Last Updated on August 20, 2022 by Keri
In this blog post, I am sharing all my tips and strategies for implementing my personal favourite habit building solution into your life as seamlessly as possible. This solution is called Habit Stacking.
Using habit stacks was something I started doing in 2021 after reading the book, “Habit Stacking – 127 Small Changes To Improve Your Health, Wealth and Happiness” by S.J Scott.
I had the ebook format of it, so I started reading it on my phone randomly one night, and I was instantly hooked.
I’ve always loved habits and their impact when it comes to your goals is immeasurable.
But, I’ve always struggled to maintain any lasting habits. I would do good with them for a while, but eventually I would let them slip away again.
This method seemed like a much more realistic way of building positive, healthy habits and actually having them stick.
So, I implemented what I learned, and it actually worked!
So now, I want to share everything I have learned with you so that you can implement this in your own habit building journey.
Let’s jump right in!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy for more information.
What exactly is habit stacking?
Habit stacking is the process of stacking some of your smaller habits together to turn them into a routine or sequence.
It helps you to make sure you get those habits done each day, week and month, as well as sets the stage for any bigger habits that you may want to do daily. An example of this could be exercising, working in Pomodoro blocks, etc.
What makes habit stacking so effective is the fact that you build the stack on top of an existing habit or part of your day, also known as a habit stack trigger. So long as you do that trigger everyday, you will then be reminded to do your habit stack.
Some examples of triggers include:
- Getting out of bed in the morning
- Brushing your teeth
- Walking into the kitchen
- Commuting to work
- Doing the dishes after dinner
Each of these triggers that already exist in your daily routine are the perfect point to start a new habit stack.
7 things to keep in mind when building a habit stack.
While there are no set “rules” to building a habit stack, there are definitely a few different things I recommend you keep in mind so that you set yourself up for the best success!
These 7 things are from the lessons that I have learned since implementing habit stacks in my life at the beginning of 2021.
#1 – Give your stacks a time limit.
Since there are only 24 hours in a day and we have other things that need to get done in that time, we have to give our habit stacks a time limit.
Each of your stacks will have a time allowance that are based on your own personal schedule. So when you get to the section of this blog post where you start to actually build your habit stacks, be sure to be mindful of what your time restrictions are, and write them down.
For example, I have way more time to dedicate to my habit stacks in the evening than I do in the morning, simply because I have to get to work in the morning.
And, even if you are in a situation where you have more time on your hands, I would still recommend that you keep your stacks to 30 minutes or less.
#2 – Start with “completable” habits in your stack.
What I mean by this is, you are going to have a variety of different types of habits inside your stack. (I explain the 3 main habit types later in this blog post.)
You are going to have the kind of habits that are quick, easy, and one-and-done.
Examples of this could include brushing your teeth, pulling something out of the freezer for dinner, etc.
These are what I am referring to as “completable” habits.
I highly recommend you start your stack with these to get them out of the way quickly and efficiently.
Then, you can finish off your stack with:
- habits that aren’t necessarily a one-and-done deal. These habits may contribute more to your keystone or elephant habits. (More on these habit types coming up!) Examples of this could include
- doing a 10-minute tidy of your living space
- putting 3 items in their proper home
- habits that will take a bit longer than simply brushing your teeth. Examples of this could include:
- planning out your day
- reviewing your goals
#3 – Know what you will do at the end of each stack.
I find I get the best results from Habit Stacking when I have a clear plan of what I will do at the end of each stack. That is because I want my stacks to guide me into the next thing.
For example, at the end of my morning stack, I immediately go into exercising.
At the end of my post getting ready habit stack, I immediately go into working for 4 hours with Pomodoro time blocks.
By having a set intention of what I will do at the end of my stack, my day flows so smoothly.
Plus, it makes it really easy to build habit stacks with support habits that will help boost my mood, motivation, productivity, efficiency, etc. with whatever task, projects, keystone habit or elephant habit I have coming up.
#4 – If the habit has the potential to go on for a while, tie a specific time or result to it.
There will be instances where the habits you want to include could go on for a while.
Examples of this could include keeping your house tidy.
If your house is anything like mine, this could go on for awhile…
So, in these instances, it is best to tie a specific time allowance to the task or a specific result.
So, with the example of tidying your living space, you would not just write that down in your habit stack. Instead, write down something like “10-minute tidying of the living space”. This way, you know you only have 10 minutes and then you have to stop.
If you do this enough times in a day, you won’t get completely sucked into the task, but you will still manage to see some results.
Alternatively, you could tie a specific result. As an example, instead of writing down tidy your living space, you could write down “put away 10 items back into their designated home”.
Again, you won’t be getting completely sucked into this task, but you will still be chipping away at your desired result.
#5 – Give your habit stack a nice “flow”.
Try to make your habit stack flow nicely. This will provide the least amount of resistance.
So, when you create your stack, make sure that the habits match where you need to be and what you need to have available to complete the habit.
For example, my morning habit stack starts with habits that need to be done in the bedroom, and then they transition to habits that I need to do in the kitchen, and then lastly to habits that I do in the basement right before I start exercising.
This flow helps me move seamlessly through my habits without me jumping back and forth room to room as I complete the habits.
Less resistance means better results!
#6 – Set up a checklist or tracker.
Trust me… it can be really hard to memorize the stacks you create.
Sure, they may be simple habits, but trying to remember them all in the moment when you’re still half asleep…
Yea, it doesn’t work very well.
So, what I find really helps me is setting up a checklist or tracker that lists out my habit stack in order, and then I can just tick them off as I go.
This keeps me moving at a good pace and removes time wasted sitting there trying to figure out what to do next.
#7 – Don’t start too big!
Starting too big is a surefire way to overwhelm yourself.
Instead, start building one stack a time. Once that stack becomes second nature, add in a new stack.
To narrow down which one you should start with, you can consider:
- which one you will have the least resistance with. This will set you up for better success which can boost your motivation, and that never hurts!
- which stack is going to have the biggest impact on one of your goals, balance in your life, self-care, etc.
How is habit stacking different than just setting new habits?
One of the most common challenges people run into when trying to start a new habit is relying on motivation and memory to carry out that habit.
Speaking from personal experience… this rarely works.
Leaving your habit to be done whenever will likely lead to days of forgetting and/or being very inconsistent.
You also aren’t going to be motivated every single day.
As Jim Rohn would say: “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
By tying your habits to a trigger, you are setting yourself up for much better success with your habits!
I was able to drastically improve my implementation and consistency of building positive habits which is why I am so excited to share this particular strategy with you here in my little corner of the internet!
Both S.J Scott and James Clear talk about Habit Stacking extensively in their books which I have included here if you would like to learn more!
What are the 3 types of habits?
By now, you may have noticed me saying things like “keystone habits”, “support habits”, etc.
In this section, I am going to briefly explain what each of these are.
I got these from the book “Habit Stacking” written by S.J Scott, and I wanted to be sure to include it here because I think it is extremely helpful for categorizing your habits and making sure you have a healthy balance of each.
These habits are something that can have an impact in multiple ares of your life.
An example of this could be spending some quality time with your family or exercising daily.
Keystone habits will very much be directly related to your goals, your priorities, and the non-negotiable areas of your life.
You will find that by including keystone habits into your habit stacks, you will be chipping away at a specific goal or result that you are aiming for which is absolutely amazing!
To learn more about Keystone Habits, check out this blog post from S.J Scott.
These habits are in place to help support you with your keystone habits.
So, in the example of exercise, some support habits could include:
- leaving your running shoes by the door the night before
- filling up your water bottle
- making sure your headphones are fully charged the night before
By including these habits into your habit stack, you are going to be staying disciplined to your keystone habit.
These support habits are personally what I have found the most value from.
These habits are your more project based.
So, if you have a goal to organize a community garage sale, you might chunk down this project into smaller, bite-sized tasks, and some of those tasks you could turn into your elephant habits.
An example of this would be finding 3 items to include in the garage sale in your evening habit stack.
By adding these habits into your habit stack, you will be slowly chipping away at a really big project that you have. I especially like this system for projects that I am not overly excited to do.
How do I build a habit stack?
Now that you have heard some of my personal tips to consider when building your first habit stack as well as the different types of habits, I know you are ready to build your first stack!
This is the really fun part!
I have broken this down into steps so that you can check them off as you go. Let’s get started with your first stack!
Step One: Identify your goals, priorities, and non-negotiables.
Before you can choose what habits you want to include, you need to first identify what your goals are, what your priorities are, and what your non-negotiables are.
Once you have identified what these are, you can start to reverse engineer what the best habits will be.
For example, if you have a goal to become more fit before summer, you might include habits like drinking more water, going for a daily walk, laying out your exercise clothes, packing your gym bag the night before, etc.
Or, if one of your priorities is to spend more quality time with family, your habits might include eating dinner at the dinner table every night or having a family game-night every Sunday.
Step Two: Choose the best keystone habits, support habits and elephant habits.
Once you know what your goals, priorities and non-negotiables are, you can start to brainstorm the habits.
To help you with this step of the process, I have created a PDF document with over 50 ideas!
Step Three: Identify your triggers.
Take some time for this next step to brainstorm some things in your daily routine that you could use as a habit trigger. I already provided some examples above, but here are a few more:
- Your lunch break at work
- When you arrive home from work
- After you put the kids to bed
- Once you feed your pet
Sometimes, I have even used a daily alarm to trigger my night time habit stack since my evenings are pretty flexible and there was nothing specific that I do everyday to trigger me.
Tip: Keep your triggers as simple as possible!
Step Four: Name your habit stacks.
The last thing that I like to do before I start putting the habits into a particular stack is naming the stack.
For example, some of my stack names include:
- Waking Up Stack
- Post Workout Stack
- Post Shower Stack
- Lunch Break Stack
My names are pretty cookie cutter! Feel free to get creative with these names if you like!
Step Five: Start adding the habits into the appropriate stack.
Once I have all my habits written down, I start putting them into the stack I think they will work the best in.
For this step, I like to keep flow of the habits in mind, the keystone habit or task that will follow that habit stack, and the time I have available in that stack.
For this step, I actually really like to do this with post-it notes.
I write down the name of the habit stack on one colour of post-it’s.
Then, on another colour, I write down each individual habit.
Then I use a wall in my house to start adding the habits to the stack. The post-it notes make it really to move the habits around and re-organize them until I am happy with the whole thing.
Step Six: Choose which stack you will start with first.
Like I mentioned in the 7 tips section, I highly recommend starting with just one stack at the beginning. This is to avoid overwhelm and allow you the space to just focus on one at a time, which will also provide better overall results.
Once you get into a really good routine with the habit stack you pick the first round, you can then implement another.
To choose which one you will start with, here are some prompts:
- Which stack will help you get the best results immediately?
- Is there one particular stack that will help you in multiple areas of your life?
- Out of all the stacks, is there one that feels a lot more simple or doable? Sometimes starting with the easiest one to give yourself a win is a great way to stay motivated and see even better results!
Step Seven: Create a checklist or tracker to keep with you.
Once you have narrowed down to which stack you are going to start with, take some time to create a checklist or tracker that you can keep with you!
Again, this will help you to implement the stack you have built for yourself and keep you accountable!
Habit Stacking Examples
In this blog post, I have provided a lot of general examples, but I want to finish off this blog post with some finished habit stack examples so that you have a reference point.
Or, if you see a stack you really like, you can just steal it and then modify it to suit your own needs!
Note: These are my own personal habit stacks!
Productive Morning Habit Stack
While I do not necessarily love waking up in the morning, I would 100% consider myself a morning person.
It is when I am the most productive, creative and outgoing.
The habits included in this stack really focus on helping me wake up with a productive start and help me get focused on one of my keystone habits which is working out as I currently have a goal to lose some weight!
Trigger: Wake Up
Put on exercise clothes that were laid out the night before (2 Minutes)
Make the bed (5 Minutes)
Fill my water bottle (1 Minute)
Feed the cats (5 Minutes)
10 minute tidy of kitchen and living room (10 Minutes)
Stretch (5 Minutes)
Put on shoes (1 Minute)
Put on music, podcast or YouTube video (2 Minutes)
Post Workout Habit Stack
After I am done working out, I like to spend some time getting intentional about my day.
This particular habit stack really focuses on setting me up to have a really productive day!
Trigger: Getting back upstairs after I finish my workout in the basement.
Make a tea (3 Minutes)
Pull out dinner from the freezer (1 Minute)
Plan my day (5-7 Minutes)
Review my goals (5 Minutes)
Repeat words of affirmation (5 Minutes)
Go and get ready for the day
Post Dinner Habit Stack
After we are done eating dinner, I like to do a little habit stack that keeps me going, otherwise I just end up sitting on the couch in a food coma watching television. (There’s nothing wrong with this if that is how you like to spend your evenings! I just personally find that after an evening of laying around on the couch, I just don’t sleep as well, and I’d rather keep doing stuff and have a good night of sleep.)
So, this particular habit stack focuses on my goal to keep the house neat and tidy and to do some body movement everyday in the form of a walk.
Trigger: Finish eating dinner.
Put all the dishes in the dishwasher (5 Minutes)
Do any other kitchen tidying needed after cooking (10 Minutes)
Review my daily to-do list (5 Minutes)
Go change into an outfit suitable for the outdoor weather (2 Minutes)
Put on shoes (1 Minute)
Go for a walk
Night Time Habit Stack
With this final habit stack example, I am really focused on self-care.
This whole habit stack really helps me to shut down from the day and get ready for bed.
Trigger: Phone alarm goes off at 9:00 pm daily.
Shut down all electronics (t.v, phone, laptop, etc.) (3 Minutes)
Put on pyjamas (2 Minutes)
Wash face (5 Minutes)
Skin care routine (5 Minutes)
Journal (10 Minutes)
Review my goals (5 Minutes)
Read at least one chapter in bed
I hope this blog post has given you inspiration to try habit stacking in your own life!
What I love the most about habit stacking is you aren’t just building habits, you are building systems. And in my opinion, systems are so much easier to sustain in the long run to get you the best results in life!
Now I want to hear from you! Let me know in the comments what habit stack you think you will get started with!