How to pay off your time debt
I hate not having enough time.
I hate feeling that the only option, to “stay afloat”, is to sprint to get to the next deadline alive.
Every task, every decision, every process need enough time to:
- get them right
- make sure you have done them right.
When you don’t have enough time, that’s when you start to “save the time” it takes to:
- correct spelling mistakes in an email
- solve an important problem before it becomes urgent
- check if the results of a project are really good.
But you are doing yourself a disservice. Chances are that, thanks to “saving that time,” you will be able to meet your deadline. But that deadline is never the last one. Then, another project will come up that will require, once again, your urgency, in which you will also need to “save time” to finish it.
A time debt
Does having “saved time” in this way help you do your next projects?
Few things scare me more than starting a new project, with a short deadline, that depends on the results of a previous project where I didn’t have enough time.
So, no, you have not “saved time.” In fact, what you have is a «time debt».
Moreover, when you carry «time debt» from previous projects, what happens is that you end up paying for it with the time of your current projects, causing, in turn, that you don’t have enough time to do your job well.
A vicious circle.
Pay off your time debt
To get out of this vicious cycle, you need to pay off your time debt. But where can you find the extra time to pay off your debt?
The solution is not easy, but here are three ways to pay off your time debt.
1. Work more time
One option for extra time is to increase the hours you work.
However—unless you have some serious time management issues—you’re most likely already working all the hours you can.
Also, forcing yourself to squeeze in a few more hours a week greatly increases the likelihood of falling into burnout.
2. Increase your productivity
Another way to have extra time is to be more productive: using less time to do the same things.
For practical purposes, it is equivalent to working more hours, but with the advantage that you avoid the risk of burnout.
Some examples of increasing your productivity are:
- Improve the tools you use.
- Systematize repetitive processes.
- Learn something new that simplifies your work.
The problem is that increasing your productivity, in the short term, does not generate extra time: it consumes it. You need time to implement the improvements that boost your productivity. Because if they didn’t cost time, you would have already implemented them in the past!
Therefore, increasing your productivity only generates benefits in the long term.
3. Work on fewer things
If you can’t work more hours or increase your productivity, how can you ever pay off your time debt?
By working on fewer things.
Abandon (or pause) time-consuming projects. It’s a tough decision, but consider these two scenarios:
What would happen if you fail, in the short term, on some of your projects to make up time to pay off your time debt?
What if you spend your whole life sprinting from one deadline to another, dragging a slab of time debt?
Invest your time
When you’ve paid off your time debt and can be confident in the outcome of your previous projects, what do you do with the extra time?
Invest your time in improving your productivity.
You know what I’m passionate about?
Starting a new project knowing that I can rely on the results of my previous projects and that I have tools that will multiply my work capacity. In this case, the time I invested in the past is what gives me extra time in the present to do my job well and generate extra time again for the future.
A virtuous circle.
Conclusion: My personal case
Several weeks ago, I did my writing workshop. Preparing and organizing this project was easy because I had already invested time in the past in:
- Writing an entry with the base content of the workshop.
- Reading and processing “The Workshop Survival Guide”1.
Those two previous projects made it easier for me to do the workshop. And now that I have done the workshop, this project is also a help for my future projects:
- I can use the expanded content from the workshop to create an online version of the workshop for my webpage.
- I have bought a comfortable and reliable headset to make it easier for me to do the following online workshops.
Having enough time is what allows me to maintain this virtuous circle. However, lately, I feel like I don’t have it.
In my work, I am writing a scientific publication for a conference with a short deadline. On the other hand, I am doing —and greatly enjoying— Sascha’s Zettelkasten course 2 every Saturday.
That leaves me little time for the Gestalt’s Garden.
In the previous two posts, I skipped parts of my writing process to be on time for the deadline of posting something every week.
I don’t know if this “time saving” is noticeable in the quality of the posts (I’ll leave that for you to assess). But, where I have noticed a change for the worse is in how much I enjoy writing them.
My ultimate goal is to enjoy writing.
And to achieve that, I need to have enough time. So, my tough decision is this: I’m going to remove the weekly deadline from the Gestalt’s Garden to regain the time I need to enjoy this space.
Once I get past this stage, I will most likely go back to posting weekly (because it’s something I love). But until then, I don’t want to put myself further in time debt.
And you, do you have enough time to enjoy your projects?
You can answer me in the comments or directly to this email. In both cases, I will answer you :-)