Do you have cats?
Cats that like to poo outside their litter box to remind you who’s boss?
I have one of those, and until last year couldn’t find a way to stop her madness. Then a plumber doing some work on our house gave me the best advice a cat lover could get, and it’s transformed into one of the most epic habit stacking routines of my day!
He said – try scooping out the litter *every single day* instead of whenever you happen to remember (which for me was roughly every other day), and then make sure to do it at the *same time* every day too as cats love that $hit (no pun intended).
I decided I’d give it an earnest go, and from that next morning forward I scooped the litter every single day to see if it ended this silly little game of hers…
But to do the kitty litter I have to put on my shoes first so my feet don’t get dirty from all the litter scattered around the basement, so I need to first go into the garage to get them.
And on the way to the garage is my water spritzer for all my plants, so I might as well give them a spray too while I’m at it so they get their daily dose of love* as well.
Then since I’m in the garage and have my shoes on, I might as well open the garage door to retrieve the newspaper waiting for me, as well as the trash and recycle bins on pick up days.
Then once I’m back in the house before heading down to the basement, I should also collect and start the laundry too since that also gets done daily downstairs.
And since I’m going upstairs now, I might as well switch out of my pajamas and into Big Boy clothes for one less thing to do later!
So now that the plants are spritzed and the garage door is opened and the newspaper/bins are brought in and my shoes and clothes are on and the laundry basket is in my hands, I go downstairs to do the kitty litter and have successfully (and rather effortlessly!) completed 7 tasks all within a 5 minute window.
And since our dehumidifier is also in the basement and needs to be emptied every morning, I’ll knock that out too – now making it 8 successful tasks that I don’t have to think about or remember for the rest of the day! All accomplished with barely a thought since they all flow so smoothly together.
This is the magic of Habit Stacking. And it can be applied to all areas of life :)
The beauty is that it only takes a few tries for the routine to set in too if you connect the right things at the right times together!
Here’s another stack of habits I’ve formed, this one around my finances:
At the end of every month, usually on the 31st or 1st, I’ll sit down at the computer and update my net worth. But to update my net worth I have to log into all my accounts, which also forces me to review everything and make sure no unapproved transactions or hackery is going on**.
It also prompts me to check our credit scores to see how those are going, so I plop those numbers into my spreadsheet as well, and then update our house value while I’m at it purely for entertainment purposes (and it really is “entertainment” as one place can list our house at $100k-$150k more than another??! So we take the average of 5-6 different places and then use that as the best guess of its “value”.).
While I’m sitting there, I’ll also make it a point to update our Credit Card Tracker to see how our month of spending went compared to previous months. This has been especially fun to track in and out of Covid times where the #’s have changed pretty drastically 😂
Look what I mean:
- Pre-Covid: $4,2071.44 avg/mo balance
- Covid: $3,262.19 avg/mo balance
- Covid Resurgence: $4,040.90 avg/mo balance
- Current times: $5,516.07 avg/mo balance
We had monthly savings of around $1,000 through the thick of Covid!, but as it started to dissipate so did the savings and we’re now spending $1,300 MORE than we were Pre-Covid, lol… Which I suspect will start going back down now that things are settling again (you stay away, monkeypox!!!) but a good thing to keep an eye on for sure…
So again – one habit here (the updating of our net worth) that kicks off multiple other similar habits that all string together to form an effective (and efficient) set of accomplishments.
Not to mention some forced reflection in this particular stack of habits too since you’re getting the lay of the land of your entire finances each month! You’re bound to feel *something* staring at your New Number whether you like it or not! Haha…
Here are some other, smaller, habits I’ve incorporated over the years too:
I have a dedicated place where I put ALL bills that come in from the mail so I always know where they are and can pay in one swoop when I’m feelin’ it.
I have multiple folders set up in my desk drawer for all things Taxes, Receipts, Business, Car/Home stuff, etc to similarly drop items into as they make their way into our house (Receive, Process, Place!)
I also still wake up at 5am’ish every morning, setting off another string of habits that includes personal “ME” time, scrumptious food and coffees, allotted time for reflection and reading, and anything else that tends to be put by the wayside throughout the busy days.
All things kicked off, again, by one simple habit: in this case, waking up at 5am.
(I also used to have a pretty killer EVENING stack of habits too when the kids were smaller and went to bed earlier. It went like this –> dinner –> put kids down –> brush teeth (so I wouldn’t snack/drink all evening!) –> take a shower (so I didn’t have to do it when exhausted) –> relax/watch TV/read/sex? –> bed. I was all washed up by 8 every night and ready to relax (healthily!) for the rest of the evening – it was marvelous!!)
And btw, this habit stacking could also work *against* you too if you’re not paying attention!
As nicely as it can flow together to improve your life, it can work in the opposite direction to try and destroy your life!
How many times do you say you’ll go out and only have *one drink*, but then one drink turns into two then three then making all kinds of regrettable decisions and phone calls, only to wake up hours later wishing you had just ignored that first drink to begin with?
Or what about when you decide to treat yourself for being an adult so you head out shopping for some new shoes or an outfit, but then pick up some sweet accessories to go along with it and then grab some fast food since your now hangry, and maybe then pop into the theater to watch that movie everyone’s raving about as you digest (Top Gun?), thereby turning your one initial decision into a half-day spending extravaganza! And it flowed just as naturally and effectively as the aforementioned *positive* string of habits, just in the opposite way!
So the cascade of Good from stacking habits can very well be a cascade of Bad too.
Try spending the next few days taking an inventory of all the habits you catch yourself doing every day – both good and bad – and then see if you can find the activators of the group, as well as if there’s a way you can re-arrange and connect them to flow better. It may take a bit of sorting through as you’ll be amazed at how many habits you do on the daily!, but start paying closer attention and see what you can shift around for more optimal living 👍
As nerdy as it sounds, this new routine of litter/laundry/clothing has drastically improved my mornings and it honestly takes barely any effort at all! And if you are wondering, yes – the cat is much happier now too ;) She still toys with me here and there, but the days of pooping outside her litter box are mostly in the rear view mirror…
So thanks Mr. Plumber Man! Your one tip completely transformed my mornings!
Any of you guys have any great routines that have changed the game for you too? Whether in your daily lives or careers or better yet – your finances?
Share below so we can all learn from them!!
PS: Here are a bunch of free spreadsheets for tracking net worth if you’re looking for a good one: Best Free Budget Templates & Spreadsheets (I still use a modified version of that first one up top I created circa 2008!)
PPS: And here are some good books on habit forming too if interested (links are Amazon affiliate links):
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones – by James Clear (I’m currently reading this and so far so interesting! I’m only in the first few chapters, but hoping it covers habit stacking and examples of such so I can steal them for my own life ;))
- Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything – by BJ Fogg (This one’s on my list to read next, based on a recommendation by a friend who said he found it to be much more impactful than Atomic Habits, particularly around habits you just can’t seem to figure out. He said the science in the book is incredibly helpful too.)
* For 30-something years I could never keep a plant alive for more than a week, and then one day I decided to say hello to them in the mornings and spritz them with water, and for some magical reason that keeps them happy and alive so now I do it every single morning and they live basically forever :) So EASY and EFFORTLESS!
** Checking your accounts every month doesn’t catch everything (like my overdue water bill that almost got our water shut off last week (!!)), but it does prevent a majority of issues. And only takes a few minutes if you stay on top of it!
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So, this article SPOKE directly to me. I’ve been feeling loads of guilt for not getting to the cat’s litter as much as I should. I also have a shit ton that I’ve signed up for in my life – new mom, full time job, side business, volunteering – it’s to the point now where my bodily functions get in my way (I don’t have time to sneeze!!) I’ve even read Atomic Habits and must’ve missed the part from where the picture was painted of a step-by-step process. Alas, kitty litter caught my attention in your post -and I thank you for painting the picture – step-by-step process that you do. My husband is genius at habit stacking, too. He does dishes, cleans, prepares for the mornings by getting the coffee (&more!) ALL while cooking dinner for everyone.
Thanks for reminding me to slow down and think strategically with these tiny, but huge time saving, steps!
Rock on! I think *cutting out* one or two of the less valuable things you’ve said “yes” to in life will help slow things down and better stack more naturally too :) Gotta remain sane and healthy so the rest of the clan/projects remain so too! Only one Ashley in this world – you got this!!
As soon as I started reading this today, my mind went straight to Atomic Habits. I highly recommend this book to literally everyone I speak to. I’m on my third read-through (although I’m listening while I drive.) Thanks for posting this, because I hadn’t realized all the ways that I’m already implementing habit stacking, without much thinking. That gives me a little boost! Have a great day; so glad you’re back!!
Great!!! Thanks for stopping by and chiming in :)
Here is a very simple way to remember to attend to the litter box: Scoop it on days with a “T” in them, i.e., Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Unless of course you decide to do it daily.
We definitely don’t want our kittehs thinking outside the box, if you know what I mean…
I also stole this idea from Atomic Habits and mostly use it as a form of healthy self-punishment. Want another beer? Gotta pay the beer tax of 20 push ups!
I do similar with coffee — “You can have it, but first you must down a glass of water!!”
Helps lessen the caffeine hangover later :)