Works For Me Wednesday: Habit Stacking

Shoutout to Elizabeth A, who suggested this post

This year, I've been working pretty hard at increasing my ability to set goals - and follow through on them. In January, I set myself the goal of blogging daily, but to tell you the long hard truth of it, I wasn't really sure I could do it. I was still adjusting to single mom life, juggling PTSD, dealing with the health issues the girls have, living with various health issues of my own, and struggling through regular life stuff. Blogging daily? That was a hard undertaking!

But I did it.

I set the deadlines, and I started early. I used my good days in December to write myself a little bit ahead, preparing posts that I could keep on standby in case I needed them. And doing that allowed me to take mental health days as often as I needed to - while still staying consistent here. I set up a calendar, and I started coding it so that I could keep track of what needed to be done and when. Starred days are days when a blog post is due, party hat days are days I've committed to events or takeovers. I've got days marked for my Patreon writing days, too - otherwise, there is simply NO WAY I could ever keep track of it all.

I'm still using that same strategy, writing ahead on the good days, marking off deadlines as I hit them so I don't lose my place in the schedule. And I've continued to adjust my strategies so that I can make the best of the good days in order to allow myself the bad days I can't prevent or get rid of. Back in January, I wrote about one of my favorite productivity techniques - the Pomodoro. With blogging so much and writing like crazy for my Patreon followers, I haven't had as much focus on novel-writing in 2017, so my Pomodoro schedule has changed a bit. And as I've adjusted to dealing with my mental health with a little more self-compassion and understanding, the Pomodoro routine isn't something I use every day. But on the good days? It's how I keep everything running in a way that looks smooth for you, without me running myself into the ground. Some days, I use the Pomodoro routine to write several blog posts, or to set up several Patreon posts. Some days I use my Pomodoro schedule to seek out quotes and set up social media posts. Other days? I can't do it. I can't do any of it - and I lay in bed with a book or my journal, or I veg out completely with YouTube, or I allow myself the time to go hide in the shower for a good cry. On days when PMDD is flaring up enough to drown out even the effects of PTSD ... I'm pretty much useless, and what saves me is being able to use the Pomodoro technique to prepare ahead of time for those days.

In May, I wrote out a typical school-morning for the girls and I, inviting my readers into the before-school routine of a family plagued with various mental health issues. I showed only two hours of a typical day for us, but what I didn't show is how much those mornings impact my ability to focus and cope for the rest of the day. I didn't show how hard the rest of the day is, simply because the morning has used up so much of what little energy I had. I wrote about that too, explaining "the spoon theory," which is a common way for people with invisible illness to attempt to explain the cost of illness to people who don't always have the ability to understand. This theory takes the average person's energy allotment of the day and turns it into a currency which must be spent on the tasks of the day - but also acknowledges the way things seem to "cost" more for people living with illness. This is why I write more on my good days, preparing for the bad days to come - otherwise I could never build this blog, could never write a book.

In July, I wrote an optimistic look at the summer version of my family's morning routine, acknowledging the all-day-every-day presence of the girls, and how I adjusted things to accommodate the increased demand on my Momming abilities. Part of this involves my writing schedule, too - while I did manage to blog daily in January, I knew that wasn't something I would be able to keep up with, so I adjusted by switching to (I think) every other day in February, and from there I went to every third day, which seems to be working alright for me. Granted, it was a little hectic to manage over the summer, but with thoughtful and careful planning, I kept up.

What? But how??
Here's where routine comes into play in such a huge way. Just like the Pomodoro Technique helps me focus and make the best of my writing time, Habit Stacking helps me make the best of the rest. One of the most debilitating symptoms of my PTSD is memory loss - I have trouble remembering much of anything, and if it isn't part of my routine, there's a good chance I'm going to forget to do it.

This is why I live my life by lists and calendars - otherwise, I'd be a flighty hot mess of a woman, and probably an abysmal failure as a mother. And the truth is, some days even the calendars and to-do lists aren't enough to stop me from sucking. But we get by, because I'm honest with myself about what I can do and where my limitations are, because I'm honest with my kids about those things too, and because I happen to have sweet kids who love their mom enough to step into the gap. We're a team, my girls and I, and we're always looking for better ways to work together.

So we habit stack. One of my most consistent (and consistently failed) quarterly goals this year has been to drink more water, but I've also been working on remembering to take the Prilosec that gets me through the day without crippling back pain (Because yes, you can have back pain from GERD just like you can have back pain from labor. It doesn't have to be IN your back to HURT your back.). Forgetting my meds is a huge deal to me, as it has a very literal impact on my quality of life and my ability to interact well with the people around me.

Habit-Stack Strategy - Meds #1:
I start drinking water first thing in the morning - once I've gone to pee and made my way downstairs to let the dog out, literally the first thing I do is head for the kitchen to wash and fill my water tumbler. This never changes. Ever. So instead of trying to fit my meds in when I could remember to (or even adding them to a list which required me to check it in order to succeed), I'm just making it a point to take my Prilosec right then. Fill the water up, drink some with my meds. Goal one, drink water ... in progress. Goal two, remember to take meds ... check. Now, on to the rest of the day.

Habit-Stack Strategy - Meds #2:
My girls are wild and demanding, no matter when they go to bed or when they wake up in the morning. They're emotional and energetic, opinionated and confident in who they are. So the morning hours often consist of a lot of irregularity for us. The girls both have health issues, so sometimes I'm working around those. They both have school stuff and life stuff and sometimes we're working around that. What never changes is that they're breakfast people. So it's become our habit that they take their meds immediately after breakfast. This means they don't forget, I don't forget, and we set ourselves up for the rest of the day with time-proven strategies that work for us. Without their meds ... quality of life goes down for all of us, because when you combine a PTSD/PMDD mom with an ADHD hormonal teen girl and an ADHD/OCD pretween girl, and then you stir in an overly generous helping of anxiety disorder (we all have it), abandonment issues, and regular life stress ... well, let's just say remembering necessary meds is important to us.

But That's Just The Morning, Right?
Nope. The rest of our day is a mash-up of habit-stacks, from the way we get to school on time to the way I pick the girls up from school in the afternoon. It has an impact on how we get ready if there's no school and we're going on an outing, it has an impact on how we progress through the day if we're staying home. It gets us to bed at a decent hour every night, and when it all goes smoothly, our individual habit-stacking helps make life smoother and easier for our family as a whole.

Isn't That A Little Rigid?
Not really. The magic of habit stacking means it's the same no matter when you do it. So if I come downstairs at six-thirty on a school day, or if I come downstairs at ten-thirty on a luxurious Saturday morning, it's the same - fill up my water, take my Prilosec. It's the same with our other routines too, for the most part.

So How Do You Do It?
Start with something simple. For me, I couldn't just start up and create a stack to work on. I literally have to work one goal at a time. But once it became a habit for me to start drinking water first thing in the morning (coffee is now a reward for finishing that first 26-ounce tumbler), it got easier to add my medicine to that first sip of water. From there, I've added my goal to listen to a personal development podcast every day, which I usually listen to either while I'm making breakfast for the girls, while I'm driving home from dropping them at school, or while I'm getting ready for my morning shower.

It's easy to just pick one habit to build, because it's not asking you to do too much. One little habit at a time, you build it and solidify it, like the foundation of a home. Then you add the next habit to the stack - the next layer of what makes each day turn into a life you're satisfied with living. Habit by habit, you build so much more than a "stack" of to-dos.

Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is an amazing bundle of books on productivity and time management. This Productive Habits Book Bundle is a great deal, with five books in one for just $5.99 - and what makes me most impressed with this bundle is that the included books focus on a range of issues that are common problems for me: procrastination, low energy levels, productivity, digital clutter, and goal-setting. I know that these are common problems for a lot of people too, which is why I'm so glad to be able to share this book bundle here!

And if you like what you get out of those five S.J. Scott books, then here's another - which I think is even more perfectly geared to our community. Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking looks like a phenomenal resource for helping people find and remove the parts of their lives that stress them out. This is something I've been much more actively working on for myself this year, from cleaning out and narrowing my social circle to cleaning up and lessening the noise of my social media feeds. (These ideas have both been featured here as quarterly goals.) It's good to know that while I'm not alone in struggling with these concepts and the noise of a digital world, there are ways to deal with it and turn down the noise - ways that I don't have to discover, because S.J. Scott already did that part.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
What kind of habit stacking do you practice - and did you build those stacks on purpose, or did they develop more organically? How do they impact your life and the way you do things on a day-to-day basis, and what adjustments would you like to make in order to live a happier, more productive life?

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