Keystone habits are behaviors that can serve as a platform for other practices to grow and develop from. A familiar example would be running. If you develop the exercise habit of running, the behavior may lead to the habit of eating better. After all, putting all your effort into running, you don’t want to mess it up with junk food. Your simple running habit may have a direct impact on the quality of your meals.
According to author Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit, successful keystone habit formation relies on identifying important priorities and using them with powerful leverage. Research says keystone habits have the following qualities:
- Opportunities for small wins that can cumulate to create powerful momentum
- A platform for other practices to develop and grow
- A sense of excellence, energy, and confidence to move forward
These are habits that change your life, not only for the benefits they bring, but enabling you to implement other healthy habits.
Typical examples of Keystone habits are
- Daily Exercise
- Getting Up Early
- Eating Healthy Food
For years, my keystone habit of getting up early made a dramatic difference in my life. It led to starting a blog, writing several books, and having time to learn new things. If I had slept in, none of this stuff would have been possible. Trying to do creative tasks at night just didn’t work for me. I’d get tired, lose focus and fall asleep.
My early riser habit started when I was a kid. My dad got up early to go out bike riding. I would hear him go out and it woke me up. I’d get up and read, do homework, or find other creative pass-times like building models. Early to bed, early to rise. Just like Ben Franklin.
When I got to college, I had friends that liked to stay out late. Hanging out with them, my habit did a 180 for a few years. I started to drink more and hung out all hours of the night. I can tell you this, resetting my early riser habit after college made a huge difference for me. It kept me out of trouble (does anything good happen after midnight?) and helped me become more productive.
Over the years I developed other keystone habits such as saving a little from each paycheck and using the envelope system. With the power of compound interest, this simple monetary habit made a big difference later in life. It also led to investing, money management, and giving to charity. One simple practice created a chain reaction that is with me still today.
A Major Keystone
While each of my keystone habits has been helpful, one has made a radical difference in the way I work. I heard about it at a National Speakers Association Conference in 2003. One of the speakers that day talked about using 48 minute time blocks to get things done. He proffered that he was able to write a 150-page book in just four weeks using this system.
Hearing this, I was totally skeptical. Something as simple as turning off distractions, working for 48 minutes on one thing, and then taking a 12-minute break seemed overly simplistic. This couldn’t possibly make a difference. . . or could it?
I went home and tried it. I sat down at my computer, turned off email and my phone and closed my office door so I wouldn’t be distracted. I set an egg timer for 48 minutes and started on one project. When the timer went off, I got up and took a 12-minute break. Then I repeated the procedure once more.
By the end of two of these sessions, I was amazed at what I’d accomplished.
I got more done than I usually would in half a day.
I wasn’t distracted, and I wasn’t multitasking.
Doing only one thing was the secret.
Push the timer button and go.
Ding, ding, project done.
It was like a miracle.
Over the years, I’ve refined this one-hour technique. I now use 50 minutes as the time block, ten minutes as the break, and a wall clock as a timer. This allows me to easily block smaller tasks in 5 and 10-minute sections. I’ve also experimented with putting the break time up front or in the middle. Flexibility has been the key to success. For longer projects, I’ll often do two fifty minutes sessions back to back (100 minutes) and then take a break at the end. Of any productivity program I’ve tried, this one is truly a miracle. A 50-minute miracle.
This one keystone habit has led to many different break-off habits.
One is what I call The Focused Five Minutes.
Based on a technique championed by Hal Elrod.
For my first five minutes of the day, I do each one of these for one minute each.
- Read a daily proverb.
- Recite what I’m thankful for.
- Visualize the first project of the day.
- Write notes for my first fifty-minute session.
- Pray for my family, friends and the day to come.
I’ve experimented with different one-minute tasks, but these five work well to start off the morning.
I’ll often follow the initial five minutes with one of the following.
- Take five minutes and write down five things I want to accomplish on my daily planner.
- Take five minutes and do an exercise routine of 50 jumping jacks, 25 pushups, and 25 squats.
Once these two five minute sections are done, I just start my first fifty-minute project for the day.
While you can use a timer with the plan, the real power of the 50 Minute Miracle is that it makes sense if you look at the hands of a clock. You can start at the top of the hour, or at any five-minute interval that you want. Figure in your ten-minute break (Or two five minute breaks) and then work till the second hands of the clock get back to where you started.
When I began with the plan, the timer was nice, but I like simplicity. Having a clock with five-minute increments on the wall allows me to see where I am quick. I’ve found that I can do up to five of these controlled fifty-minute sessions per day. The secret is to keep all distractions off during the work period and only turn them back on during breaks.
While these fifty minutes sessions are helpful, the real reward is what they help you accomplish. I can honestly say that none of my books would have been written without this process. As a keystone habit, it makes my working time much more focused. Bottom line: With this process, I get things done, without it, I find myself constantly distracted and interrupted.
A New Revelation
Since I’ve been using this system for years, I’ve come to love three numbers . . . five, ten and fifty. They work for hours, days, weeks, and years.
It turns out these numbers make it easy to do time management in your head instead of constantly on paper. With the 5-10-50 system, you work with numbers that make sense and are easy to calculate. For example, with a 50 week year, I can easily divide it up into ten-week goals or five-week goals.
When it comes to habit change and goal setting, these three numbers are super useful because they are easy to remember. I wrote about this in a previous post here, but shortly we’ll have a complete time management approach that may help you get time management down, once and for all.
If you want to try out the Fifty-Minute System yourself, you can download some useful cards here to make the process easier.
Keystone Habits For You
What keystone habits do you have? What Keystones would you want to create? Let me know in the comments below.