5 Simple “Habit Stacks” I Use to Take the Stress (and Chaos) out of Busy Mornings

published May 8, 2023
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Pouring espresso coffee into an espresso cup with a mocha pot.
Credit: Stefania Pelfini, La Waziya Photography / Getty Images

I prefer my mornings to be charming: I want soft music playing, a pan of something delicious sizzling, and grateful children happily emerging from their bedrooms. The problem is, mornings are hard. Everyone is tired, and there are always more things to do than can possibly fit into the half-hour before work and school. Some of that involves unrealistic expectations (“No, I can’t make doughnuts because that takes literally 10 hours — here are your eggs.”), but a lot of the pressure is unavoidable. Coffee must be made, lunches must be packed, breakfast must be eaten. And where’s my teen’s Chromebook charger?

But I’m not one to give up on morning bliss. I’m a lark by nature, so I’m motivated to make my favorite time of the day pleasant, at the very least. We just need a better system. 

Enter: habit stacking. I love a good habit stack, and the secret to a successful one, according to habit guru James Clear, is to take something you already do effortlessly and unconsciously (a habit), and pair it with something you want to do (a new habit). I’ve found that by adding a few truly tiny changes to my routine, our mornings actually can feel, fleetingly at least, perfectly lovely. 

1. Pair coffee brewing with dish duty.

Nothing makes me grumpier than a stack of breakfast dishes in the sink when I really need to start my work day. To avoid this, I pair unloading the dishwasher with making my pour-over coffee. I already brew coffee on autopilot; now, I also unload dishes during the minutes it takes the water to filter through my Chemex. Then I leave the now-empty dishwasher open to make it obvious to my family that there’s a better destination for breakfast plates than the sink. 

2. Create lunch-box cues.

When I’m unloading the dishwasher, I add on another task (making a habit chain, if you will): Yesterday’s lunch boxes don’t go in the cabinet. Instead, I line them up on the counter, creating a visual cue for my kids to make lunch once they’ve cleared their breakfast dishes. No reminders from Mom necessary. 

3. Start the week with weekend breakfast.

When I bake something fun for breakfast on the weekend, I double the recipe. This means I start the week with a freezer full of ready-to-bake breakfasts that everyone will love. Blueberry scones on a Tuesday? Oh, it’s nothing. 

4. Sleep in activewear.

There’s no rushing from the table to change before my daughter’s bus arrives, because I’m already dressed. I can use those two minutes to linger over my coffee instead of searching for leggings in the laundry. And bonus — if I don’t hit snooze, I might even get a little stretching in before the morning sprint officially begins.

5. Get mindful at the breakfast table.

I used to be annoyed that I was the only chatty one at the breakfast table, but now I use the time to practice mindful eating. I feel great about incorporating a practice that has been notoriously difficult for me, and my family is grateful for the quiet, which feels companionable even to me now. 

I haven’t found a solution for tracking down the Chromebook charger yet, but I’m sure there’s a habit there just waiting to be stacked. 

What makes your weekday mornings run more smoothly?