Keystone Habits

A Blog Post by Chad Hall


Karl hired me for coaching because he was struggling “to get everything done.” He’s a real estate professional who’s married, has young children, and is active in church and the local community. His list of “everything” is probably longer than the average person’s, but he’s not unreasonable with his to-do list expectations. We uncovered quickly that his days feel chaotic and out of control. He rushes from one thing to the next. His day happens to him.

Karl wanted to be more productive and still have time for his non-professional life. But the only answer seemed to be the impossible: more time. Instead of conjuring up the Time-Turner Necklace from the Harry Potter books or the Time Stone from the Marvel comics, I encouraged Karl to harness the power of a real-world resource: Keystone Habits.

A Keystone Habit is a daily, weekly, or even yearly habit that supports other good things in life. Keystone Habits support other good habits, enable systems, and unlock bigger goals. Without Keystone Habits, other habits, systems, and goals require far more time, energy, and resources.

After Karl laid out all that he wanted from life and how well he was doing in living the life he wanted, I inquired about the primary Keystone Habit: sleep. He confessed that his sleep patterns were all over the place. Sometimes he had to stay up late to finish emails or an important project. If he didn’t have a morning meeting, sometimes he would sleep late. He adjusted his alarm clock every night to try to get as much sleep as he could, which ranged from 5 to 10 hours.

I asked Karl how he thought his erratic sleep effected the quality of his life. On a scale of 1 to 10, he figured the negative impact was around a 5. I jokingly told him I was bad at math and that it was probably more like a 12. I explained that science shows how regular sleep habits is the most significant leverage point for having a quality, productive, and flourishing life. If you’re not intentional about your sleep, it makes it hard to be intentional about the rest of life.

Whenever I have a client like Karl who is struggling to overcome the tide of chaos in his life, I encourage establishing a beachhead in the area of sleep. What does this mean?

  • Getting up at the same time every day, even the weekends and vacation days. Yes, this sounds crazy. No, this is not crazy. Nor is it impossible.
  • Going to bed early enough to get adequate sleep. If you feel the need for more sleep, going to bed earlier is the solution, not sleeping later.
  • Prioritizing quality of sleep, not just quantity. What one does prior to going to bed will greatly influence sleep quality. We benefit from bedtime routines that reduce exposure to blue light, stimulating media, anxiety-producing discussions, etc.

Once Karl decided to pay the price for gaining control over his sleep, he was positioned to gain greater control over his waking hours. He created morning routines that were less hectic yet made room for all the important tasks: hygiene, exercise, breakfast, and quiet time. He also combined these daily Keystone Habits with weekly, monthly, and annual habits, including:

  • Honoring the sabbath by worshipping each Sunday and refraining from work-related communication
  • Volunteering at the local soup kitchen once per month
  • Taking a personal retreat twice per year
  • Observing a social media fast for one week each summer

The result of Karl’s Keystone Habits has been remarkable. He’s gone from being overwhelmed to being much more at peace. He’s been able to support other good habits and systems such as diet, exercise, and meditation. Overall, he is in a much better place.

As your clients come to you seeking better balance, greater performance, or getting a grip on things, consider introducing Keystone Habits. Your goal is not to direct them to start/stop doing certain things, but to present them with options they can choose to consider and perhaps implement. The nice thing about Keystone Habits is that establishing just one or two truly good habits will get things moving in the right direction. So there’s no need to fret over which habits to establish first – just start with one or two healthy habits and go from there.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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