Use the power of habits to boost your productivity

“We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future,” explains Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.

Habits remove the need for decision-making and self-control — you don’t need to actively decide to do something or talk yourself into it. The effortless nature of habits saves you from expending valuable energy and willpower, making your day feel easier.

For example, if you have a well-established habit of going for a walk right after you finish eating lunch, there’s no debate in your mind — the decision’s already been made before you take your last bite.

Stacking habits onto habits

Since you already have many daily habits, you can use these to build on new habits. According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, habit stacking involves pairing a new desired habit with a strong habit that already comes naturally to you. If taking a lunch break is already an engrained habit, then adding on a walk right afterwards will be easier than trying to make yourself go for a walk at a random time of day.

Habit stacking accelerates the time it takes to adopt a new habit. Think about all the habits you already have and how you can piggy-back onto them. For example:

  • After brushing your teeth, practice meditation for a few minutes.
  • When changing into pajamas at night, get out your exercise clothes so they’re ready for your morning workout.
  • Stand up and walk around or stretch whenever you make or receive a phone call.
  • Before shutting your computer down for the day, make a to-do list for the next day.
  • On the last day of your work week, touch base with your manager, staff, and/or coworkers as a way to stay connected.

7 secrets to successful habit-forming

  1. Know yourself – At what time of day do you feel most energetic and productive? Do you prefer a calm, quiet work environment or do you thrive when there is a buzz of activity around you? Do you like making big revolutionary changes or tackling one small change at a time? Use this self-knowledge to create habits that are more likely to work for you.
  2. Find the value – It’s easier to stick to a habit when you see the value it serves. Instead of trying to adopt a new habit just because you think you “should,” picture the value you’ll receive from it. For example, if you want to get in the habit of writing a to-do list for the next day every night, think about the benefit of doing that — will it mean getting your day off to a faster start and allowing you more time later on to spend with family or friends?
  3. Schedule it – Go through your calendar and reserve blocks of time for specific tasks. Use your self-knowledge to pick the best times for each task. For example, if you think most clearly in the morning, carve out an hour or two of uninterrupted time before noon to work on things that require concentration. Give each task a start and end time, so you’ll have a target deadline in mind and will be less likely to spend too much time on one thing.
  4. Use cues and reminders – Use the strategy of habit stacking to link new habits to established ones. And set reminders on your phone or in your calendar to help you keep a new habit going.
  5. Break it down – Keep your goals realistic and specific. For example, instead of deciding you should clean your entire work area every night, pick one thing you can do to feel more organized the next day. Or, if you’re tackling a big project, identify each step and put it on your to-do list — thinking in terms of smaller, manageable tasks feels less overwhelming (and you get to cross more things off as you go, which feels good!).
  6. Make it easy – If something’s convenient, we’re more likely to do it. If it’s inconvenient, we’re less likely to do it, explains Rubin. Use this principle to stifle bad habits and encourage good ones. For example, if you’re frequently distracted by your phone, put it out of reach for a specified period of time. If you want to snack healthier, prepare veggies and fruits ahead of time so they’re ready to eat.
  7. Add some fun – Obviously, it’s easier to do things you find enjoyable. So, add some fun to things you don’t naturally enjoy. If you’ve been trying to wake up earlier and just can’t get yourself to do it, make your first activity of the day something you enjoy, like reading, playing with your dog or child, watching TV or YouTube, or tinkering around the house. If you hate cleaning, listen to music while doing housework. Treat yourself to something yummy while catching up on email. Or watch a favorite TV show while exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike.
“5 pro tips on how to be more productive,” slack (, July 12, 2019
“Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives,” Gretchen Rubin, 2015
“How to Leverage the Power of Habit Stacking for Increased Productivity,” Hive (, Anouare Abdou, June 23, 2022
“Keep your day in check: Build productive work habits in 5 steps,” slack (, Devon Maloney, January 28, 2020