Can making your bed every morning make you more successful?

One small act could change the course of your day

If you get the critical “Keystone Habits” right, everything else falls into place.

Keystone Habits are often small innocuous tasks that propagate positively through your day creating momentum that leads to bigger wins.

If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.”
— that’s the advice of Naval Admiral William McRaven.

It’s also a Keystone Habit in the morning routine of Tim Ferriss (author of the 4 Hour Work Week).

Keystone Habits are the foundation of a good day.

Tim Ferriss, Jerry Seinfeld, Maya Angelou, Charles Duigg, John Grisham and Stephen King are just some of the many successful people who practise them…

The Keystone Habits of 5 Successful People

Some of the most creative, spontaneous people put their success down to a solid bedrock of habits
  • Stephen King, the world’s best selling author, woke up at 6am and wrote 10 pages of words every day, whether he wanted to or not. Even if the writing was crap! That was King’s Keystone Habit.
  • John Grisham (author of The Firm and Rainmaker etc) did the same as detailed in my earlier post about Self-Automation.
  • Maya Angelou started work at 7am and finished at 2pm every day
  • Benjamin Franklin would ask himself “What good have I done today?” at 9pm without fail every day
  • Jerry Seinfeld has a whole productivity method named after him built on habits that free up his mind for creativity

Keystone Habits are the bedrock of success

Keystone are the blocks that hold everything together

Now making your bed in the morning isn’t going to set the world alight, but there is a science behind this habit worth knowing.

Keystone Habits are one habit that carries more weight than others.

A Keystone Habit is a habit that triggers a cascade of other habits.

Often it’s a simple innocuous act like making the bed first thing in the morning. Getting that right builds momentum through the day.

Motivation vs Momentum

Getting stuff done is like toppling dominoes — start with the one small keystone habit that builds momentum up to the bigger tasks

A Keystone Habit is like the first domino in a sequence.

Making your bed is a Keystone Habit.

So is exercise…

Charles Duigg, author of “The Power of Habit” describes exercise as a Keystone Habit:

“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.” — Charles Duhigg

Why Habits > Motivation

Instead of habit, some people focus on motivation to get stuff done…

Brian Tracy, author of “Eat that Frog!” argues for this approach.

He says you should start with your biggest baddest task for the day and deal with that first.

I’ve tried this approach and for me it doesn’t work.

The reason?


Everything is much easier with momentum.

What I’ve found is that motivation is far less important than having good habits every day. You need a lot of motivation to tackle big tasks the Brian Tracy way.

When I completed the Ironman triathlon, it was based on daily habits of training, not feeling motivated every day to get out and put in the long hours.

Motivation comes and goes but with good Keystone Habits you can turn out results even when you’re not feeling the love for what you do.

Imagine a pile of washing sitting on your bedroom floor. No, it’s not a pile, it’s a mountain! And, like any mountain, you don’t set out to conquer the summit or nothing. You set waypoints.

Focus on one small step forward rather than one big mountain to climb

The Brian Tracy approach tells us to conquer the mountain of washing before you do anything else.

The human brain isn’t that easy to tame. That’s like one massive domino to topple! It’s much easier in these situations to do one small thing because the distance between ZERO and ONE is massive.

Just fold one t-shirt and put it away.

First domino…

I bet before you know it you’ve completed half the pile of washing. You then think to yourself,

“Well I’m halfway through so I might as well finish it all now.”

That small initial push of momentum is enough to get you to complete the whole task.

Keystone habits work like that.

They are the QUICK WINs that start our day that can cascade down to many other bigger wins in the hours that follow.

My Experiments with Keystone Habits

Getting the first hour of your day right has a profound impact on what happens in the next 10

In my experiments with Keystone Habits I’ve found a few things that work and others that don’t.

I’ve been experimenting with improving my habits over the last 15–20 years ever since I read Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Here’s what really works for me now. Not all of these will work for you, take what works and leave what doesn’t:


  • I have a “Start Up” ritual before I open my laptop computer in the morning that involves a) tidying my desk and b) reading my notepad that’s open from the night before … see next point
  • When I open my computer, rather than go straight to Facebook or check emails I open the Trello board I use for that day showing me my goals + tasks


  • At the end of every day, I take out a paper notepad and write down the 3 things I want to achieve tomorrow. This is a vital Keystone Habit that keeps the momentum moving across days. The worst situation is where you wake up wondering “What do I do today?” This is kind of a self-automation habit that I talked about earlier.


  • e.g. make the bed in the morning


  • I put out the clothes I’m going to wear tomorrow (again a form of Self-Automation)
  • I prepare my breakfast for tomorrow

How to Implement Better Habits

The best app for better habits could be good old fashioned pen and paper

I’ve documented a whole bunch of daily habits and routines in my book chapter “How to complete an Ironman on the wrong side of 40”.

Here are some easy tools to use now:

  • A notepad and pen — yes there is something powerful about writing stuff down that can’t be found in making a note on Evernote or Google Docs.
  • — for documenting my goals and tasks for the day. Evernote and Google Docs work just fine too.

What I recommend is you start small:

  • start with one small Keystone Habit in the morning and use that as the momentum to create a better morning routine
  • don’t overwhelm yourself with lots of new behaviors to start with, your brain will rebel and the system will fail
  • master habits first before you turn to technology. It’s too easy to look to these tools and apps as the answer to your problem when they are merely a bonus, not the solution itself
  • don’t beat yourself up when it’s not working. This is natural. Instead of getting frustrated, try a different Keystone Habit or routine until you find one that works

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