How to Leverage the Power of Habit Stacking for Increased Productivity

A woman leading a meeting.

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Anouare Abdou for Hive
Anouare Abdou for Hive
April 14, 2024 at 4:31AM UTC
“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do,” said Carl Jung. The sum of all your habits makes the fabric of your life. Habit stacking, an approach for implementing new behaviors, helps you take advantage of your habits to become more intentional and productive.

What is habit stacking?

Habit stacking is about piggybacking a new desired habit onto a strong habit that already comes naturally to you. According to James Clear, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, you can think of habit stacking as the following formula: After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. For example, “After I brush my teeth, I will put on a guided meditation.”
This method is effective because it helps your brain form a stronger connection with the new behavior you are aiming to adopt. The habits that you do on autopilot, such as brushing your teeth in the morning, are already established in your neural pathways – the signals that your nervous system sends from one area to another. “The idea behind habit stacking is to link new, desired behaviors with existing habits that are already established. By doing this, it becomes easier to form a new habit, as it becomes associated with something that is already part of your daily routine,” according to Linda Shaffer, chief people, and operations officer at Checkr, a SaaS startup and employer background check provider.
“Habit stacking reduces friction time, which means you don’t have to stop and think about what you will do next – you just do it. It’s like having a morning routine, you don’t stop to think that you have to open your eyes, get up, prepare your breakfast, etc. Those things happen automatically because they already are a strong habit,” says business consultant and productivity expert Paty Soares.

Using habit stacking to increase work productivity

Productivity ebbs and flows. But with habit stacking, you don’t have to leave it up to chance or depend on motivation – you can trick your brain into embracing daily high-performance habits that make a big difference in your productivity in the long run.
Soares recommends choosing one small productivity-oriented habit to start with. You can aim to tackle your most challenging task first thing in the day. Or decide that you will use your afternoon break to listen to a productivity podcast. “Ask yourself, what can you do next that will help you improve your productivity by 1%?” she says. “Focus on 1% improvements and one thing at a time to make it stick.”
Then, the key part of habit stacking is performing that new habit right before or after something that you do on a regular basis at work. “For example, when you turn on your computer, you can choose to open your daily planner instead of going to your emails. So you link planning with getting started – that alone will help tremendously in increasing your productivity since you know how your day will look from the start,” says Soares.
Once your new habit becomes automatic, you can build on it by linking productivity-boosting actions together. “For example, open and respond to the emails that take you less than two minutes to answer, add the remaining emails to your to-dos with a deadline on them, and get started on your first focus task of the day,” adds Soares.
In action, that would look like opening your computer, doing your daily planning, answering emails or scheduling email-related tasks for later, and tackling your first priority of the day. Together, those stacked habits set you up to be a productivity powerhouse. And you can get there by adding one new habit at a time to your initial pattern of behavior (remember, the initial one in the example above was simply turning on your computer).
You can also use habit-stacking with your team, especially when you’re trying to introduce a new habit that requires extra effort or is challenging to stick to, says Shaffer. “If you want to increase team productivity, consider stacking a new habit onto an existing one such as daily stand-up meetings. Every time the team has their stand-up meeting, they can also take five minutes to brainstorm one new way to be productive that week,” she says.
As a leader, habit stacking can help you become more intentional about checking in with your team too. For example, you may choose to check in with your reports daily after your lunch break to make sure they feel supported.
At the end of the day, whether you use habit stacking to increase your personal productivity, become a better leader, or help your team be more productive, the key principle is simple and easy to adopt.
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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

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