Keystone Habits, Routines, And a Giveaway!


Ironically enough, despite this post’s ties to the new year, goals, resolutions, and all that jazz, it’s something I’ve been meaning to write about since early December. Perhaps it’s better that things didn’t work out for posting until now; early December is rather a rush toward the end of the year for many of us, and early January is a bit more conducive for reflection and assessment.

Self assessment is, of course, a great place to start. In November I read Crystal Paine’s ebook 21 Days to A More Disciplined Life (on sale through Saturday for .99! ~ that link is to the kindle version, but I highly recommend the pdf format for printing). It was still lurking about in my brain when a book I’d had on hold at the library for months finally came in ~ Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life & Business. Pip read it first and told me I would like it; she was right. Duhigg, a fabulous writer, documents the research and science behind how our habits are formed. From when we get up in the morning to when we go to bed at night, so much of what we do is driven by habits we’ve adopted. Our brain is wired to rely on habits and we *will* fall into some sort of routine; the only question is if it is routines we consciously work on incorporating into our lives or if they’re habits derived from the world outside us. One way Duhigg makes this clear is by thinking about what we do when we wake up in the morning… probably we do close to same thing every single morning. We may think we’re making independent choices about each  action in the mornings, but our brains are falling back on the same activity repeatedly. Maybe it’s drinking tea and checking e-mail. And if you’re like me, the e-mail might remind  you that you have to pay the water bill, and you then have to go rummaging for the bill. Find it half an hour later, change two diapers, pay it, discover a new e-mail about a sale on an item you’ve been wanting for a while, rummage around for your purse, order the item, read books aloud to sticky toddlers, throw in a load of laundry, start lunch, survey the mess of a kitchen, put toddlers down for a nap, remember you’ve got to call a doctor’s office, make the call, fix lunch, be reminded while fixing lunch that  you need to get chicken out of the freezer for tomorrow’s lunch, wonder if you should use a different recipe for tomorrow’s lunch, go to a favorite recipe blog to look up new ideas, resurvey the mess of a kitchen, sigh, feel like a failure, and change diapers again.

Some of this just comes with the territory of being the mother to a one-year-old and two-year-old. A lot of it comes, however, from needing to be proactive about the triggers for many of my habits. And here is another area where Duhigg and Paine are on the same page with some extremely helpful and crucial advice. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by *everything* that needs to be done. I have tried to change all of it at once so many times and each time is a spectacular failure. Duhigg talked about keystone habits, though, and that golden phrase has been marching through my head for weeks. A keystone habit is something small that you change that somehow, almost like magic (or that’s how it feels, anyway), helps you to start changing other habits without even really trying. Take the example of my mornings from the last paragraph. Instead of resolving to Do More Dishes, Keep Up With Laundry, And Everything Else, I have been trying to make one simple change: the computer is mostly off-limits until the children go down for their nap.  It is amazing how much more productive my mornings are when I keep myself from the time warp of the internet. Actually, this is something Paine talks about too… how mornings really *are* a better time to be productive. This morning, even while dealing with sick and cranky babies, I was able to switch laundry, fold a load of clothes, cook and clean up breakfast, put lunch in the crockpot, and leave the kitchen as clean as it was last night. Ladies and gentlemen, this felt amazing! By changing the trigger for my mornings (the internet)  I’m able to change several other things as well.

Another fascinating keystone habit is exercise; studies have shown that when people start doing regular exercise (even light, easy exercise 3-4 times a week), many other lifestyle habits change without . I didn’t know that this summer when I started taking daily walks with the children; I was trying to find some way to benefit all three of us without wrecking the house for half an hour daily. I did notice other things starting to change, though; each day I exercised I found it easier to get other things done.

And finally (for this post, anyway) there’s the crucial importance of making reasonable lists and sticking with them. It may sound wonderful to say, “I’m going to start eating better,” but unless you’ve given yourself specific ways to do it, it won’t happen. Write down a weekly menu. Take time to cut veggies and put them in snack bags for your week.  Give yourself time to comparison shop a little bit so you can afford healthier groceries.

For those lists and creating routines, I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway with this post. One reader will win this 2013 Household Manager 2013 Calendar. Yes, I know it’s 2013 already so you’ll be getting it a few days late, but sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in thinking things can only change because it’s a New Year. We are given so many new minutes, hours, and days and each of them is an excellent time to give ourselves a fresh start. 🙂 And this calendar is pretty awesome… there’s a weekly menu planner section, a notepad for grocery lists, a to-do notepad (great place to write the small, weekly goals that add up to big yearly achievements!), and there’s room to write activities for up to seven family members… it’s a homeschool family friendly calendar!


To Enter: 

Please leave a comment sharing one of your favorite practical book titles (can be on home organization, personalities, strengthening one’s prayer life… you name it ~ anything you’ve read that’s helped you out in life!). I’m wanting to add to my reading list for 2013 from your suggestions. 🙂

Make sure we have your e-mail address!

The contest ends Monday, Jan. 7th at 9 pm Eastern Time. I will contact the winner by e-mail and announce the winner on the blog by noon on Tuesday, Jan. 8. And then I’ll get your calendar to you asap so you can start benefiting from it as early as possible. 🙂 

This entry was posted in Books, organization. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Mama Squirrel
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    How Things Work inYouur Home, and What to do When They Don’t, by the editors of Time-Life Books. It’s something like The New Way Things Work (drawings of what’s inside your blow drier), but more from a repair point of view. Might be useful to have on hand when talking to repair people–they could just point to the doohickey that needs replacing. downside: our copy is a 1985 printing–a lot fewer electronics then! Maybe there is a more recent version?

  2. Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I like The Money Saving Mom’s Budget. I already knew pretty much everything in it, since I’ve read her blog since forever ago, but it was still encouraging. 🙂

  3. Jennifer Willis
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read so many organizing and getting frugal books in the past few years, but I got a new one a few months back that’s staying on my Fire Carousel. You’ll may even have recommended it, not sure, but its titled Frugal Gourmet Secrets ot Saving Thousands in the Kitchen by Charmaine Gerber. It’s concise and has many already known frugal ideas in one little book. As a bonus, it ended my search for a moist, banana bread recipe that doesn’t call for buttermilk or sour creme.

  4. Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Don’t worry about the calendar (am in the UK!) but the thing that has had the most impact for me recently was the blog series “31 days to GTD for homemakers” at Simply Convivial (there’s a button to the series in the sidebar of the blog). It has completely transformed my to-do lists and I think has genuinely made me more productive. The other books I use I guess you would have come across – flylady, Large Family Logistics, Managers of Their Homes. HTH.

  5. Andrea
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    I have just read Trim Healthy Momma. It’s been so helpful to balance nutrition for more energy and health.
    I’ve had fun reading it. The authors are moms of large families, too, which always helps with perspective.

  6. 6 arrows
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the giveaway! I have a little paperback that I have not read in several years, but I liked the book and would enjoy (and would benefit from) rereading it, as I can always use a refresher. The title is The Disciplined Life: The Mark of Christian Maturity, by Richard Taylor.

    I also second Clare’s mention of Large Family Logistics. I checked that out of the library last year or the year before, and would like to own that book someday. Very practical and helpful to me.

  7. julia
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    The Tightwad Gazette, Flylady, and A Mother’s Rule of Life!

  8. Marijo
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    This last year Crystal Paine’s The Money Saving Mom’s Budget helped me a great deal.

  9. Lora Greene
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    I would have recommended “The Power of Habit,” but that won’t help you fill your reading list. Like you, I found this book to be very informative, and I have already begun to implement some of the suggestions.

    I loved “The Happiness Project” (but was unimpressed by Gretchen’s new book, “Happier at Home.”). In it, Gretchen tells of a year of resolutions and habits that she implemented in an effort to streamline her life, simplify her home, have more fun and intentional time with her children and husband, and otherwise make herself “happier.”

  10. AC
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Large Family Logistics is a very helpful book. I also used to enjoy Flylady. I’m not actually subscribed to her anymore (I found the emails overwhelming), but her writing really helped me get more organized after I had three children in three years. Thank you for the giveaway!

  11. Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful post. You address issues I’m taking a hard look at myself these days. Thank you!
    More Hours in My Day by Emilie Barnes is one book that has had big impact on me.

  12. Elizabeth
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Mama’s Way, Thyra Ferre Bjorn. It may be more of a story than a “practical” book, but it helps me every time I read it!

    Good Housekeeping’s Book on the Business of Housekeeping, Mildred Maddocks Bentley, 1924.

    Phyllis McGinley’s Sixpence in Her Shoe (found thanks to the recommendation of the DHM!)

    Tightwad Gazette, of course.

    I’ve recently made a menu plan for this month, and started keeping a daily/weekly plan. The two habits that have helped most have been getting up at five to make my husband’s breakfast and pack his lunch, and having dinner ready at five in the evening. I also have my phone alarms set to his breaktimes and lunch, so we’re on the same eating schedule, which has structured my days. 🙂

  13. Posted January 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Time for God by Jacques Philippe helped me so much in understanding how to organize and do my prayer life.

  14. Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    I am currently reading Survival for Busy Women – Establishing Efficient Home Management by Emiliee Barnes. I think I will benefit a lot from This book! Can’t wait to see who wins!

  15. Posted January 5, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed The Kid Book by Vicki Barnes last year. It’s a very insightful look into children’s personalities and how our parental personalities work with different types.

    I also enjoyed 21 Day although I fell off the wagon. 🙂

  16. Hannah Elise
    Posted January 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Well, the best “practical” book I’ve found recently was “Raising a Sensory Smart Child,” which was co-authored by both an OT and a parent. I thought they did an excellent job outlining ideas for helping kiddos (and teens and adults, for that matter) with sensory processing difficulties. They also touched on the option of homeschooling, which both surprised and delighted me. On top of that, they did a great job explaining SPD without focusing heavily on its coexistence with autism spectrum kiddos, which the book Mixed Signals did. As such, I think this is the book I’ll be handing to my husband, since it doesn’t leave you thinking thatt if your kid has SPD, he must also be autistic.

  17. Tania J
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp–because her writing style is not what I normally prefer, I had to slow down and breath it in…something I really needed. As I read it, it was like a calm whisper telling my soul to embrace God’s grace and find the joy He has in every moment. (It does help to read it while listening to the calming music of David Nevue (the music on her blog).)

  18. Lindsey in AL
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read a lot how-to books for homemaking/organizing but I do love to read old fiction (Grace Livingston Hill springs first to mind) for the inspiration I need to seek out those how-to blogs and books. I love Like Mother, Like Daughter for practical tips and feeling like I’m not alone 🙂
    I think that a regular meal plan may very well be a keystone habit. It’s amazing how much more smoothly everything goes when I know what we’re going to eat. Feeding 6-7 people three times a day shouldn’t e that big of a deal but it can be paralyzing sometimes.

  19. Emily
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    The only book I’ve read that fits the description in Large Family Logistics, so I’m very interested in the other suggestions. I, too, have found MoneySavingMom and Like Mother, Like Daughter to be encouraging resources.

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