All Articles

From Outputs To Inputs (or: How a Spreadsheet Saved my Dating Life)

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When I started as an intern a year ago at Lighthouse Labs, one of my first projects was to implement metrics for gauging the success of our marketing efforts. Since we were a startup, I had the flexibility to do this whichever way I felt was best. Although I was fresh out of school, I took on this task with gusto because I loved the idea of measuring our performance with a fine level of granularity.

Pretty soon, I had what I felt was a pretty robust spreadsheet detailing performance in all the major pillars of our marketing at the time: advertising, social media, SEO, and so on. I had even indicated KPIs in each section and created a basic algorithm for measuring our progress from month to month. Our team would meet on a monthly basis and review these numbers.

In one sense, I think did an admirable job. Our team knew at any given time what was performing well for us and what wasn’t. However, I began to notice a trend after a few months. Although the metrics were useful for aligning the team and getting visibility, we very rarely left the meetings with anything actionable.

I realized that I had made a crucial mistake in my metrics – I was tracking only lagging indicators of success, and not leading ones.

Lagging indicators are measures of the past that aren’t directly influenceable. For example, a lagging SEO indicator would be our Google search ranking for ‘Developer Bootcamp’, one of our targeted keywords. Looking at this is an important gauge of success, but doesn’t give us anything to work with. An example of a leading indicator for SEO would be “number of sites linking back to us”. We can directly improve that number, and if we do, our SEO should improve. Looking at that number gives us actionable insight – maybe we should form community partnerships for links, maybe advertise, maybe something else. It seems obvious now, but I realized that you can’t look at your outputs without considering your inputs.

I began to wonder if this same perceptual error occurred in my personal life as well.

As I considered this, I identified a number of areas in life where I had considered one but not the other, and the revelations were both remarkable and troubling:


Lagging indicator: The Sweet Embrace Of A Woman
Over the course of my young life, I’ve often gone for extended periods of out time without enjoying the company of a woman. Although I wasn’t particularly happy about it, I could never figure out why. I remember thinking to myself, “heck, I’m in shape, I’ve got some social capital, I don’t have a problem talking to girls… how have I gotten so acquainted with my hand?”
Reflecting now, it’s pretty clear what was going on. My average week looked like this:

  • Daytime: Basketball
  • Nighttime: School
  • Weekends: Drinks with the boys

Repeat, ad infinitum. What was missing? I never talked to girls. Although I’d never ever (ever) advocate for anything like PUA (the worst), I think my dating life I would’ve benefitted greatly from breaking out of both my routine and my comfort zone.
Leading indicator: Actually talking to girls


Lagging indicator: Weight
Speaking of basketball, during my university career I worked tirelessly to try to gain weight. I felt I had to be at least 205 pounds, in shape, to be elite at my position. On one hand, I saw great progress in my strength, which made sense because I was fanatical about tracking my workouts. But even after 5 years lifting, I could never sustain a playing weight of more than 195 pounds. Looking back, it seems so obvious: I wasn’t eating enough food! At the time, I figured if I tried to generally eat lots, I’d be ok. But that obviously wasn’t sufficient. I never put in place a true leading indicator: calories. The results I’ve seen from others around me from simply counting calories in addition to their workouts are incredible.
Leading indicator: Calories


Lagging indicator: Bank balance
I generally consider myself quite frugal. I don’t really spend on anything other than food, rent, and going out, and even within those habits I always keep fairly rigid limits. These spending habits helped me stay largely out of debt in college. However, now that college is over, I basically have nothing to show for it. I have a modest chequing account, an even more modest savings account, and virtually no financial portfolio. Since my bank balance always seemed healthy, I never bothered to look at the difference between my spending and my earning. I would go full years without earning any money at all, and while I wasn’t spending much, if I had the wherewithal to invest in some basic residual streams of income, a line of credit, or (god forbid) some simple part-time work, I would be much better off financially than I am now.
Leading indicator: Net income

Clearly, these aren’t trivial matters: dating, fitness, and money are a huge part of anyone’s life. I think some people naturally grasp this connection between inputs and outputs and are better off for it. Unfortunately, I was not one of those people, but I’m happy to be able to reflect on it now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *