The Biggest Pitfall to Avoid
There’s some common pitfalls we’ve seen that result in failure. One of them stands out as overwhelmingly the biggest one, so we’ll point it out right now.
You need to look at your Lights early in the day to have them work correctly, and you need to do the hard work of installing the meta-habit of looking at your Lights.
Lights will help get you doing just about anything realistic that you set as a target for yourself – but they can’t make you look at the spreadsheet itself. You need to take this very seriously and not be cavalier about it.
To give you a little theory, a Lights Spreadsheet is one tool that fills an “ops keystone” role in a person’s life. An “ops keystone” is something that can point at anything else you need to do.
A lot of people already have a keystone – either a particular online app, smartphone app, a work journal, putting all your obligations onto the calendar and scheduling them, using a desktop app like Omnifocus, or even a notebook where a person writes their priorities every night and checks them off the next day.
In fact, a lot of old-school executives use a paper notebook as an ops keystone, and it works just fine – it’s harder to analyze data later on paper, but anything you look at every single day can be an ops keystone.
To be blunt – people who don’t have any ops keystone in their life seem to fail a lot more at life, backslide more on behavior they want to be doing, and have a lot less control.
You don’t need to use Lights as your keystone – if you have another one that’s working for you already, you can simply write down “Look at Lights” on whatever that keystone is. But if you don’t have a keystone at all, then you have nowhere you can reliably look to see if you’re on top of everything.
To be blunt again – we don’t know how to make people install a keystone. It’s one of the key predictors of success or failure in one’s life, and if we had some magic that could make everyone just look at a single place every single day that points at everything that’s important to them, we’d probably be multi-billionaires.
It’s really important, but we don’t know how to get people to just look at something every day that points at everything else that’s important. If you already have one, great, you can ignore this point. If you don’t have one at all, Lights could be a keystone for you, but you need to take it rather seriously for a while until it becomes habitual.
If you don’t have a keystone at all right now and want to use Lights as your keystone, then do whatever you can to stack advantages for yourself to make yourself look at your Lights. Change the background on your desktop, set your computer so you’ll see Lights first thing in the morning every evening, use post-it notes, set calendar reminders for yourself, email yourself telling you to do it, ask a friend to check in on you on doing it… do whatever you can to ensure you install the behavior.
Again, it doesn’t have to be Lights specifically, but having a keystone – any one – is a key part of staying on-track in a complex life. Take this very seriously for at least a month until the habit is down. It’s another good reason to start with making your Lights relatively easy and straightforward when you’re just getting started.
Failure is typically more painful than success feels good. Don’t stack the deck against yourself with a bunch of hard stuff and fail too much; it leads to losing motivation and morale.
Complexity is the enemy. You need to make Lights very quick to use and reference. Don’t have anything too complicated to start. Keep it really, really simple.
Aspirational stuff is dangerous. We discussed this above. Start by mastering a consistency of your known best practices that you’ve used before. Add brand new activities slowly, carefully, and with requisite attention.
Lights – indeed, any habit – needs to be able to survive your worst week. Design defensively, not aggressively. Your Lights should be simple, straightforward, and enjoyable enough that you can use them to stay on-track in a “week from hell.” Don’t design for the best times when everything is going right – during those times, you’ll naturally exceed your formal goals in Lights anyways. Instead, design your Lights so that they’ll stick during bad weeks.
Ambiguity is not your friend. Clarity is your friend. It’s actually easy to accidentally write ambiguous things like “Had a fierce workout” – what’s that mean? “Went to the gym” or “Did 5x5 weightlifting” or “Ran for 10 minutes” are much more straightforward and easier to see if you did them successfully or not. Even despite this, you’ll accidentally write ambiguous Lights sometimes – when you notice that during a weekly review, make adjustments and make it more clear.
Greed is dangerous. Look, it doesn’t do anybody any good for you to write a bunch of hardcore targets, miss them all, and fail. Start easier than you can handle and increase difficulty as you succeed. Ambition is good; greed is bad. Start easy and build up. If you’re succeeding 90%+ every week, you’ll be increasing the difficulty regularly. Don’t start too greedy.
Stubbornness also doesn’t help. If you miss a specific category repeatedly, make it easier or design it better. If you’ve got “Wake by 4AM” down and never do it, move it to 6AM or 7AM and actually do it regularly. You can always gradually move it back if you want to wake early once you’re succeeding every day at 6AM.