find in today's world of technology and information overwhelm. While the online world offers unprecedented access to knowledge, tools, and incredible learning aids-- as we all know, it is also filled with seemingly endless distractions and temptations.

Social media is often one of the most obvious and pernicious distractions, and has rightfully received quite a bit of attention for this recently. As a result of this growing awareness, many have come up with ad hoc approaches to "managing" or "limiting" their time on social media via willpower-- i.e., simply exercising their best effort to check their feeds less frequently. That might work for some people, some of the time, but willpower alone is a risky bet over the long term.

Yet even if this sort of willpower did work to reduce distraction time by a significant amount, it's still unlikely to be the most efficient approach. Why is that? Because there are costs to distractions beyond the actual distractions themselves-- most notoriously: context-switching.

Consider the following hypothetical approaches, each taking place over the course of an hour:
  • 1) You check in with "distractions", such as social media, for only 5 minutes at time, but do so every 20 minutes, while spending the rest of the time (between distractions) studying.

  • 2) You study for 45 minutes straight, then spend 15 minutes catching up on your "distractions."
Both appear to spend the same amount of time on studying (45 minutes) vs distraction (15 minutes), but which do you think would actually be more productive?

As you might have guessed, it is quite likely that the 2nd option will be far more effective for studying. One of the main reasons is that switching back and forth between tasks is not "free" for our brains-- it takes a toll. There is a growing body of research supporting this general conclusion. For instance, according to this research, experts suggest that "even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time."

By now you probably see where this is going! In order to optimize your study time, we suggest breaking your productive time up into periods of intense focus. You can think of it as being either "on" or "off", not waffling in between.

There are many ways to practice this, but one of the most effective is to use an approach like the Pomodoro Technique, along with an online study timer. And if you are looking to turn this approach into a powerful "system" that you can use to build productivity habits while also holding yourself accountable, we encourage you to give Habit Zap a try (it is free!) The app was built for this very purpose, and we hope it helps you take your productivity to the next level. It uses principles similar to the Pomodoro Technique, allowing you to essentially build up "productivity playlists" that you can organize and reuse to build strong, focused habits over time. Happy studies!
The Pomodoro Technique: A Powerful Approach to Productivity
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity and time-management approach that is based around focusing on a task (such as studying) for a fixed amount of time, "enforced" by an actual timer. It was developed by Francesco Cirillo during his university years, while struggling with distractions and motivation. In his book, "The Pomodoro Technique", the author describes how the idea originated, and has since evolved in a variety of settings. However, in its simplest form, all you really need is a timer and the willingness to sit down and focus.

So what exactly is a "pomodoro"? In terms of origin, it is the Italian word for "tomato", which happened to be the shape of the kitchen timer that Cirillo used when he came up with the technique. It has evolved to also refer to an actual activity interval, to be performed whilst practicing the technique. That is, a single "pomodoro" can refer to a chunk of time (e.g., 30 minutes), often accompanied by a break.

These days, there are many overlapping variations of the technique, a multitude of apps, and myriad best practices, extending well beyond the most basic approach of sitting down with a timer. But at its core-- if you are looking to beef up your productivity and focus, and have never tried just setting a timer and hammering away at your tasks in focused intervals-- that alone might be the single most powerful change worth exploring in your daily life. And best of all, you do not need any fancy technology or sophisticated equipment to do it. It is worth a try!

That being said, for many of us, using an app does help a lot with accountability, inspiration, and organization. And that is where Habit Zap comes in! While not strictly a Pomodoro app, the approach it offers is heavily inspired by the same core idea of working in timer-based chunks. If you would like to practice the Pomodoro Technique (or any similar variation), Habit Zap can help by essentially letting you create "productivity playlists", composed of pomodoro-like activities that you can organize, track, and complete on a regular basis. You can read more about what Habit Zap has to offer, including a completely free version to get started with, by visiting here.
Focus is the Key to Get Things Done
If you have ever reflected on personal productivity, you may have stumbled across this well-known "secret": Focus is the key to getting things done. These days, there's a seemingly endless number of books and articles explaining the power and importance of focus, "single-tasking", and myriad variations on the theme. The core hypothesis is that in terms of getting consistent, high-quality results– multi-tasking rarely works-- no matter how desirable it may seem in today’s fast-paced, information-rich world. Yet despite knowing this, actually finding ways to focus can be quite challenging. Surrounded by ever-growing to-do lists, distractions, and crowded calendars, how is one to actually make a dent? As one quote perfectly puts it: "The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time."

That's where Habit Zap steps in. Habit Zap is an application designed to help you tackle your daily tasks using timers. The basic idea is that rather than trying to take on everything at once, you can "sculpt" your available time around matters you’d like to work on consistently. It does so by helping you to organize repeatable tasks into "Activity Lists", which help keep you on track and accountable. Once you know where you're heading, you simply Start a Session and get to it!

For a closer look at how Habit Zap looks and feels, you can read the overview here.
Habit Zap Web Site Launch
Welcome to the new Habit Zap web site! This site serves as the informational compliment to Habit Zap itself, a unique productivity and habit-building application, designed to help you tackle your daily tasks using timers. You can learn about the app by trying it yourself, or by reading the overview.

Activity List

On this blog, we'll be sharing articles, tutorials, and news related to the specifics of Habit Zap, as well as topics related to productivity and well-being in general. We hope you'll join us for the ride!

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