How to Chart Your Success Through Life, Week By Week



Update (5/24/14): Thanks for all of the great feedback on this post! For your convenience, I’ve included starter templates at the end of this post for those of you who would like to have this system for yourself.

Update (1/3/17): I’ve been getting more requests for a life calendar that works by calendar year instead of years since birth. I’ll post a link to that spreadsheet at the bottom of the post. Thanks for all of the great questions!

For years now, I’ve been using a system called Key Lifestyle Indicators (KLIs) that I modeled after the idea of Key Performance Indicators in business.

My KLI definitions have changed over the years; here’s my current set-up (click the image to view the full size version):


This system works very well for me, consistently reminding me where I’m slacking and where I’m succeeding. The best part: it requires less than 10 seconds per day to enter the necessary information (nowadays it’s simply 1s and 0s transformed into a moving average).

It wasn’t until this past week that I found a way to leverage this tracked data in a new, interesting way. The inspiration came from reading Wait But Why’s post on what your life looks like plotted out into weeks (hint: You have less than 4,500 weeks in your life to spend – how have you been using them?).

I loved the idea of a meaningful reminder of the limited number of weeks we have on this planet. Thankfully, Wait But Why offers some sweet calendars that allow you to track how you’re living out your weeks – either with hand-scribbled notes or via color coding.

I’ll probably pick up one of these awesome calendars some time in the near future, but I wondered if I could use my years of KLI data to graphically represent this without needing to create yet another place to track my progress through life.

This post describes how I took my KLI data and created a Wait-But-Why-styled life calendar that lives in Google Spreadsheets (or Excel, if that’s your thing). If you track similar data in a spreadsheet, this article should help you in creating a similar set-up (read Wait But Why’s post for a deeper understanding of why a life calendar is awesome).


Step 1: Prototype the end result

Here’s what I wanted my life calendar to look like when all was said and done:


Note how I keep untracked weeks in gray, but everything else is colored yellow, green, or red depending on how my KLIs looked that week. The goal was to have this automatically calculated for me, as manually-inputted tracking can get quite annoying. But in order for this to become automated, I needed to pull together all of the necessary data, which brings me to step 2…


Step 2: Survey the current datascape

The calendar prototype looked good, but the data I needed was siloed in different cells. In other words, because none of the data was rolled up by day or week, some intermediary data compilation was required before the calendar could pull what it needed.
Continue Reading…

Gamifying the Job Search @ GSummit 2013


As many of you know, one of the most popular blog posts I’ve written on this site discusses how I used gamification principles to help me get a job at Google.

This blog post quickly spread to Hacker News, Business Insider, and gave me another opportunity to speak about gamification at GSummit!

(Note: None of my other blog posts haven’t been remotely close to this level of success. This was definitely a black swan event!)

Check out the video above if you’d be interested in seeing the talk, which discusses the gamified framework I used to prepare for my interview.

Would love to hear what you think!

Get Rejected. Get Rejected Again. Repeat

“A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.”

-Bo Bennett

Learning to handle rejection (and fail gracefully) is one of the most valuable skills for succeeding in almost every endeavor in life. Why? Because the only thing worse than a half-assed attempt at success is not even trying at all. And someone who cannot tolerate rejection will likely give up before he even tries.

I’m not the only one to recognize the importance of embracing rejection. Jason Shen started Rejection Therapy as a means to push his limits and step outside of his comfort zone. The more you step out of your comfort zone, the thinking goes, the better you will be in uncomfortable situations that really matter (think job interview, first date, approaching an influential individual, and so on).

The more I pay attention to this topic as plays out in everyday life, the more obvious it becomes that there is a significant correlation between your ability to handle rejection and your ability to get what you want in life.


My New Approach to Rejection

I’ve written about embracing rejection and failure before, but I never really lived true to it. Like many, I feel the sting of rejection quite strongly, and a particularly harsh rejection can impact my mood for weeks. So in typical Jon format, I’ve decided to start tracking rejections (on post-it notes, of course), and rewarding myself for reaching my rejection goal. Ultimately, I want to gamify the receipt of rejections so that I welcome them, rather than deplore them.

A few examples:

  • If I put my all into applying for a spot on a project at work, and am turned down, that counts as a rejection.
  • If I go on a date, and I’m interested in a second date and she isn’t – that’s a rejection.
  • If I put myself out on a limb, and am turned down in any way that leaves an emotional sting, +1 rejection.

The way I see it, if I receive a particularly brutal rejection, perfect! I took a calculated risk that gave me an opportunity to move a step forward in life. Although it didn’t work out this time, it still brought me one step closer to reaching my rejection goal.


Adding In Some Gamification (Just For Fun)

As I started paying more attention to rejection, and how consistently I had been avoiding it to my own detriment, I started gamifying certain elements of it, to see if it would allow me to better handle rejection.

Gamifying Rejection - Part 2

If you want to see how the system came into being, I recently guest-posted on Jason Shen’s blog, describing the system.

So has the gamification and tracking helped turn me into a fearless rejection machine? So far, the answer is a resounding “sort of.” Like most gamification efforts, it doesn’t completely change behavior. It simply guides in the right direction. So, while this system hasn’t given me fearless super powers, it has given me the incentive to take on additional actions with a risk of rejection, simply for the sense of progress and rewards it provides for doing so.

It will be a long time before the fear of rejection no longer impacts me as much as it does now, but this system is helping me take baby steps towards progress on something that has been holding me back for as long as I can remember. Cheers to progress.


Conclusion: It’s A Numbers Game

Numbers Game

The reason I’m embracing this system is because many things in life are a numbers game, based on probability and randomness. Focusing on the actual probability of success can be healthy in moderation, but unhealthy when obsessed about (as I’ve written about here). Nevertheless, randomness and probability play a large role in success in life, so it’s important to be aware of them.

An example: The average Joe, who spends plenty of time out and about meeting new people, is more likely to meet his special someone versus, for example, the award-winning musician/novelist who spends his weeknights and weekends at home, never leaving the couch. (I’m not sure why I used award-winning musician / novelist as an example, but doesn’t that person sound interesting?)

Even though an award-winning musician/novelist is likely a very interesting, intelligent person, if he never leaves the couch (an inferior strategy for meeting people), his odds of success plummet compared to the average Joe who’s out and about talking to people.

Another example: If you apply to enough jobs, and your resume is solid, you’ll eventually find an opportunity worth pursuing. For example, as a senior in college, I spent a lot of time sending out applications (dozens of them), only to hear nothing in return. What’s more, I had to apply to Google 3 times before I finally received an offer from them. Despite being a qualified candidate, I still had to play the numbers game and face a series of rejections.

A final example: If you write enough blog posts, and you’re a decent writer, you’re very likely to eventually write something people resonate with – but you’ll likely have to write in obscurity for years before that happens. In my case, this blog had a very, very small readership until I started writing about goal gamification.

This is why handling rejection (and any sort of failure) like a champ is so important. People who quit too early into the numbers game don’t get to reap the benefits. Any numbers game requires a certain amount of attempts before the odds begin to make themselves obvious (in statistics, this is the statistically significant sample size). When you’re playing the odds, you have to keep trying as often as you reasonably can.

It’s one thing for me to sit here and write about how you should embrace your failures and learn to handle rejection. At this point, I’m sure many of you already know that. I’m writing this post as a call to action to find your own unique way of handling rejection. Being the gamification nerd that I am, started tracking my rejections and attaching rewards for hitting certain rejection milestones. Would that work for you? Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe you’ll resonate with the idea of a group of friends who are willing to take on rejection challenges with you. Maybe you’ll enjoy starting a blog to track your adventures as you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll resonate most with the idea of taking one small action with a risk of rejection each day, and ramping up the difficulty as you feel ready.

There’s a way out there for everybody; find yours.

Jon’s 30 Minute Live Discussion on Goals and Gamification

Hey everyone! As you may (or may not) know, I had a fantastic opportunity to speak about goals and gamification last year at GSummit 2012. It was a great experience, and they’ve even invited me to do a quick follow-up talk this year.

As GSummit 2013 rapidly approaches, I was asked if I’d want to speak about gamifying your goals on’s live webshow. I said yes, and you can see the result below!

If you’ve resonated with anything I’ve written about goals and gamification, it’s definitely worth your time to check it out! If the embedded video below doesn’t work for you, check it out on here.

Some of the things I talk about include:

  • Why I started  to gamify my goals
  • How to properly choose motivating rewards for your goals
  • How to avoid temptation to cheat your own system
  • What kind of people this system is appropriate for
  • And more!

Hope you enjoy!