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!

Managing Behavior at Home – Distance Learning

We struggle with behavior issues on a good day when we have a set schedule, so you can imagine how things have regressed since schools closed and we went to distance learning.

One of the reasons we ultimately decided to put our children in school this year was the need for routine and regiments. With two children who are special needs (ASD and ADHD), life had been getting progressively more chaotic and stressful.  While enrolling the kids in public school didn’t fix every problem (mornings have always been rough!), we did see a positive effect on our ASD kiddo with behavior and communication. Routine and rules just work for him.

Distance learning has been going alright – we are seasoned homeschoolers so getting back into an at-home school schedule has probably gone smoother for us than many other families where this situation isn’t the norm.

However, I will be the first to agree, as I keep seeing in posts and comments online, that distance learning is NOT homeschool. For one, I am not in control of the curriculum or the schedule. Each week we receive school work packets and turn in work from the previous week. This can be stressful because I am trying to keep my kids on track with their work because they still need to turn it in for grading. If we were truly homeschooling, I would have flexibility with work schedules and expectations.

Note – I am not criticizing our teachers – they have done an amazing job pulling together home-based assignment packets, online content and communicating with families during the school closures. Additionally I know our teachers understand the struggles that distance learning may involve and there is a lot of grace and flexibility on their end too. 

With a return to home-based learning, we have been struggling with some of the behavior issues that ultimately led us to public school. Lack of a solid routine, distractions from screens and siblings, fighting between siblings, minor habits becoming major annoyances, inability to stay on task or stay focused, melt downs, etc. It’s been stressful!

Thankfully there are so many resources available to parents to help implement strategies that will contribute to a successful home environment (or at the very least – more successful).

If I can make some suggestions right off the bat, it would be these:

  • Parents should be proactive, not reactive. Don’t wait until chaos and frustration reigns. Have at least a semblance of a plan of how you will deal with school work, chores, screen time, tantrums, etc.

  • Discuss things with your partner and have some expectations, strategies, and plans. Communication and being on the same page is so important.

  • Give yourself grace. Accept that bad days are going to happen – kids aren’t the only ones who have tantrums! But take a time-out, put the kids to bed early if needed, and be ready to do your best the next day. And don’t be afraid to apologize to your kids and admit to them that adults have bad days too.

Thankfully we are nearing the end of the school year, but even if you have only a few weeks remaining, these suggestions may be helpful.

Be organized!

You u may wear your Type B label as a badge of honor, but when it comes to managing school work at home, organization is key to maintaining sanity.

Especially if you are keeping up with more than one child (we have four!) – this is essential. I cleared out our colored bins to keep up with the workbooks that came home. Each child has a bin and school books go back to their bins when work is complete for the day.

For papers, I immediately go through the packets, and separate subjects with paperclips, and then use a metal clip to keep these smaller packets together for each child.

One of our colored bins is mine where I keep these packets.For daily work that can be done sort of independently (spelling pages, grammar pages, reading comprehension etc.), I put on clipboards.

Each child has their own clipboard. On my clipboard, I have weekly planning sheets from their teachers that I can mark off as assignments are done, as well as instructions for assignments that require more guidance.

Carve out independent work space for students, as much as possible.

Images of four happy children quietly doing their own work around the dining room table is NOT realistic for our family.Sometimes we start out working together, but usually the kids need to go off to different corners to not distract or annoy siblings. On a good day, I’ll send one or two to another room to work on their independent work, so I can do guided work at the dining room table with another. Then the kids rotate and I help another child.

Incorporate independent reading.

We’ve had book logs sent home each for two of our children, and even before our schools closed there was an expectation that students would be reading at home at least 15 minutes a day.

Be sure to keep this up even with distance learning. If one child has finished independent and guided work, I remind them to get some independent reading done. Younger children may find reading books together beneficial.

Manage screen time.

Distance learning often includes online content. Even my kindergartner has a list of You Tube video suggestions to watch each week.

Our district has also provided free (to us) access to various learning websites like Brainpop Jr, Get Epic!, ABC Mouse and Adventure Academy.

These are great resources for the kids and I see the benefits of them having these resources available.

However, at least for my family, screens are an automatic attention killer.If I am still helping one child with guided work or going over independent work, and one child is on the computer watching a You Tube video on phonics, attention will be drawn to the computer and not their book work.

Even if it’s in another room, the knowledge that a sibling has already gotten screen time is a major issue. So, to keep things simple and functional, I hold screen time until everyone has finished their other work, and then they have to take turns.

One benefit I have noticed – they tend to group together and watch what the other is watching or doing – so even though one child may have been assigned a Brainpop video to watch, the others also tend to watch and learn from it as well.

One caveat – I have a teenager and she has a lot more computer work than the others – content on Google Classroom, internet research, typing essays, spreadsheet work, etc.

I will allow her to have access for this kind of work, but have to keep her off Adventure Academy or Prodigy Math, because the “game” aspect draws the others’ attention away from their own work.

Communicate with the teachers!

The teachers are still available to give feedback and answer questions as needed. I encourage my teen to email her teachers directly with questions or if she needs clarification on an assignment.

For my younger students I may include a note about any issues we’ve had during the week when I send in our packet of completed work. I also communicate with the teachers through email as needed.

For children with an IEP, how a school implements individual plans is going to look different, depending on the child’s needs and restrictions placed on the schools.

Our ASD kiddo had been getting pulled once a week for Speech Therapy at school, and had a SpEd resource teacher checking in with him each week to help with focusing on assignments and making sure he understood what was expected on independent assignments.

With the schools closed, our plan obviously looks different. The speech therapist checks in weekly, and provides activities we can do at home to keep working on social skills and communication. The SpEd teacher who would check in on him weekly in class (and who has had a wonderful impact on our child) also checks in weekly to see how we are doing, and if there are any supports we need at home.

Give your child grace.

Children thrive with consistency and routine. The abrupt change to distance learning is likely stressful for children. Additionally, these changes are not isolated.

Visiting friends, sports, extracurriculars, going to the playground, even just running errands with mom or dad – outlets that would normally help alleviate some of a child’s stress are in most cases curtailed.

As we wrap up the school year, I am looking forward to our summer break. I will be switching over to “mom school” which involves read alouds, educational computer games, documentaries and some basic workbook stuff. All our children are officially readers (yay!) so independent reading will be a big part of our day.

Spring Terrarium – Praying Mantises

My kids wanted to collect snails this week to observe in our terrarium. The stick they chose to put in for leaves just so happened to have a mantis egg sac attached!

It took less than a week for the babies to make their appearance, and we happened to be checking on the snails when we saw one or two babies walking around. We were so lucky to have the opportunity to sit and watch many more come out.

It was fascinating to watch the babies wriggle their way out of the slits in the egg case, and then hang for a bit before slowly extending out their limbs. This process seems similar to how butterflies emerge from their crysalis and slowly extend and beat their crumpled and wet wings to get blood flowing so they can fly.

Want to learn more about praying mantises? Here are some great links to check out!

National Geographic – Praying Mantis

Wikipedia – Mantis

Keeping Insects – Mantises

Texas A & M Field Guide – Praying Mantis

Reading With Your Ears – March 2020

On any given day, our family has several audio books going. Our Audible membership has definitely been a great investment for our family.

Here is what our family is listening to this month.

This is my oldest’s current read. She also has the book, but wanted to be able to listen as well.

I have this book on my Kindle, but to be honest, I tend to put off reading books on Kindle (probably because my Fire wanders off to one of the kids’ rooms…). I love the story but wasn’t making enough progress, so I bought the audiobook as a Whispersync – if you buy a kindle book the audio book can be purchased for cheap. Now I’m enjoying the book again!

This is the second novel I’m listening to – I alternate between my two fiction selections. This is a wonderful book and I love the narrator. As an aside, there are books on Audible that have different versions with different narrators. One of the review areas (Performance) gives feedback on the narrator and of course you can listen to a sample. Sometimes the narrator makes the book!

Somehow I’ve managed to survive this long without reading Harry Potter series. In my defense, I have seen the first movie! This is our new car listen – when I am in the car with the kids we listen. They love it! Don’t tell them I listened ahead several chapters though!

This is my first Ravi Zaccharias book. Each chapter is under 10 minutes and yet gives the listener much to ponder. I’ve gotten a lot out of this book and am finishing soon. I look forward to my next Zaccharias title.

This is an Audible Original from Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), and goes through the impact of caffeine on humanity. It’s a short but fascinating listen.

Another Audible Original, this has been a fun listen. An AI has fled her creator and is explaining her life story to an investigator. My son listened enthralled and now my older daughter has started listening to it.

I am so glad Audible has teamed up with the Great Courses Company and is offering their audio courses (and these usually include a downloadable course notes PDF!). Each lecture runs approximately 30 minutes.

My daughter LOVES Ramona – if this was a tape or CD it would be worn out from listening so often. She queues up Ramona each night to listen to when going to bed. And Stockard Channing as the narrator is SUPERB!

My husband is currently going through the Aubrey Maturin series by Patrick O’Brien (this series includes Master and Commander, which was adapted into the Russell Crowe movie).

New to audiobooks? Audible has several membership options, great sales, and apps for listening across platforms. And there is so much content available – fiction, nonfiction, Great Courses, Audible Originals, children’s books – it’s impossible to NOT find something you want to listen to.

In Common – March 9, 2020

I’ve gotten back on track with my regular reading schedule, for the most part. I am currently reading two new books.

Love Kindness is a great book so far. It examines what kindness is (and isn’t), how Christians are expected to live out this virtue, and some side effects of not practicing this virtue.

In the Introduction, Corey states,

Kindness has become far too often a forgotten virtue. Christians often bypass kindness to begin a shouting match, or we just talk among ourselves about how awful the other side is. We have ranted before we’ve related, deeming the latter too soft on sin. Christians – and I’ve seen this especially in American Christians in recent years -have employed the combative strategy, and it’s not working. (Love Kindness, p. xii)

A little later, he describes kindness,

Kindness is strong yet humble. Kindness is honesty and looks like truth with love… This is our challenge: living from a Christ-centered core that spills out into a life of kindness. It’s a life with a firm center and soft edges. (Love Kindness, p. xvi)

Should we all be expected to practice kindness?

But the Bible never talks about kindness as a gift you either have or you don’t. It describes kindness as a fruit of the Spirit, a virtue that is meant to grow from all Christians even when other people don’t like the kindness they see in us. (Love Kindness, p. 7)

One point that Corey makes, that I think is so simple, yet so profound, is this concept of receivability. It seems we as Christians work to be received, but that doesn’t always happen. Our goal should be on being receivable, and not focused on whether we are received.

… the objective of the receivable life is not to be received, but to be receivable. The goal of the kind life is not to be thanked; it is to be obedient. Whether or not the grocery clerk or the college professor received my overtures of kindness should not be my concern. Jesus never said we would be received. He simply said we need to make ourselves receivable – that is, to remove the distance or the obstacles that keep others from seeing Jesus within us. (Love Kindness, p. 7)

Corey continues on, introducing characteristics that are kindness.

Authenticity is kindness because it allows other to see our struggles rather that hiding them behind feigned perfection. Authenticity is kindness when it admits our imperfections and uncertainties, our fears and anxieties. (Love Kindness, p.14)

How we interact with others has such an impact.

The kinder way is to be present in others’ lives wit an honest spirit that isn’t waiting for the conversation to turn toward me. That’s a spirit that receives others more that is wants to be received. (Love Kindness, p. 38)

I’m half way through the book, and honestly I could share so many snippets, but I’ll end with this one for now.

When civility and humility stop being marks of a Christian, the salt has lost its savor and the light has been hidden under a bushel. (Love Kindness, p. 46)

Current Reads