“What Should I Be Doing Each Day…?”
That’s the question I asked myself in April 2014 in Toronto. I’d just come off an exciting-but-grueling run of speaking at over a dozen universities and tech spaces across Canada and the United States in only four weeks as part of the nonprofit work I was doing at the time.
It was really glorious — but oh man, the schedule! Set up for an event, prep all speakers, speak, immediately drive or fly to another city, and do it again.
By the end of it, my habits were quite a mess and — honestly — I might’ve been on the verge of burnout.
I took a couple days off, and then reflected on this question —
“What should I be doing each day to stay healthy, happy, sane, and productive?”
I started making a list of stuff I’d like to be doing each day.
Many of these items were not difficult or would not take long to complete. I knew my life would be better if I was doing them. But the obvious question remained:
“How do I get myself to actually do it?”
So, how do I actually get myself to do it?
Enter: The Lights Spreadsheet
After kind of wracking my brain on this question for a while — “How do I actually do this simple, life-enhancing stuff I want to be doing?” — I had the idea of putting it into a spreadsheet.
My first version wasn’t particularly fancy —
The idea behind it was simple. Each day I mark down if I completed my desired habits or not with color coded “lights”. Green for done. Red for not done. And yellow for partially complete (good for seeing progress, but still considered yellow’s non-success at the end of the week. I wanted the spreadsheet to be binary so it was never a chore to fill in).
Right away, a strange and magical thing seemed to happen.
I found the act of getting “Green Lights” to be highly motivating, and I wanted to avoid getting “Red Lights.”
In the past, I wanted to take more naps. I knew the health and mental benefits — it refreshes you, and found even a quick 15-minute nap in the afternoon gets me back to around 80% of my morning mental sharpness.
You’d think that’d be motivating enough to do it, even on a somewhat busy day, but I failed to consistently do it.
But for whatever strange psychological reason, the act of getting the Green Light for napping created a really concrete, almost visceral motivation to go take that brief nap.
And the visual feedback helped me stay accountable and monitor the progress (or lack of progress) on the goal.
There’s a a similar theory behind Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” concept (mark an X on your calendar for everyday you complete your habits), but still, I was downright surprised by how strong this effect has been. The color coding adds a new dimension of psychological motivation and ease of use.
And not just for me either, we’ve gotten literally hundreds of unsolicited feedback written in like this —
“Your Lights Spreadsheet idea has been one of the most useful things I have done in my life. I've been running on it uninterruptedly for exactly two years this month and it's helped/helping me build better habits, drop bad ones and track how other things in my life are going.” — James K., November 2017
You Want to Try Lights Out?
It’s already being used by some of the top performers around the world in engineering, programming, startups, the military, academia, science, and the arts.
It’s been one of the biggest things for me in terms of happiness, consistency, well-being, and productivity.
I’ve run mine for over 250 weeks in a row now — I only missed a few weeks total in those five years (most of that right after surgery), because it’s just been so darn useful for me.
If you want to try it out, enter your email below to grab the template along with a best practices guide for getting started:
Beyond that, we’re friendly — if there’s any questions or you’d like us to check out your Lights, shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org — it’s already changed thousands of people’s lives in helping to install and stick with great habits.