Have you heard that late in his career, Steve Jobs drove his car without a license plate? Yeah, that’s right, no license plate. Why would Jobs do this? According to Jon Callas, a former Apple computer security expert, Jobs found a loophole in the California vehicle registration laws. Anyone with a new vehicle had up to six months to get a proper license plate for their car. Until then, they could drive it without a license plate. With this in mind, Jobs, or most likely, his personal assistant, arranged an exclusive leasing agreement with Mercedes. Every six months, Jobs’ car would be dropped off and replaced with a new Mercedes SL55 AMG. Jobs never had a vehicle older than six months, and accordingly, he never had to go to the DMV to get a license plate.
After hearing that story, you may be thinking, “I guess that’s what you can do when you have a lot of money.” That’s fair, but if we look deeper, we may notice something else was happening—Steve Jobs was building a Time Asset.
Time Assets vs. Time Debts
When it comes to time management, most of us think about efficiency—how to work through our to-do list quickly, how to get more done in our afternoons, how to shorten our weekly meetings, and so on. These are all reasonable ideas.
But what we often overlook are the strategic choices that we could make that would impact our time on a larger scale. Patrick McKenzie, a software programmer, refers to these as Time Assets or Time Debts.
- TIME ASSETS are activities or choices that will save time in the future. An example of a time investment is found in the Jobs story. Once the loophole was found, all it took was someone willing to set up the recurring leasing system. Jobs never had to deal with the pain of going to the DMV ever again (we can only imagine). Another example is investing in employee development. Yes, there is an initial upfront investment (e.g., your time, training expenses, employee time), but it saves time in the long run. Your people will grow in confidence and competence, and you’ll be freed up to focus on the big picture part of your organization.
- TIME DEBTS are activities or choices that will cost us time now AND in the future. Don’t get us wrong, like financial debt, time debts aren’t all bad. However, when we make these commitments, we are creating a time debt that we will have to pay. Sometimes these debts are worth the sacrifice of our time, sometimes they’re not. One example is volunteering for a service committee within your local school. Although it will help your community, this commitment will require you to attend numerous meetings and events (bake sale, anyone?). Another example is work email. Once an email is sent, you are now committed to reading and replying to the responses. What does this get you? Often more email.
It All Shows Up on The Calendar
If our calendar is filled with Time Debts, then it doesn’t matter how hard we work. There are only so many hours in the day, and the human body can only work so fast. However, if we strategically invest in Time Assets day after day, we will multiply our time exponentially. And who couldn’t use a little more time?
What’s Next? Take a few minutes to identify current and potential time assets for you and your team. How could you capture more time by leveraging these assets for your advantage?