You’re welcome, of course, to do whatever you want – but here’s some best practices that’ll make you more likely to succeed.
1. Make all your Lights binary, yes or no. Meaning, don’t make a box that says “Number of pushups done” – instead, make a Light that says “Did at least 10 pushups” or even “Did at least one pushup.”
This rule is because complexity is your enemy. You need to make your Lights simple enough that it’s never a chore to fill them in. Whenever you cross the line to it becoming “data entry,” you’re far more likely to quit. Which leads to the second best practice –
2. You need to design your Lights Spreadsheet to survive your worst possible week. People’s habits and systems tend to die when all hell breaks loose – you want to make it so your Lights can survive on your worst week. That means thinking them through, keeping them simple, keeping them binary, and having a sustainable amount. Many people have run on Lights for months or years in a row while getting huge benefits – it’s very easy, once installed and habitualzied, to up the difficulty or incorporate new goals so you’re always working on more important things. But if you start too complex, have too much data entry, or unrealistic targets – then your Lights will die during a worst-possible week.
3. We tend to use a “Half” light (Yellow) to be able to see progress, but count it the same as a “No” at the end of the week. It’s still binary – the “Half” just helps see differences. If you had a Light that said “Wake up by 6AM” and you woke up at 6:05AM, you missed it. But 6:05AM is different and a lot closer to the goal than waking up at 2PM, right? So mark it “Half” – but at the end of the week, count every Yellow-marked light as a non-success; don’t add them to your totals.
4. Aim for a 70% success rate. When you choose your Lights, you don’t want to set them up for perfection – people who aim for a 100% success rate have two things going against them. First, if you’re aiming for perfection but then miss a day, it can be tempting to just give up for a while and go all the way down. Second, many people who aim for perfection do things that are less challenging than they otherwise could do. On the other hand, failure tends to hurt psychologically more than success feels good, and 70% means you’re getting more than 2 successes for every failure.
5. When you review at the end of the week, if your success rate was 90%+, consider making your Lights harder or adding more. You always want to be at the edge of your capabilities and growing. If you do perfectly on your Lights for 2-3 weeks in a row, consider making them harder or adding more. So “5 minutes of meditation” might become “10 minutes of meditation” – or you might add a new thing you want to do. You want to regularly be coming in around a 70% success rate, and making things incrementally harder when you’re consistently doing better than that.
6. When you review at the end of the week, if you succeeded less than 70%, make your Lights easier or cut the number of things you’re trying to run. This can often be hard for achievement-oriented people. We tend to be stubborn and persistent. But please trust us on this one, you get much more mileage by calibrating your Lights downwards during times you’re struggling. Look, we all get ill, injured, busy, whatever – during those times, you want to make things easier to get back to a 70%+ success rate. Lights are self-calibrating if you do this. You don’t need to make your Lights easier if you have a single bad week, but if you have two bad weeks in a row, make them easier ASAP! So if you had “Wake up by 4AM” as a Light but went 0/7 on that two weeks in a row, move it to 6AM or 7AM. If you had “Run five miles” on your list to do daily but are going 1/7 on it, consider shifting down to “Lace up my running shoes and run any distance” – make it easier if you’re falling short. Remember, you’ll go the other way and make things harder once you’ve mastered the current version, so don’t be afraid of being too easy. If it’s too easy, you’ll succeed maximally and then increment up the difficulty.
7. Don’t add more than one aspirational thing that you’ve never done before. Look, if you’re not currently playing the piano and not currently running, adding “Play the piano for an hour” and “Run one mile” at the same time is a bad idea. Lights is a powerful self-management tool, but it isn’t magic – you still gotta do the work. If you put a bunch of stuff you’ve never done before on the list, you probably won’t do it, and your Lights will bog down. You should your Lights by adding things you’ve done in the past successfully and want more consistency on, and simple best practices like “Plan the next day.” Don’t add more than one aspirational thing you haven’t done before at a time; it’s a recipe for failure.
8. Start with 10-15 Lights max. Sebastian’s first version of Lights had 17 items on it, but frankly, it was a little too much and in retrospect he would’ve made more progress if he’d started with 10-15. Remember that you’ll add more if you’re at a 90%+ success rate… it feels a lot more satisfying to start slightly too easy and make things more challenging each week than it is to start too hard and flame out. Trust us on this one – build the momentum and the meta-habit of using Lights first; it’s not “hardcore” to add too many things to the list and fail. Start with 10-15. Cut the least important from the list. Master those 10-15 before adding more.
9. Lights maxes out around 30 items. Marshall’s been using them for a few years in a row and currently has 31 lights. Whenever he’s attempted to go beyond that to the 35-40 range, it flames out. There’s only so many boxes we can check off each day. But again, if you’re just starting, start with 10-15 and add gradually whenever you hit that 90%+ success rate.
10. Remember to put Lights for recharging and rejuvenation on the list. You’ll get a ton of mileage out of things like “Nap”, “Recharge”, “Take a walk”, “Listen to music I enjoy” – don’t make it all difficult stuff. Lights is great for keeping you on-track with life-affirming enjoyable stuff that we all forget to do. Add that stuff liberally.
11. Lights works better as a “control center” that includes your important stuff than it does if you add only “bonus” stuff to it. Meaning, you should include stuff related to your core profession if you’re employed, related to your business if you’re an entrepreneur, related to your training if you’re an athlete, or related to your studies if you’re a student. Even if those things are already “on lock,” it’s good to have a single place to look at to see how you’re doing in your core stuff and your habits.
12. Put your Lights in rough chronological order. For most people, putting Lights in roughly the order you’ll do them throughout the day is useful – so “Morning Routine” would be at or near the top, “Nap” would be in the middle of the day, “Plan tomorrow” would be at the end. Sometimes it makes sense for people to organize differently – for instance, grouping all athletic training in one section and all professional stuff in another section – but for most people, putting Lights in roughly the order you’ll do them throughout the day is useful.
13. Have a number of easy “gimmies” to start the day. It’s very helpful and motivating to knock out between one-third and half your Lights in the first part of the day. You look at the sheet and say, “Hey, I almost did everything already.” You should weight your Lights towards having some easy ones that you check off right in the morning. A “Morning Routine” Light works great for many people. Mix in a good breakfast, maybe some quick exercise or stretching or meditation, maybe some quick journaling… just some easy fast wins that are good practices. Starting the day with a bunch of small wins makes the whole day much easier.