One of the most useful books I have read in recent times is Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book provides the tools we need to build better habits and get rid of the bad ones.
One of Clear’s concepts is that of “habit stacking”. This is about carrying out processes in the right way, at the right time. As Clear says, “One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behaviour on top.”
I have two examples of my own to illustrate this concept of habit stacking – two clients of mine, the plumber and the accountant.
The plumber was tardy in sending invoices because he hated bookwork. He usually did it at a time when he would prefer to be watching television or reading a book. When he came home every evening, he had the good habit of loading his van with the materials he needed for the next day’s jobs. This would sometimes mean a trip to the hardware store or plumbing supplies outlet before they closed.
He would then have a shower, eat dinner and try to summon enough enthusiasm to create invoices for the work he had completed that day. The invoices invariably got delayed. Sometimes, a week would go by without an invoice being sent. His bookkeeper – also his wife – would get quite vexed about this.
Finally, he changed his processes. He did this by habit stacking – linking a new habit (creating invoices for that day’s work) with a current habit (having dinner). There would be no dinner or beer until he completed the invoices. This resolved the issue and led to improved cash flow and fewer hassles with the bookkeeper.
The accountant had a similar problem. He was so busy doing the work, he would only invoice once a month. This caused cash-flow issues and frustration with clients, who often received invoices well after the completion of their work.
In addition, reviewing work in progress on an ad-hoc basis created conflicts. Staff could not remember issues relating to jobs that had been done weeks and months beforehand. But by stacking the habits of reviewing the work, invoicing clients, and then discussing time write-offs with staff, the accountant had more satisfied clients (the work was done quicker), there was better cash flow, and relations with staff improved.
Changing habits is not easy, but we have to start somewhere. Habit stacking is about determining what habits we can link together and identifying the best sequence for them. In this way, we can strengthen our good habits for business success.
So, what habits could you stack? If you’re not sure, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.