Improving your life, two habits at a time

The secret to productivity might just be waiting at the bottom of your coffee cup.

By Patti Andrews


The secret to productivity might just be waiting at the bottom of your coffee cup.

By Patti Andrews

A famous and very productive woman once declared that a spoonful of sugar helps with even the most difficult daily tasks.

While Mary Poppins, the beloved fictional character, used a carpet bag and whimsical magic to get through her day, following a similar principle could make positive change in our lives. That principle is habit stacking.

It’s the perfectly simple yet powerful technique that involves building new habits by piggybacking them to existing ones.

American self improvement author, SJ Scott introduced the concept in his 2014 book, “Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less.” According to Scott, even the busiest individuals find a few minutes to brush their teeth. Yet incorporating equally small habits into our lives often proves elusive.

He believes habit stacking hinges on selecting the right “trigger”— an existing habit that serves as a reminder for your new one. This trigger should be something you consistently do at a specific time or place.

Now, habit stacking isn’t about writing a novel while learning Mandarin, becoming a CEO in 10 days or demanding a rigorous 28 day commitment like traditional habit-forming methods. It’s about enhancing overall well-being.

“It’s about really listening to what your lifestyle needs, whether or not you can stick to it and observing it without judgement.”

For instance, if you want to call your parents more often (new habit), you can stack it onto doing the dishes (trigger). If you aim to read more books (new habit), stack it onto sitting and enjoy your morning coffee (trigger).

“It’s about making life more enjoyable by pairing a challenging or boring habit with something you genuinely enjoy,” Australian designer and productivity expert, Deborah Ho, told FW.

“I’m always striving to optimise my life, and while I’m quite disciplined, I do have days where my only priority is getting out of bed or out the door. The productivity hacks I want to implement have to be easy.”

Some everyday examples of habit stacking:

  1. Making your bed (new habit) while brushing your teeth (trigger) is a prime example of habit stacking. These two tasks can be seamlessly integrated, creating a sense of accomplishment at the start of your day.
  2. Going for a walk (new habit) while catching up with a friend or family member (trigger) can combine physical activity with social interaction, making both more enjoyable. Consider a ‘walking phone call’ for meetings that don’t necessitate note-taking or in-person involvement.
  3. Incorporating exercise (new habit) into your commute (trigger), whether it’s walking, running or getting off a stop earlier than usual. For parents and carers, there’s a Tik Tok trend of either squatting or lunging (new habit) every time your child calls out “Muuuuuuum.” (trigger). This is also referred to as ‘opportunistic exercise’.
  4. If your goal is to drink more water (a new habit), place a glass on your desk and take a sip each time you check your emails (trigger).
  5. After attending a professional event or conference (trigger), follow up with new contacts on LinkedIn and send personalised connection requests (new habit).
  6. After completing a project (trigger), take a moment to request feedback (new habit) from your colleagues or key stakeholders to continually improve your work.



You might be wondering, “How can I stay committed to the habit I’ve chosen to stack?”. Digital tools can be a huge help (we must apologise if ‘using my phone less’ is a habit you are striving for) while you find your feet, it’s simply a matter of finding one you like.

Deb loves using Loop Habit Tracker app on Google Play to monitor her habits. She finds the user interface intuitive and enjoys the satisfaction of ticking off completed habits.

She said even simple tasks like brushing her teeth get a checkmark, providing a sense of accomplishment and motivation.

“I’m always going to brush my teeth in the morning, I’ve done it since I was a child. But I love being able to say ‘Yeah! I brushed my teeth today!’” Deb laughed.

“[The app] is a good reference for me because as I’m building habits over time I tend to lose track.”

However, there’s a fine line between optimising routines for productivity and overwhelming yourself with too many habits. Deb emphasised the importance of not overloading your day with stacked habits.

“With the work-from-home situation, a lot of people are happy not to have the commute time. But for me, the reason I go into the office is because of the commute time. That’s the only time where I’m actually limited in what I can do,” she explained, using the walk along Pyrmont Bridge as a way to clear her mind before work.

As for advice for others, Deb kept it simple.

“The main advice I would give is, ‘Go easy on yourself’. It’s about really listening to what your lifestyle needs, whether or not you can stick to it and observing it without judgement,” she said.

So, why not give it a try and see how it can transform your daily routines and boost your productivity? Habit stacking might just be the sugar that makes those daunting tasks go down a little smoother, helping you become more productive and happier in the process.

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