Habit Stacking

I recently listened to a podcast where the guest speaker was discussing habit stacking. I was so intrigued that I searched out more resources on the topic and how I could make it work for me.

What it is

Habit stacking is something we probably do to a certain degree without even realizing it. But intentional habit stacking has the potential to make your day run smoother, help you hit more of your personal goals and be more efficient with your time management.

Habit Stacking is also an excellent way to incorporate new habits (or those that tend to get put off and excused away) into our daily routine.

Habit stacking is just what the name suggests – the stacking of certain habits with other habits so that they all become routine and get tackled. One important concept is that of an anchor – a habit that is already ingrained in your routine, that you can then attach new habits to. 

For example, if the first thing you do in the morning is make and drink a cup of coffee, tie a new habit (or several) to your coffee habit. Drink a glass of water and take any medications or supplements you need to take while your coffee brews or you wait for the kettle to heat up. Fill your water bottle(s) for the day.

One benefit is that it allows you to tackle more each day, and makes it more likely to hit those items on our To Do list that we tend to push off.

There are podcasts and books and websites talking about habit stacking, but how you incorporate it into your day will be personal. I am going to share how I am analyzing my personal schedule and how I am working to integrate habit tacking into my day. You may be inspired to try something that I mention here.

Identify your anchors

We all have anchor habits that already exist in our day. We may even have habits that are stacked with some of these anchors. Evaluate your typical daily routine, identifying these anchors. For me, my first anchor is waking up and turning the kettle on for coffee. Some days I’ll do a few things while I wait for the water to be ready, and others I sit and doze, waiting for the whistle.

It may be tempting to stack “Drink first cup of coffee” with the Make Coffee anchor, but for me, I like to consider it as a separate anchor, because there are several habits I can stack with Drinking coffee, separate from the habits I can stack with Making Coffee.

Identify your stacked habits

After I list out my anchor habits, I consider what habits are already stacked. We probably don’t consider them as stacked, but once we start incorporating this terminology into our planning and routine, it can make it that much easier to stick with these habits.

I’ll use my previously mentioned anchors for examples.

When I first wake up and turn the kettle on, there are several minutes of down time while I wait for my water to be ready. Most days, I tackle several early morning kitchen tasks while I wait, so these are already stacked.

I usually run the dishwasher right before I go to bed, so one of the first things I do in the morning is open the dishwasher to let any water air dry. I fill the Brita water pitcher, and fill  water bottles for my spouse and children to take with them when we go our separate ways.

A little later when I am drinking my first coffee, I go through my day planner for the day, reviewing what’s on the schedule and to-do list and adding anything else as needed. I also check email and the weather on my phone so I am prepared for the day.

Identify your unstacked habits

These are the habits that you fit in somewhere during the day, but they don’t have a permanent place in your routine, and as a result, may get pushed off. Exercising is a good example. You plan to work out, but you don’t have it scheduled and so it is easy to keep pushing it back and back until it’s too late in the day and you have to try again the next day.

Emptying the dishwasher is one habit I try to fit in where I can. Unfortunately this leads to some late nights getting the dishes done (or the occasional sink of dirty dishes the next morning). These are habits that don’t have an anchor but probably should.

After I list out my unstacked habits, I look at my anchors and where I can stack these to ensure they get done. This takes some planning and a realistic outlook on your day. I know I won’t have time to exercise before getting the kids off to school, and I already get up early, so adding it to one of my early morning anchors is a waste of time.

Identify the habits you want to create

Some people may find this part the most difficult step. Whereas the earlier steps involved identifying habits we already have, whether stacked or unstacked, this part of the process is determining new habits we want to establish.

This might be waking up earlier to get quiet time or Bible study done, or maybe it’s weekly meal planning, or twenty minutes of reading before bed.

Once we identify habits we’d like to establish, we can decide which anchor we can add it to, or even if it needs to be the anchor of a new stack.

For example, meal planning may not fit into my already established stacks. But, I can see making a new stack, with meal planning as the anchor. Compiling a detailed weekly shopping list, cleaning out the fridge and taking stock of pantry items can all be part of this stack. If you are a couponer, add cutting coupons and tossing expired coupons to this stack.

Using Prompts to Establish Habits

I’ve often heard it takes two weeks to form a habit. This is encouraging – you shouldn’t expect to remember all the items of your habit stacks right away. But what can we do to ensure we actually do the habits until they become engrained?

Prompts can be used to remind you to do the habit stacks, and also can list out the individual habits in a stack.

Some people are box checkers, and so a check list of items in a stack could be hung or posted somewhere. Something as simple as post it notes with habits in each stack can be posted where we can’t miss them. For example, a post it note with the habits stacked with making coffee in the morning would go on the kitchen cabinet near the stove. If a stack includes tackling several routine tasks online (bills, emails, etc), post a note on the computer screen.

Prompts can also be visual cues to remind you of the habit. For example, if you are wanting to read before bed, put the book next to the bed, and for those who wear glasses, put your glasses case on top of the book. Before you take your glasses off before bed, you are reminded to do you reading.

Prompts can also be a little more high tech. There are habit stacker apps available, but even using reminders or alarms on a smart phone could work as a prompt.

The most important thing to consider when choosing prompts, in my opinion, is to look for something that will work for YOU. Honestly, I most likely won’t respond to a habit tracking app, but a simple series of phone alarms, coupled with some post its or laminated check lists, would be something I am willing to stick with.

Habit stacking is a great way to accomplish more in your day, and establish habits that will become second nature. Consider making this tool work for you!

2 Comments on “Habit Stacking

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