Try ‘Habit Stacking’ to Be More Productive

Try ‘Habit Stacking’ to Be More Productive

Forming bad habits is easy, but building good habits is surprisingly hard — even though most of us crave routine to one degree or another. Luckily, here’s a way to use your natural inclination toward routine to build and maintain a new habit. It’s called habit stacking, and you can think of it like glueing a new habit to an existing one.

What is habit stacking?

Habit stacking happens when you tack a desired behavioural change onto an existing routine. Theoretically, that way the thing you’re having trouble sticking with just becomes part of your broader, ongoing string of habits. Consider the things you already do every day: Brushing your teeth in the morning and at night, making your coffee in the morning, walking your dog at lunchtime, etc. During any one of those, you can add in a second necessary task that will benefit reciprocally from happening alongside your existing routine.

This concept was popularised in 2017 by S.J. Scott, who wrote Habit Stacking: 127 Small Changes to Improve Your Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Since then, it’s blown up, with other psychologists adding their own support for the practice. Science agrees: Building routines is key to overall health and wellbeing, and our brains are wired to seek out routines. Once you have one habit neurologically wired in, building others around it is much easier.

How to get started with habit stacking 

There are plenty of ways to build a habit stack, but first you need to identify the tasks you’re struggling with. For example, if you know you need to sort through your emails every morning but you tend to put it off as soon as you log in to work, keep it in mind as a possible candidate for adding to a stack.

Once you’ve identified the things you want to do but don’t, identify the things you do do, whether it’s taking a break every day at 3 p.m. to scroll social media or doing the dishes after every meal. Examine each and look for ways you could stack the less-sticky tasks on top of them. If you forget to call your mum often, stack that on top of doing the dishes. If you need to sort your email inbox, do it while you drink your morning coffee.

The trick is to figure out which things can stack cohesively. You can’t return phone calls while you’re running at the gym, but maybe you can do so while you’re commuting. You can’t study while you brush your teeth, but you can practice your deep breathing.

Once you’ve determined which habits can stack, write down your plans somewhere like a Google doc — ”I will respond to my emails every morning by 10, while I eat breakfast” — and for the first few days, actively check in on it to make sure you’re staying on top of them. Eventually, they’ll become habitual, just like the activities you’ve paired them with.

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