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Using Tally

I was recently asked on Twitter for practical examples of how I use Tally, made by Greg Pierce of Agile Tortoise. My response is way too long, even for the new 280-character limit, though, so I thought I’d write it up here.

Note: This is not a paid endorsement. I know Greg, and I know he makes great apps. Which is why I downloaded Tally in the first place. But he has never asked me to promote anything of his. I just like talking about great products.

Tally, for those who don’t know, is a simple iOS app for keeping a tally of just about anything. Tap anywhere on the screen to add one to the counter. Couldn’t be easier.

You can run multiple tallies at once, too. And there are other settings inside the app for customizing further. But that’s the basic gist. It’s a very simple app. But it’s this simplicity and malleability that make Tally so valuable to me.

Tally is also one of the few apps with an iOS widget that I actually use. Thanks to the widget (and the very good Apple Watch companion app) I almost never have to actually launch Tally on my iPhone to keep my tallies going.

The obvious use case for an app like Tally is to keep score in games, or count the number of people who enter a room. That sort of thing. But that’s not how I use the app.

Basically, I use Tally to keep track of behaviors I’m curious about tracking, but that I don’t want to get too deep into a rabbit hole about tracking. Make sense?

Let me give you an example. A while back, my doctor asked me to estimate how often per week I eat red meat. I couldn’t really give her an honest answer. I figured it was more than she was going to recommend, regardless, but that didn’t bother me as much as simply not knowing. I had never thought to track my red meat intake before. So I made a tally called Red Meat, and I started tracking it, casually. Every time I ordered a cheeseburger, I’d flick over to Tally on my Apple Watch or on the widget screen and add one to the count. Carne Asada burrito? Add another to the count. And that was it. I wasn’t trying to guilt myself into changing any behavior. I didn’t want to create permanent stats on my red meat intake for the rest of my life. It wasn’t a chore. I was just curious.

The results, of course, surprised me. I was definitely eating red meat more often than I thought I was. Given the health drawbacks of cholesterol, cancer risk, heart problems, etc., it was definitely more than I wanted to be eating. But I didn’t panic. I just kept tracking it, this time setting my sights on reducing that weekly number. Could I do one fewer this week than last week? No pressure. No judgement. Some weeks I’d do better. Others I wouldn’t. Let me just see if I can make different choices on occasion.

Over time, I went from eating red meat more than seven times a week (or roughly once a day) to three or fewer times per week. That’s a big shift, but I did it over a prolonged period, so it barely felt like a change. Months later, I find myself craving red meat less often, so keeping the number down at three or so has become second nature. I can probably stop tracking it at this point, I’ve gotten so consistent at keeping that number down.

And that’s the whole point. There are some things in my life I absolutely want tracked over the long haul, in an app tailored specifically for that thing. My caffeine intake, for instance. My heart rate. My weight. And so on. But for other things, I’m just mildly curious. I suspect I have a habit that isn’t ideal, and so I gather some data to see if my suspicion turns out to be true. If the number makes me concerned, I make small adjustments to my habits, so I can be less concerned.

I didn’t need a red meat tracking app, in other words. I just needed to keep a casual tally for a few months. I needed data, and Tally was the easiest, low-pressure way to gather that data.

The beauty of Tally is that I can use one app to track just about anything. Another thing I started tracking not long after red meat was my alcoholic beverage intake. I never drink myself into a stupor, but I do like a nice glass of wine most nights for dinner. I also mix the occasional cocktail at home, mostly as a hobby. Throw in the occasional social gathering in the evenings, and just how many drinks was I actually having during the average week? Once again, it was more than I thought. So I’ve begun working on reducing that number, too.

This isn’t about scaring myself into making a massive change to my behavior overnight. Experience has shown me that’s a waste of time. If I want to make changes to long-ingrained habits, I know I need to make small adjustments over a long period, until the new habit becomes as natural as the old one once was. Until the old habit seems downright unattractive. It’ll take much longer to accomplish, but it’ll also last much longer.

You can also use Tally with an eye for increasing, rather than decreasing, behaviors, of course. How many times this week did I resist the urge to correct someone on the Internet? How many times did I work on gathering new leads for my consulting business? The possibilities are endless. And it’s so easy to track things, you’re far more likely to do it than with more complicated data entry apps. It only takes a few seconds to pop into the Apple Watch app or flip over to the widget screen on my iPhone, and add one to the count. It’s quicker than checking in on Swarm, or posting a pic to Instagram, for sure.

At the end of the week I reset the count, and I can start fresh. There’s no permanent record on which to judge myself. I don’t even really look at the numbers as the week goes by. I just view each tap as collecting a data point. Nothing more. On Sunday, when I actually look more closely at the numbers, I take a moment to reflect on how I’m doing. If I did better? Great. If I didn’t? No worries. I’ll try to do better next week.

We all want to improve ourselves in some way. I don’t know if this will work for you to help make adjustments in your habits. But it’s sure worked for me. I encourage you to give Tally a try, if you think it may help. It’s free to download and very inexpensive to get all the features unlocked.