I read a bunch of books about productivity. There’s something about hearing about how others focus and execute that helps inspire me to focus myself. Even going to bookstores and browsing the productivity section can help spur me to action. Productivity goes hand in hand with habits. With my recent move to Salt Lake City, I’ve been reevaluating my own habits and trying to figure out how I can best work. This reminded me of a topic from The Power of Habit* that sparked some interest – keystone habits.
What is a Keystone Habit?
A keystone habit is a behavior that amplifies success in downstream activities. The idea is if you perform this one habit, you’ll be more productive, happier, more energetic or some other metric after that. If you can identify what your keystone habits are, it can be empowering to understand what you need for better self-care.
Find what works and stick with it.
If you don’t know what your keystone habits are, you’ll constantly be trying new things to make yourself more productive, or happier or more energetic while disregarding things that worked in the past. Trying new things is great, but a lifetime of finding what works and building on that can amplify your success in these areas.
My 2 Keystone Habits
There are habits and there are keystone habits. Some things like brushing my teeth, walking my dog and going to work aren’t keystone habits for me – but things I need to do. These could be keystone habits for you though. Here are 2 keystone habits I’ve identified for myself.
Above anything else, my top keystone habit is exercise, specifically CrossFit. On days when I drive myself to my limits, everything else I want to do that day seems easier. There’s something to walking out after a workout and thinking:
I’m ready for anything this day throws at me!
This has an impact on my work because I become more proactive and less reactionary.
This has an impact on my blog because I seek incomplete thoughts/actions and execute on them. I’d been thinking about writing a Coinbase Review, and after my first workout here in Salt Lake City I sat down and wrote over 2,000 words on it in an evening.
This has an impact on my relationships because I have more attention, energy, and openness to try new things.
This has an impact on my energy levels, which drives me to do more than sit on the couch. Exercise releases stress as well.
This has an impact on my diet, as I’m much more likely to make healthy choices during the day. These choices don’t feel like I’m limiting myself. It’s just what my body craves. For me, this effect resets after I sleep, so if I workout in the morning, this impacts the rest of the day.
A few years ago, I had a single week at work that was really rough. We launched a new site and it wasn’t going well. In a 7 day span, I worked 82 billable hours – if you include lunches, dinners, commutes, and breaks it was closer to 100. During this week, I still worked out 3 times in the morning. Despite the stress, I credit keeping my focus during that week to exercise.
Knowing that exercise is a lever I can a control in these areas makes it more important (and easier) to prioritize them as part of my routine. Having two comparable items on my todo list, where one will amplify all of these areas and one won’t, the choice is clear.
Goal Setting and Future Planning
The next most important keystone habit for me is around knowing what I should work on next. One of my StrengthsFinder* strengths is Futuristic, which they define as:
People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
For those curious about StrengthsFinder, my top 5 are: 1) Strategic 2) Futuristic 3) Achiever 4) Learner 5) Responsibility.
When I have previously defined something to work on (futuristic), I’m much more likely to accomplish whatever I set motion (responsibility). I’ve been doing weekly task planning using Todoist for a while now but recently stopped since the move. Before I would spend some time every Sunday setting 3 things for me to do each day of the following week. I started doing that again this week, and I’m already starting to feel like things are less up in the air.
Bringing the focus back to this habit will help mentally prepare myself for what I want to focus my attention on and act as a commitment device for myself.
On days when I work out, I’m much more likely to complete more tasks.
On days when I set tasks, I’m much more likely to complete more tasks (kind of obvious, but important).
On days when I set a task to workout, I’m more likely to workout.
This has an impact on my happiness because I’m more likely to feel accomplished on days I get a lot done.
This has an impact on my energy levels because I can more clearly focus (or conserve) energy for what’s most important.
This has an impact on Mrs. Minafi’s happiness because she knows I say I’m going to do something, I’ll do it.
Finding Your Keystone Habits
When you were reading through these descriptions, did any keystone habits come to mind? There are a lot of habits others have listed as their keystone habits from around the web:
- Save Money
- Family Dinners
- Track what you eat
- Visualize your day
- Get a full night sleep
- Positive thinking/mantras
These could be anything that helps you better achieve your actual outcomes and objectives.
If you were to ask these questions:
- How does a happy/successful/productive day start for you?
- What would you make time for?
- How do you prepare for your next day?
Using Exist.io For Habit Discovery
I tried a month experiment a while back when I used Exist.io* to track and correlate my behavior. The idea behind Exist is really really neat. You have it track as much of your behavior as possible, and it will analyze and find correlations between your behavior. Here are some of the things that Exist will track:
- Mood – tracked manually
- Sleep – time in bed, quality of sleep
- Health – weight, body fat, heartrate
- Social – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter / likes, comments, posts
- Activity – Steps, elevation, active minutes
- Finance – Money spent
- Location – Where you go
- Media – Articles read, music listened to
- Energy – Food, coffee, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, etc
- Weather – Temperature, rain, sunrise, day length
- Productivity – Tasks completed (they have Todoist integration!), meetings, code written, productive time, emails sent
You’re not entering all of this information into Exist though! Instead, they’re connecting to other tracking services and consuming your data from there. This includes data from FitBit, iOS, Android, RescueTime, Google Calendar, Facebook and more. Here are some of the integrations they offer.
You can click on the services up top and see what data would be tracked at the bottom which is pretty slick. Once you’ve been using the service for a while, you can start seeing correlations like this:
After my experiment with Exist a few months back, some of the correlations were interesting:
- When I have work out (via FitBit) I accomplish more tasks (via Todoist).
- When I have many events (via Google Calendar) I get more sleep (via FitBit).
- When I have many meetings (via Google Calendar) my mood is lower (via a 1-5 rating on Exist).
Exist* provided dozens of these, and the longer you use it the more it’ll track.
Find Your Keystone Habits
If you’ve undergone a change in your routine, or are trying to help yourself focus, look towards your keystone habits as a place to start. Identify what your top keystone habit is and find a way to do it. Making time for this, and yourself is the most important thing you can do.
Do you have any keystone habits? How does that habit it impact your day?
* – These are affiliate links. For Exist, I don’t get any money, just more free time on their service which I’m using anyway.