What is a Habit Tracker and How Do You Use One Effectively?

Anyone who’s tried to build a new habit knows just how hard it can be. You have to constantly hold yourself accountable or else you end up forgetting to do this new behaviour.

That’s why so many people turn to habit trackers to help them. But what are they, and how can they help keep you on track to build new habits? 

What is a habit tracker?

A habit tracker is quite simply a list of habits that you check off daily (or however often you want to do them) to keep yourself accountable.

Think of it as a to-do list, but specifically for habits.

People often use habit trackers to track water intake, exercise, taking medicine, mindfulness practice, cleaning, journaling, reading, and so much more.

The reason habit trackers are so effective is they provide a visual cue for you to do the behaviour that doesn’t come automatically to you – i.e isn’t yet a habit.

Digital vs Analogue habit trackers 

App developers have recognised the power of habit tracking, and these days you can get digital habit trackers to keep you accountable.

Both digital and analogue (handwritten) habit trackers have their pros and cons.

Digital trackers tend to only target specific habits (for example, Fabulous tracks wellbeing, Forest tracks productivity, Sleep town tracks bedtimes and sleep, etc.). On the other hand, an analogue tracker created by you gives you the freedom to tailor it to your specific needs, allowing you to put a variety of habit types in there. 

The good thing about digital trackers is they are on your phone and can notify you as you see fit, whereas for analogue habit trackers you need to have them in your eye line to be reminded. That said, if you’re someone who very easily ignores phone notifications (and let’s be honest, most of us do), the notification system isn’t that great.

Choosing between the two types is a matter of preference. Do you prefer full control over your habit tracker or do you prefer something that’s already set up and on your phone so that you just have to open it up and check a box?


How to set up an analogue habit tracker in your planner

Now that we know the difference between digital and analogue habit trackers, we’re going to focus on making the most of your analogue one.

The most important thing to remember about your habit tracker is that it has to work for you.

When you Google inspiration for your layout, you see page after page of beautiful, elaborate habit tracker pages for bullet journals that make you want to create your own, right now! 

But, if you aren’t an artistic person, or you’re a perfectionist that struggles to write things down on beautiful layouts in case they make a mistake or change their mind, you might want to consider practicality over image.

Alternatively, you could create your own re-useable template on Canva, or any other design software, that allows you to print it out as many times as you want. This is a great alternative for the people mentioned above that want the “pretty” without the effort!

Next, it’s a good idea to consider which habits you want to add to your tracker. Make sure you get specific, too. For example, if you want to create a habit to get steps in, your habit should be “do X steps in a day.”

While it’s easy to get carried away and make a long list of habits to track, it makes you less likely to complete them. You will be more successful keeping to 3-5 habits to concentrate on daily – at least while you get used to using a habit tracker – which in itself is a habit! 

Pro tip: Don’t add habits just because you think you “should” do them. If it’s not something you’re interested in, and you don’t want to do it, or it doesn’t align with who you are and where you are as a person right now, it’s unlikely to stick and having it on your tracker will just make you feel bad about yourself.

How to use your habit tracker effectively

Creating a habit tracker is the easy part. But now you have to actually use it. And if that’s something you’re not used to, it can be a steep learning curve. But don’t worry, we’ve got some great tips to get you started!

  1. Keep it specific

Make sure your habit is something quantifiable. If your habit is “take vitamins” and you have multiple pills to take, how do you know you’ve taken all your vitamins?

Having a specific goal for your habits means you’re more likely to reach them, making your tracker more effective.

But be aware, being specific doesn’t mean you need to give yourself big milestones for your habits.

You’re far more likely to keep up with your habits if you have a daily goal of walking for five minutes a day than an hour a day.

  1. Start your day looking at your habit tracker

Most of us are “out of sight, out of mind” creatures. Habit trackers are there to predominantly be a visual cue to carry out certain behaviour.

Make it a part of your morning routine to read through your habit tracker to refresh your mind on what you need to do for the day.

It can help to leave your journal open somewhere prominent – for example, if your first step in the morning is to make yourself a coffee, try leaving your journal open on your habit tracker by the kettle.

Morning Journal

  1. Start small 

It’s so easy to have 30 habits you want to track at once. But it’s just too much for one person to actively track on any given day.

If you want to be successful at using your habit tracker, start by choosing just three to five key habits you want to focus on. The bigger the habits, the fewer different habits you should track.

Once you’re used to the habit tracker, and those habits feel a bit more natural, you can always add a couple more down the line. 

  1. Get into the habit of ticking things off as you go

If you’re the type of person that relies on memory to keep track of your day, stop. Even if you have a great memory, you’re doing yourself a disservice by trying to memorise everything – it takes up prime real estate in your brain that could be used in a better way.

So, as soon as you’ve completed a habit, go to your journal and tick it off. Or, if you’re not at home, make a note on your phone, and tick it off as soon as you get back.

  1. Keep a photo of it on your phone

You shouldn’t feel tied to your journal just for the sake of keeping yourself accountable. Instead, take a photo of your habit tracker as a reminder of your intentions for the day so you always have a list to refer to.

You could even go one step further and make it your screensaver so you see it every time you use your phone (which let’s be honest, is probably quite often).

  1. Don’t strive for perfection

Consistency is necessary for building habits, it’s true. But missing a day or two is not going to affect your progress.

This is the part that most people struggle with when trying to build and track habits. Having a missing checkmark can feel triggering for some people.

So you need to have a system in place to remind yourself that missing a day or two is not a reason to give up.

Try writing messages of encouragement around your planner and practice kind self-talk.

And most importantly, if you miss a day, forgive yourself, accept it, and keep going. Your journey is just beginning and no one has a perfect climb to achieving goals, whether they track them or not.

Bonus: Ideas for habits to track 

Feeling unsure where to start? If you need some inspiration for habits to put in your habit tracker, here are some of our favourites:

  1. Go for a walk 
  1. No snoozing the alarm 
  1. Journaling for 10 minutes 
  1. Listened to a podcast
  1. Went to bed on time
  1. Talked to a friend 
  1. Made food at home
  1. Drank (insert amount here) of water
  1. Self-care 
  1. Went outside (especially important for those of you working from home!) 
  1. Made a to-do list for tomorrow
  1. Called/texted a family member 
  1. Tried something new
  1. Brain dump 
  1. Took a nap 
  1. Reading 
  1. Medicine/ vitamins
  1. Gratitude practice 
  1. No spending
  1. Made my bed

Habit tracker

Get your habit tracker set up 

Whether you opt for a digital habit tracker, a premade habit notebook, or a plain notebook, it’s time to get started on your habit tracking journey. 

Let us know how your habit tracker is working for you!

Follow us at @malpaper for more lifestyle tips

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Mål Paper also takes inspiration from the Scandinavian minimalist and clutter-free way of living.

As a result, we create simplistic and effective productivity tools that help you to focus on your wellness, fulfilment and potential.