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Patrick McKenzie on time as asset; time as debt

The key resource if you’re running a business by yourself is your time.

And the key insight about time is that software lets us take the old saying about how “Everyone gets the same 24 hours per day” and break it open like a pinata.

Time can be stored. One of the great features about currency is that it functions as a store of value: you create some sort of value for someone via your labor, trade that value for currency, and then the currency will retain value even after the physical effect of the labor has faded. For example, a pumpkin farmer might not be able to conveniently store pumpkins, but if he sells them the currency will (under normal circumstances) not rot.

Most people think, intuitively, time always rots. You get 24 hours today. Use them or lose them. The foundation of most time management advice is about squeezing more and more out of your allotted 24 hours, which has sharply diminishing returns. Other self-help books exhort you to spend more and more of your 24 hours on the business, which has severely negative effects on the rest of your life (trust the Japanese salaryman!)

Instead of doing either of these, build time assets: things which will save you time in the future. Code that actually does something useful is a very simple time asset for programmers to understand: you write it once today, then you can execute it tomorrow and every other day, saving you the effort of doing manually whatever it was the code does.

Code is far from the only time asset, though: systems and processes for doing your work more efficiently, marketing which scales disproportionate to your time, documentation which answers customers’ questions before they ask you, all of these things are assets.

The inverse of time assets is time debt. Most programmers are familiar with technical debt, where poor technical decisions made earlier cause an eventual reckoning where forward progress on the program becomes impossible until the code is rearchitectured. Technical debt is one programmer-specific form of time debt. Basically, time debt is anything that you do which will commit you to doing unavoidable work in the future.

Patrick McKenzie – Running A Software Business On 5 Hours A Week

Lots of what Patrick McKenzie has to say about running a small software company is relevant to organisations in general, particularly to small ones. I highly recommend checking out his “greatest hits” and dipping into anything that strikes your fancy.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...