The AwkEng Prototypes a Prototype to Prototype a Habit

Hi all,

Today's post is about sharing the process behind a very early stage prototype of a habit tracker. I'm totally fascinated with how adoption or abandonment can hinge on a small differences in user interface. My intent, by building something physical, was to push to the limits of simplicity, speed, and ease of use. It certainly scores in that regard, but only time will tell how "sticky" or habit forming it really is.

In the meantime, I'd like to iterate on the physical design. It's currently set up as a 7-day tracker for me, but I'm curious if another time period, (like 31 days, 6 weeks, or 1 year) would be more useful to others.

So with no further ado, the thought process and design of The Physical Habit Tracker

Habit Tracker

The Problem: Macro Ambitious / Micro Lazy - When Apps and Paper are Too Slow

I had a discussion with a friend in response to the Every Day Carry blog post, where we discussed how I habitually carried a small utility knife. On the rare instances it's not in my pocket, I wince when I realize it's not there and need to open a box. Of course, my friend's solution is to go find a pair of scissors, rather than carry a knife everywhere, and he pointed out that he was lazy in the macro (i.e. content and unambitious in his job), but not in the micro (i.e. willing to look for scissors), whereas I was the other guy.

This brings me to the past few weeks where I've been interested in Lucid Dreaming. It depends on first teaching yourself to remember your dreams, then learning how to recognize when you are dreaming, then controlling your dreams themselves. We'll call this Macro ambitious.

A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming

Inspiration from Paper Clips

I drew a lot of inspiration from the "jar of paperclips" sales technique. (Popularized in a story about Trent Dyrsmid, who kept two jars on his desk, and made 120 sales calls every day, moving one of the 120 paper clips from one jar to the other with each call.)

I like the tangibility and immediacy of the paper clips, but I wasn't looking to have 120 dreams each night, and I needed at least a lightweight recording method to track the habit over the course of multiple nights. Plus, I wanted something that was aesthetically pleasing enough to keep on my nightstand. In the words of The Design of Everyday Things author Don Norman, "Attractive things work better."

The Habit Tracker

My solution uses a simple piece of painted wood, along with some glass stones. The idea is that by placing the habit tracker on my night stand, I'm cued every time I get into bed. Then I reach over, move a stone, and remind myself to set an intention to Dream. Moving a stone to the next open paint mark is trivially simple, faster than uncapping a pen (or loading an app!), and the tactile plunk when you put it down is incredibly satisfying. There are paint marks for each day of the week, plus the weekend, and I can see progress over time.

I'm not fully satisfied with the paint quality (I masked the pattern off by hand, with tape), but it will do for a prototype.


Paint lines

By the bedside

Next Steps

I'm not fully sure where I'll take the habit tracker next, but I have a few ideas I'm exploring. One idea involves a routed wood shape, with a pocket to collect the stones and a lip around the outer edge so they're less likely to slide off. I took a peak on Alibaba, and if I were manufacturing via the overseas route, I'd find a maker of wooden toys to serve as a one stop for both the wood carving, the part painting, and a shipping box. In the U.S., it'd be more likely to find a CNC job shop or cabinet maker to route the wood, and the finishing and painting might be at a separate facility, with the box coming from yet another vendor.

At the very least, I'll continue to use the prototype to see how effective is is over team. Which brings me to my last bit... my dreams.



I haven't had lucid dreams yet, but I'm now consistently remembering my dreams. I'll spare you the details, other than to say they're strange. But I have them every night. And I'm better able to remember them. I'll let you know if I learn to control them.

aka THE Awkward Engineer

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