The key to habit stacking is to stick to the routine instead of the individual habits. You want to automatically flow from one action right into the next action without thinking about each individual component. That’s why it’s important to develop the habit of following the routine.
When you’re able to perform the habits without breaks or hesitation, that’s when you know you’ve built a powerful habit stacking ritual. It is with this new routine that your life will begin to change. Each day that you flawlessly complete your new habit stacking routine is another day that you’re improving multiple areas of your life.
It may seem overwhelming to have to pick individual habits and then focus on completing the entire routine, but don’t worry. In this section, we’ll discuss an eight-step process for building a habit stacking routine that doesn’t overwhelm you. By the time you’re done, you’ll know which habits work best for you and how to incorporate them into an actionable routine.
Step 1: Pick a Time and Location
All habit stacking routines revolve around a specific location, time of day or combination of both. Here are a few examples of times and locations that you could choose to build a routine around, and some ideas for getting started.
In the morning at home
At home in the morning is a great time and place to accomplish habit stacking and start off your day with an empowered and productive mindset. Think about what you would like to accomplish before you even leave the house, and how it can be added to your routine.
For example, a habit could be making your bed followed by collecting dirty laundry and then packing your lunch for the day. These tasks keep your home organized, prepare you for the day and set up your house so it is clean and relaxing when you come home.
The first part of the workday at the office
You just got to the office—what could you get done right off the bat? If you are most motivated in the beginning of the workday, this is a great time and place for a habit stacking routine.
Three habits you can do from your desk are writing down your most important tasks for the day, organizing loose documents and cleaning off your desktop. This routine will help you organize your day and put you in a productive state of mind.
The end of the workday at the office
The end of the workday is actually a great time for a habit stacking routine because it is a good way to finish out your day on a positive note. You’ve been busy at work all day, so having an end-of-the-day routine sets you up to leave and gives you one last feeling of accomplishment.
An example of a habit that you could add to the end of your workday is identifying the most important projects for the next day. When you arrive in the morning, you’ll know exactly where to get started.
In the evening at home
Right in between getting home from work and settling down for the evening is also a good time for habit stacking. This time works well because it gives you the opportunity to complete habits that will end your day and prepare you for the next day. Habits such as preparing tomorrow’s lunch and organizing the mail fit right into this time at home.
At the gym while you’re working out
Yes, it’s true—you can even practice habit stacking at the gym! In fact, creating a routine for your workout will help you complete the most important exercises in the shortest amount of time. Flowing from one exercise to another makes for a better workout and improves your results.
For instance, you could add habits such as stretching, practicing mediation, drinking a healthy smoothie and weighing yourself. All of these could be done in the 10 to 15 minutes after you’ve finished exercising or lifting weights.
During travel or on the road
Even if you’re on the road, you can still have a habit stacking routine. Believe it or not, a lot can be accomplished in the car or on your daily commute if you take a train or bus.
Have Bluetooth in your car? Call a friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a while for a quick five-minute conversation. Have a 30-minute commute home on the train? That’s a great time to write your to-do list for the next day or respond to unanswered text messages you received throughout the day.
Taking advantage of this time is a great way to get a lot done in a short amount of time that would otherwise be wasted.
On your lunch break
Your lunch break provides you with the perfect amount of time to accomplish a routine. Because you are already in a productive mood at work, the routine should just come naturally. Instead of wasting 30 minutes or an hour of your lunch break sitting in your break room, you can change your life.
There are many habits that you could do during this time of the day. Some ideas include introducing yourself to someone new, checking your bank account balances or doing a quick five-minute mediation routine to refocus on the rest of the day.
Step 2: Build One Routine at a Time
There are varying opinions about how long it takes to build a new habit. Some people say a week, others say 21 days and a few say as long as three months. It really isn’t important how long it takes you to build a new habit. What’s important is to focus on adding one habit routine at a time.
It’s impossible to add multiple routines all at once. The process is too complicated and your willpower will revolt because you’re asking it to do too much. In other words, you won’t be able to succeed in the long term.
Let’s take a quick look at ego depletion to help support this step. Ego depletion is a person’s diminished capacity to regulate thoughts, feelings and actions. In other words, our willpower works like a muscle and it weakens throughout the day, since it’s used constantly. We all have a limit to our willpower, and once we’ve reached the limit, it becomes very difficult to focus.
The reason you should focus on one routine at a time is because it reduces the amount of depletion on your willpower. My advice is to focus on a new routine for a month before making any changes or additions.
Step 3: Start with “Small Wins”
There are a lot of habits in this book (97 actions, to be exact). When it comes to your habits, start with the ones that are easiest to do. When you start with the easiest habit, like taking a vitamin, you will feel a sense of accomplishment that will make starting and completing the next habit easier.
My advice is to take a look at the seven different categories of small changes. Find the ones that are the shortest and easiest to accomplish (one to three minutes). Focus on these for the first few weeks until you’ve developed the habit of completing a habit stacking routine. Then, once you’ve accomplished this, feel free to swap out habits or add small changes that directly relate to your personal goals.
Step 4: Create a Logical Checklist
We have already touched on the topic of a checklist. Your checklist should consist of your habits and the actions required to accomplish each habit. All the habits should work together and flow into each other seamlessly.
It’s also important that your checklist of habits reflects moving from one room to another to keep the progress flowing. Your checklist can be printed, written down or even stored in an app. Evernote or Remember the Milk are great apps for this.
Step 5: Have a “Reason Why”
It’s easy to quit a new habit, and it happens for many reasons. Some people quit a new habit because of a negative outcome or painful experience. Others quit because the habit is too difficult or they are criticized by others. It’s easy to quit habits like making the bed or giving yourself a daily budget. However, it’s important to find a way to stick to this new routine if you want to see a long-term, positive life change.
The best way to make sure you don’t quit a habit stacking routine is to have a reason why behind each individual action. This reason should be genuine and important to you. Some people adopt habit stacking to help them live longer lives, others to spend more time with their families. There are tons of reasons to habit stack, so find what’s most important to you so you always know why you’re completing your habit stacking routine.
Step 6: Be Accountable
It’s always easier to do nothing than it is to take action. As an example, which is easier: exercising or sitting on the couch? Sitting on the couch, of course—but that’s not going to improve your life at all. People often fail at completing their habit stacking routines because it’s just easier for them to not do them. That’s why it’s important for you to be held publicly accountable.
There are a variety of ways for you to do this, including posting your progress on social media accounts, telling friends and family members about your habit stacking or using an alarm on your phone to trigger you to start your routine each day.
What’s worked for me in the past is the Lift app, which is a great tool for maintaining and sticking to new habits. It’s like having a coach in your pocket, for better and worse. You’ll be held accountable for your habit stacking routine by adding it as a habit and checking in every single day when it’s been completed. Trust me—the simple act of knowing that you have to update people on your progress is motivation enough to stick to a habit stacking routine.
Step 7: Create Small, Enjoyable Rewards
Completing your habit stacking routine is an accomplishment and it should be rewarded as such. Rewards, as long as they are small and have a positive long-term impact, can be great motivators in getting through your routine each day. Treat yourself to a movie, date night or small healthy treat for getting through your routine every day for a week or month.
Step 8: Focus on Repetition
Repetition is key for the first 30 days of habit stacking. It’s imperative that you stick to your routine, even if for some reason you have to skip one or two individual habits. Repetition of the routine builds muscle memory to the point where you follow the routine, each day, without fail.
Now, it’s not the end of the world if you miss the occasional day. This happens to everyone. But you must never, ever miss two days in a row of completing your routine. And if you do miss a day, it’s more important than ever to make sure you complete at least part of your routine the next day.
The better developed and more powerful your habit stacking routine, the more you stand to benefit from it. Habit stacking is a way to get a lot done and make positive changes in your life. If there are any positive changes you’ve wanted to make, this is a great way to get it done. A good routine is compact, connected and beneficial in your life.
However, even the best routines can and will be interrupted. It should come as no surprise to you when a routine gets thrown off because of something that life throws at you. Luckily, you will know how to handle it. It’s important to know how to handle the common pitfalls of a habit stacking routine because knowledge is power. The more you know about all the elements of habit stacking, the more successful you will be.
Now there is one last step to building a successful habit stacking routine. In addition to picking a time and location, you also want to create a specific “trigger” that will act as a reminder to complete the habit stacking routine. In the next section, we’ll talk about how this works.