I am one of those people who responds to a lot of work coming my way by ignoring that work and instead trying to think about how to change my routines and workflows. With the summer coming to an end and a new academic year approaching, I’ve been reading productivity books, thinking about the software that I use, and wondering what needs to change.
switching to Habitica
In particular, as I’ve posted over the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about switching habit trackers. I really like Streaks, but there are a couple of things that don’t sit quite right. Besides, to be honest, sometimes just changing things up feels like a breath of fresh air and lets me double down on picking up new habits. After looking into a few different options, I decided to give Habitica another try. I’ve used this gamified habit tracker a couple of times in the past, and besides the gamification gimmick, there are some things about it that I really like.
In particular, it separates dailies (habits to complete every day, or every so many days, or every Monday, or whatever) from habits (things to do or avoid whenever they come up). So, for example, I’ve gotten into a pretty good running routine the past couple of weeks, but when the academic year starts again, it’s going to be hard to keep up. So, I have a daily set up to go running on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On the other hand, I really want to get better about choosing a vegetarian option when I go out to eat or have a catered lunch or whatever. This doesn’t make sense as a daily, because I don’t go out ot eat or have a catered lunch every day; while I’m trying to reduce my meat intake, I’m not so committed to vegetarianism that I’m going to mess with my family’s meal planning routines. So, instead, I have a “forego meat” habit also set up in Habitica. When it comes up, I hit the plus button or minus button to reflect my choice, and I move on.
the Habitica API
One thing I’ve really gotten excited about this time, though, is that Habitica has an API. When last I used the service—back in grad school—I didn’t really have the know-how or the resources to mess around with an API, but my programming chops have gotten better in the past 5+ years, and (more importantly) resources like Siri Shortcuts have lowered the bar for someone like me to mess around with an API and set up some automations. One thing I’ll miss about Streaks is the way that it ties in with Apple’s HealthKit; I could have Streaks log my runs for me automatically, without having to check it off every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Between Siri Shortcuts and Habitica’s API, it’s pretty straightforward to recreate this automation on my own. I set up a Shortcut that triggers whenever I complete a run on my Apple Watch and uses the Habitica API to mark the task complete for me.
This isn’t quite as simple as it is for Streaks, but I enjoy the challenge. My day job is as an ICT professor, and I carry around a bunch of imposter syndrome because I have two degrees in education and am trying to teach tech classes. That makes Habitica’s API even more appealing to me; like this website, it’s a chance to brush up on my tech skills and learn to do new things on my own. I’ve learned a ton messing around with Hugo and being willing to try software that doesn’t connect all the dots for me. So, I’m really excited about the opportunity to tinker with the Habitica API—I think it will have benefits besides helping me develop better habits.
RSS and the lectionary
One of the features of Habitica that I don’t really know what to do with is the “To-Do” column for one-off tasks. I like Habitica a lot, but Things 3 is the app for me when it comes to managing tasks and projects. Habitica’s task management is simply not powerful enough to do what I need. I could just leave it blank, but in an effort to keep my Things setup a little cleaner, I’ve been wondering whether I can shift some tasks into Habitica. I eventually came upon the idea of moving tasks that feel like they grow out of commitments in terms of habits. For example, I could put in all of the individual challenges in a local library’s 2023 adult reading program; those feel more like an outgrowth of the reading habit I want to keep up than things “to do.”
Likewise, I like reading all of the lectionary scriptures for a given week, but putting Bible reading into a task management app has always felt a bit incongruous. This isn’t a comment on mixing the sacred and the profane so much as it is a feeling of two different kinds of task: One is in support of a habit I’m trying to support, and others are things I need to do to advance my life toward particular ends. Besides, I can say from experience that it’s a real pain at the beginning of a new lectionary year to copy all of the year’s readings into a task management app, so if there were some way to automatically grab the readings and drop them into Habitica, that would be especially helpful.
After some poking around today, I discovered that the Vanderbilt Divinity Library has a simple website dedicated to providing the lectionary readings for a given week. More importantly, it has an RSS feed. Using Vanderbilt as a resource means missing the occasional Book of Mormon or Doctrine and Covenants reading that finds its way into the Community of Christ lectionary, but the possibility of automating the creation of lectionary-related tasks for myself every week is too good to pass up.
In a surprisingly short amount of time tonight, I was able to write a Siri Shortcut that grabs the most recent item from the Vanderbilt RSS feed, split the content into each of the different readings, and then feed each of those readings (with some appended text to fit my preferred task format) into the Habitica API. All that’s left is to set this Shortcut up to run every Sunday evening (or Monday morning?) so that I start each week with a new list of readings to complete by the following Sunday. I’m waiting on this until tomorrow so that I can figure out when the RSS feed updates: I’d prefer to complete the readings in the week prior to the relevant Sunday, but I suspect the feed may only update on the Sunday when the readings are used in the service. If the latter is true, I’ll have to settle for reading them after the fact.
I’m quite tickled by what I was able to pull off with relatively little work, and I think this bodes well for my future relationship with Habitica. I’m even wondering what other magicks I might be able to summon with the help of RSS, Siri Shortcuts, and the Habitica API. In fact, this makes me want to mess around more with the Shortcut support (and URL scheme) provided by Things, to see if there’s anything else I can get up to. Exciting times ahead!
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