How to use Habit Stacking to Boost your Productivity: SJ Scott Interview

Steve in Segovia, Spain
Steve in Segovia, Spain

Steve ‘SJ’ Scott is one of the most prolific writers on productivity! With 22 books under his belt in the past 4 years, you know that he’s an insanely productive writer! He’s also the founder of the popular blog ‘ Develop Good Habits’.

Steve believes that “the only way to improve yourself is to set achievable goals and develop daily habits that move you towards these outcomes.”

One of his books that I particularly love is Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less

(By the way, all links to books in this post are affiliate links)

What I really like about the book is that it’s unbelievably practical and concise. Habit Stacking happens to be a powerful productivity technique that anyone can pick up with minimal effort.

I had a conversation with Steve about how Habit Stacking can boost productivity.
Here’s what he told me:

What is habit stacking and how does it help?

The concept of habit stacking is simple. You take either an existing habit or a habit that you will have no problem motivating yourself to do on a daily basis, and you “stack” other simple habits (5 minutes or less) with this habit. These “stacked” habits may be simple, but they are things that may slip your mind or that you seem to have difficulty doing on a daily basis due to procrastination.

Then when they are “stacked” with your existing habit, you use that habit as a trigger to ensure you do all the little habits in the stack daily before moving on.

What habit stacks can I build to become more productive?

Productivity is a good example of habit stacking in action. Let’s say it is a normal part of your routine to get a cup of coffee (or tea) in the morning and immediately start your work.

With habit stacking you use this event to start a queue of other small positive productivity habits.

  • Before you sit down, you turn on a white noise generator, or put on some very low volume relaxing background music to act as white noise, that will help you remain focused on your work.
  • When you sit down at your desk you immediately clean the surface and put away anything that will distract you, so that when you start work you can have 100% focus.
  • Then review your goals sheet to help inspire you for the day and give you an idea of what needs to be accomplished.
  • Then you grab a sheet of paper and you write out your schedule for the day, focusing on your 3 most important, “must complete” tasks.
  • Finally you commit to starting on the hardest, most energy consuming, task immediately, while you are at your sharpest.

Habit stacks are things you may be doing already. The only difference is that you are committing to do them in a series that you will uphold EVERY day, and therefore make into a rock solid routine.

How do I go about building my own habit stack?

Anything can be stacked with anything else.  What’s important is that the timing of the habit stack works for you, and that you will commit to the stack without fail!

For another example.  Maybe you want to get some exercise into your work day. Simply make a habit stack that looks like this:

  • Take a break every 50 minutes.
  • Get up from your desk, then immediately drop and do 10 pushups
  • Then go on 5 minute walk around building

A simple enough routine. It helps you incorporate some exercise that helps to keep you sharp during your work day.

It’s easy to do, and doing this simple stack means 90 pushups and 45 minutes walking on most days. Not bad!

What are the common mistakes that people make while building their habit stacks?

They try to stack too many longer tasks at one time.

But a stack of 10 separate items that each take 5 minutes, will become a large task that your subconscious will dread, avoid and procrastinate. That will defeat the entire purpose of the habit stacks.

As a rule of thumb, the entire stack should be doable in 10-15 minutes tops.  This could be many as 10-15 simple tasks if they are things like “brushing your teeth” but if they take more time, keep them short.

What two other of your books on productivity would you recommend?

Here’s a couple:

Level Up Your Day: How to Maximize the 6 Essential Areas of Your Daily Routine
A book that I co-wrote with Rebecca Livermore. This book discusses the 6 major areas of your life and how to get the most out your life by maximizing daily routines in these areas.

To Do List Makeover: A Simple Guide to Getting Important Things Done
My thoughts on creating “To Do Lists” that are doable and actionable.

Try it!

Want to try building your habit stack? Get Steve’s book, Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less

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