Use Habit Stacking (For a More Productive You)

Truth be told, I have struggled in the past with completely wasting my time.

With the growing presence of social media, news, Netflix, and internet surfing made convenient in the digital age by my smartphone – something I have struggled with the past few years is not letting negative habits get the best of me.

You name a habit book (Slight Edge, The Compound Effect) and I have read it. I have scoured the internet looking for the “Best Morning Routine” and the results have been overwhelmingly disappointing.

However, to my credit, I did learn over the past few years in my journey of time efficiency that I should start small and build up.

I found blogger and author James Clear's book Atomic Habits… and I was introduced to the concept of habit stacking.

My life has forever been changed.

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    My morning habit stack.

    Each morning for the past five years my morning routine has pretty much been the same. My alarm goes off, I hit snooze 1-2x and finally my chocolate lab Morgan annoys me enough to get out of bed.

    Not to be too graphic but I do what most humans do first (pee) followed by brushing my teeth.

    I then stumble downstairs, start the coffee pot and feed her. This is followed by letting Morgan outback. From this point… anything could happen.

    Sometimes I would make breakfast, other times I would get ready for work or go to the gym. Regardless of what I did after, the initial moments of waking up were always the same.

    However, my actions were not always consistent after.

    Sometimes I would go into a super productive positive habit spiral, other times I would find myself wasting precious time before work or on the weekends.

    Then I picked up a copy of Atomic Habits and learned about his concept of habit stacking (which I will elaborate on in a second). But first…

    Here is what my new morning routine, aka habit stack looks like:

    1. Rise, pee, brush teeth.
    2. Start coffee, feed the dog, let the dog outback, followed by:
    3. **10 Push-ups
    4. **Write down 8 goals in goal book (a form of journal/vision forecasting)
    5. **Complete 5 marketing/sale messages (something quick like a follow-up text/email)
    6. **Read for 15 minutes

    As you can see, I added productive/positive habits to my already existing habits – in other words – habit stacking. Here is how it all works.

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    Habit Stacking 101

    Your brain is similar to a city street grid.

    Full of a strong network of neurons connected and intertwined to help you function and perform throughout the day, your brain – just like a route from point A to point B – operates in the most efficient manner.

    Just like a river flowing with the path of least restriction, over time our brains develop paths or grooves the more we do something.

    For example, we don't even realize it but we most likely wake up each morning and do the same thing:

    • turn off phone alarm
    • check phone, pee, brush teeth (something along those lines)

    These habits (behaviors) have become mental hacks your brain has developed. And the best way to create a new desirable habit is to build on your existing habits, aka habit stacking.

    After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

    -James Clear, Atmoic Habits

    Instead of trying to recreate the foundation, use the existing foundation and build new habits on top of it!

    Examples of habit stacking

    Here are some examples of habit stacking:

    • [Exercise]: Once I turn off my alarm I will do 10 air squats.
    • [Health]: After turning on coffee maker, I will make and drink a fruit smoothie
    • [Time]: Before I go to bed I will lay out my work clothes, pack my lunch and create my to-do list for the next day.
    • [Kindness]: When I get up, before checking my phone I will send one text out to someone.
    • [Efficencey]: After feeding the dog, to avoid email, I will read for 10 minutes.

    As you can see, there are certain habits and routines that require our attention, like waking up and feeding the dog, that we can easily build on and stack another habit.

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    How to start Habit Stacking

    First, start by brainstorming some ideas or writing down some habits you would like to infuse into your life. Typically, most habits revolve around these concepts:

    • Mindfulness (journaling or meditating)
    • Health (eating or tracking calories)
    • Exercise (losing weight or staying consistent)
    • Relationships (significant other or children)
    • Time management (work, social media, TV)
    • Efficiency & Productivity (sales calls, marketing, email)

    While there might be plenty to pick from, only pick 1 or 2 that are the MOST important to you. For example, my exercise is very important to me so I selected exercise.

    Second, identify the daily habits/routines that already exist in your life. This can be morning, lunch, or night. For example:

    • Wake up & feed dog daily – opportunity to introduce a new habit
    • Lunch at work at my desk at noon – opportunity to introduce a new habit.
    • Before I go to bed – another ideal opportunity to introduce a positive habit.

    Next, make your new habit so simple a five-year-old can do it… that way you can accomplish it.

    For example, my simple exercise goal is to do 10 push-ups. Something small like 10 push-ups, writing down 1 thing you're grateful for each morning, prepping your workout clothes before you go to bed – whatever – will help you build on your habits.

    Some simple habit stacks to consider include:

    • After eating, log calories. [Nutrition Habit]
    • After spending money, make a note in your cell phone. [Decrease Spending Habit]
    • After scanning social media, do 5 air squats. [Exercise Habit]
    • When you get up in the morning, turn off the alarm and meditate for 60 seconds. [Mindfulness Habit]
    • After eating lunch take a 5-minute walk [Exercise Habit]
    • After dinner, read for 15 minutes. [Personal Growth Habit]

    Related: Simple Steps to Finally Break Your Bad Habits

    Think of habit stacking as Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS)

    how to use habit stacking

    The most efficient companies in the world are known for their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS).

    Whether it is an operating system of to-do, doing and done that Toyota leverages or something else – efficient companies have SOPS.

    So in order to be a super-efficient person, it's time to develop your personal SOP, in other words, it is time to increase your productivity by habit stacking.

    Keep in mind the simplicity of SOPs. They are quick, easy, and there isn't any fluff. Do your best to make sure when you create a new habit – it's all three:

    1. Simple
    2. Quick
    3. Easy to do

    Another layer to consider adding to your new habit stack with regards to the standard operating procedure is to make it rewarding when possible.

    For example, if you incorporate the new habit before you do something pleasurable, you make it more enticing to do.

    [Before I get on my phone at lunch to check my social media, I will first do one sales call.]

    You are rewarding yourself for your sales call ith something you are already doing. As you create this standard procedure with no excuses, it becomes automatic – like washing your hands after the bathroom!

    Benefits of habit stacking.

    Consistency. Momentum. Belief.

    The goal of creating a new habit is consistency. By habit stacking, you're doing just that – creating consistency. And consistency is vital.

    When you notch wins on your belt you feel better about yourself. After accomplishing something you buy-in, and you do it more. This creates something called momentum.

    Whether it is saving money and seeing your savings grow, or running consistently and noticing the results in the mirror weeks down the road – the more you participate in a positive habit, the more momentum you will build.

    As momentum grows, you're going to continue to stay consistent and see results. Habits cycle, for better or worse.

    Just like hopping on Instagram every time you stop at a red light, some habits become so engraved we don't even realize we do it! By leveraging habit stacking you're able to incorporate your new habits by linking them to your existing habits.

    Thus creating a subconscious habit, that repeats itself. Before you know it – you're reading every day or making 10 extra sales calls each week.

    Final word

    I alluded to it when I started, but finding the ultimate morning routine has been a struggle for me in the past.

    However, after learning about the concept of habit stacking my world was revolutionized. I finally felt like I could stop overwhelming myself with stressful, hard to meet morning routines.

    The cool thing about habit stacking is you don't have to do a complete overhaul. For example, if you know every day you sit down at 12:30 to eat lunch, before doing that you can add a habit.

    Remember the habit stacking formula: After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

    Think of one or two areas where you do something automatically every day and look to add one or two of the new habits that you want to incorporate into your life.

    As you progress, continue to play around with adding a habit here or there. What you will quickly realize is you can get a ton of small wins that add up over time!

    Happy habit stacking! ~Josh