I’ve spent years trying and failing to fit a few more things in my day and establish some specific habits. These goals weren’t anything impressive; for starters, I wanted to read a chapter of scripture each day and do more reading. Mostly I felt overwhelmed at my already full schedule and rebelled (yes, against myself- I do it all the time) against the idea of cutting into my precious little free time even ten more minutes. The following concept is the simplest I’ve discovered and incredibly, the most effective for accomplishing more in a day.
We’ve said it before and we’ll keep saying it: most of these solutions are attributed to others’ genius and we’re here to simply collect, review, and share. There are whole books and long treatises on how to establish better habits, but I came across this post by Belle Cooper, I focused on just one part of it, and it’s changed my life. Cooper shares how in just one year she learned to read, write, and speak basic French and read five times as many books. How did she do it? She practiced French for just 5 minutes during her morning coffee and read just one page of a book at bedtime! Tiny habits, huge results. Cooper outlines several principles for establishing new habits:
- Start small: repeat a tiny habit daily
- Focus on one habit at a time
- Remove barriers: have everything you need at hand
- Stack habits: build new routines onto existing ones
I recommend her entire post, but #4, stacking habits, is the concept I’m focusing on and adding to here. By “stacking” habits onto existing ones, the already established one will act as a trigger for the new one. We all have more existing habits than we probably realize. Getting out of bed in the morning, making breakfast for my kids, driving kids to school, eating dinner, brushing teeth before bed—these are all existing habits for me. If you do something at about the same time every day without thinking about it, it’s a habit you can stack others onto. You can rely on the strength of your existing habit to keep your new habit on track. Cooper illustrates: “When I get out of bed, the first thing I do is go downstairs to make a coffee. When my coffee is made, I start my French lesson [using the free Duolingo app, if you’re curious]. My existing habit of making coffee acts as a trigger to complete my French lesson. And when I go to bed at night, I open the book sitting by my bed. Getting into bed and seeing the book act as a trigger to do my nightly reading.”
And for those of you who feel warm fuzzies over research, here is some showing that a cue to work on your new habit may be the most effective way to ensure you stick to the habit long-term.
As you’ve probably already guessed, Cooper’s one five-minute French lesson often turned into two or four lessons and one page of reading turned into chapters. I’ve found the same thing in my experiment with one page of reading at bedtime. The point: more is great, but just one lesson or one page counts as a win and perpetuates a feeling of success.
As I identified my own existing habits, I discovered something additional—I had several gaps in my day that I could fill without using any more actual minutes! In fact, identifying these bits of wasted time annoyed me enough to want to fill them. The most annoying time gap in my day?—Taking my pre-k child back and forth to/from school. I have to be in that car for a certain amount of time each weekday, whether I want to or not (and three hours of school doesn’t allow me to accomplish much in between, grrr). This, I recognized, was a great time to not only listen to my chapter of scripture [You’ll remember Lee’s post about identifying, among other things, your learning style. Mine is auditory and audiobooks are a favorite. The LDS Gospel Library app is the BEST I’ve found if you’re into the Bible or other religious texts.], but to expose my children to it also. Two birds, no wait—three birds, one stone.
Then something interesting happened. Once I established that mind frame of filling in wasted time gaps, my ideas for “fillers” started evolving. I’ve said before that I prefer morning workouts, but after moving to San Antonio where my husband leaves for work at 4:45 am and catering to a still new baby who wakes at night and requires multiple naps, my exercise has been terribly inconsistent, if not nonexistent. After I started habit-stacking, it occurred to me to do even better with that wasted chauffeuring time. I put the oldest on his bike and the two youngest in the running stroller, left the house just ten minutes earlier, and started RUNNING the 1.5 miles to the school (locked the bike up at the school, if you’re wondering). I’ve stacked my exercising habit onto my chauffeuring habit. We’re all getting fresh air. My energetic son is getting some wiggles out before and after school. I’ve stopped resenting the travel time. And I’m running SIX MILES on school days—without cutting into my free time! How many birds is that? One stone. Oh and I simply shifted and stacked the scripture listening onto breakfast with the kids.
I realize this particular scenario of running to school may not work for anyone else for many reasons. And it won’t work for me either, come next year. The point is, brainstorming with habit-stacking and gap-filling in mind, you can create your own solutions and feel better about how you use those precious hours in your busy day.
P.S. Exercising without cutting into your free time. This was just one of the many tricks Lee and I have gathered over the years. That’s a topic that deserves it’s own post. And it will get one. Stay tuned, friends.