The Perils of Streaks

A few days ago, I broke a long streak in Readwise. Frankly, it was a relief. A popular feature in applications these days is streaks. Apps keep track of how many days in a row you use it, and, like a monkey, you get invested in that integer. Before you know it, you’ve got this long streak and feel you must keep it going. But generally, streaks are beside the point. They become an artificial source of stress for no reason.

Many apps these days feature some streaks system to try and make sure you touch the app every day. This isn’t just true for creepy social media apps. Plenty of productivity apps are in on the action, too.

This “don’t break the streak” mentality is table stakes for most habit apps. These streaks can quickly become a weight around your neck. You get more invested in continuing the streak than the actual benefit of the visit. In the case of Readwise, I found myself tempted on busy days to click through the daily quotes without really meditating on them because I didn’t have much time, but I didn’t want to break my streak. Why not in that case take the day off and not worry about an artificial streak? Generally, when I’m working on a habit or trying to maintain a daily practice, I am much more concerned about missing two days in a row than I am about keeping up a streak.

It is for this reason that I turn off streaks whenever possible. Instead, I have a repeating task in OmniFocus with gentle suggestions like “consider reviewing Readwise”. Don’t become a slave to your streaks. Don’t be a monkey.