Habit tracking can be immensely valuable. But other blogs often say it’s a cure-all (which it isn’t) or they may promote a (paid-for) habit tracking tool. In my opinion, you don’t need a pricey tool, and you don’t need to go through difficult steps to get started with habit tracking.
I’ve been tracking my habits for over 2 years, and have always used a simple Google Sheet. So in this article, I’m sharing my habit tracker, and my honest experiences with habit tracking.
Do you want to get started right away? Click here to find my simple Google Sheets Habit Tracker, make a copy and get started!
Alternatively, if you want to read my honest guide to habit tracking and find out more about:
- Habit tracking,
- How habit tracking works,
- Which habits you can track, and
- The ‘habit of habit tracking’,
Then read on!
What is Habit Tracking?
So what is habit tracking? Well, the concept is easy. You use a tool (like a spreadsheet) to track whether you did or did not ‘do’ a certain habit. The goal of tracking your habits is to either implement a new habit that you did not have before — or improve or increase an existing habit.
That means that habits like brushing your teeth are probably not worth tracking, because you pretty much do them every day. However, a habit like eating healthy can be interesting to track. After all, most of us find it quite difficult to consistently eat healthy — and perhaps it’s not something you are currently doing.
Whatever habit you choose to track, that at the end of each day or week, you write down in your habit tracking tool whether you did or did not do that particular habit. Over time, you can discern trends in your habit performance and improve on that basis.
How Does Habit Tracking Work?
In my experience, habit tracking works by actively providing you with reminders to do a particular habit. Provided that you can start the habit of tracking your habits, the habit tracker will remind you where you are with regards to your goal.
Suppose for instance that you have set a goal for yourself: To exercise 3 times per week. Diligently, at the end of each day you fill in your habit tracker and whether or not you exercised that day. Now, halfway through the week, you’ve only exercised once. One look at your habit tracker, and you will instantly see you still have to exercise twice if you want to reach your goal.
Or consider a personal example. When I tracked my habits, I wanted to learn a few words of Chinese every day. I did this by using the HelloChinese app (an app similar to Duolingo). Every evening, I would look at and fill in my habit tracker, and see whether or not I learned some new words. If I had a few days in a row that I didn’t learn Chinese, that provided me with not just a reminder, but also a motivator to actually study the next day and the rest of the week.
Which Habits Should You Track?
From learning a language to exercise and eating healthy, there are endless habits to track. In my personal habit tracker (see below for the Google Sheet template), I tracked 10 different habits, plus the food I ate. These habits included daily meditation, exercise, studying corporate finance, meeting friends, learning Chinese, acting confidently, and a few more.
Obviously, this can be a bit much. If you’re planning to start tracking your habits, I suggest to begin with just a couple: perhaps 2 or 3. Which habits these are, are up to you. However, what I found important were these rules, that may help you choose your first habits to-be-tracked:
Guideline 1: You can quantify the habit (e.g. you learnt Chinese: yes (1) or no (0). Or your confidence level today was between 1-10)
Guideline 2: You can set a specific goal (e.g. you want to do the habit every day, every week, three times per year, etc. Or e.g. you want to reach an average confidence level of 7, etc.)
Guideline 3: You’re the only one who can do the tracking (in other words, you don’t have to rely on others, or ask others to rate you)
With these guidelines, you’ll get off to a good start. Whether it’s learning to play the piano, being kind to strangers, meditating, taking time for your family, being grateful, waking up early, working on a side project, giving compliments, not drinking alcohol, or anything other habit. Simply think of two or three, and move on to the next section!
Which Habit Tracking Tool Should You Use?
Once you find some habits to track, it’s time to look for a habit tracker. There are multiple habit trackers that you can use, from elaborate software tools to apps, or even simple notebooks, like the Habit Journal.
The internet can provide you with more information about which tools work for you. However, I’ve always preferred using a simple Google Sheet (Excel) file. Why? Well, because:
- It’s free,
- You can use Google Sheets from any device and any platform (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.), and
- It’s very easy to use; if you know Excel, then you can use Google Sheets.
So for those of you who want to use Google Sheets, I will share an empty habit tracker below.
A Simple Google Sheets Habit Tracker
If you want to use Google Sheets to track your habits, here is a simple Google Sheets habit tracker. To use it, simple go to ‘file’ and then ‘make a copy’. This will allow you to make a copy that is saved on your drive for personal use.
After making a copy for your personal use, follow these steps:
- Determine the habits you want to track (e.g. meditation, studying a certain subject, exercise, eating healthy, etc.)
- Put these habits into the first row (instead of the text ‘Habit A’, ‘Habit B’, etc.)
- Determine a goal for these habits. For instance: 0.7. This should be between 0 and 1 (0 means you never do it, and 1 means you do it every day). Put these in the second row currently marked: ?
- Start tracking your habits in the 0/1 column. Every day, write down whether you did (1) or did not (0) do a certain habit.
Then, over time, you will be able to see your weekly and monthly averages, and compare that to your goal. This makes this Google Sheets habit tracker super easy and simple to use.
Does Habit Tracking Work?
We’ve already discussed how habit tracking works, but not whether it actually works. In the end, the goal is to implement and improve habits; so does habit tracking help you to do that?
I can only talk from personal experience, but would say that habit tracking certainly works. As mentioned before, consistently tracking your habits provides you with a regular nudge or reminder to do those habits. And over time, you will notice that you also want to actually ‘do’ them. That is not to say that you cannot implement new habits without tracking them, but it certainly helps. Now, any time you look at your habit tracker, you will see your progress — and if it’s not to your liking, it’s easy to change course.
The Habit of Tracking Habits
So if we assume that habit tracking works, that we know which habits to track, and that we have a great Google Sheets-based habit tracker, then why would you stop tracking your habits?
Well, the answer is that the ‘meta habit’ of tracking habits is not easy to uphold. In my experience, after five months of habit tracking I found myself getting less interested. Getting my phone out before going to bed, and noting the habits I did that day, became a bit of a chore. And that turned into a slippery slope. Once I didn’t track my habits for one day, it became easier for me to not do it for two days straight, and so on.
Certainly, you could create a habit tracker to track whether you’re tracking your habits, but that’s a bit much, even for Leonardo DiCaprio (didn’t get it?). Nonetheless, anytime is a good time to start a new habit, even if it’s a meta habit like this one. So I’m confident I will start tracking my habits in the new year, and I would urge you to do so too. Simply use this article and my simple google sheets habit tracker, and off you go!