"Assets and Debts" – an approach to productivity that changes the attitude towards time

James Clear

Businessman, author of the book Atomic Habits. How to acquire good habits and get rid of bad ones.

At the end of his career, Steve Jobs drove a car without a license plate. There have been many theories as to why he did this. Some said that the entrepreneur did not want his movements to be tracked. Others were sure he was trying to dodge parking tickets. John Callas, an information security expert who worked for Apple, gave a different reason.

According to him, Jobs discovered a loophole in California’s vehicle registration laws. According to the rules, anyone who has recently bought a car has six months to get a matching license plate. So, all this time the driver has the right to drive without it.

As soon as Jobs found out about this, he agreed with his Mercedes salesman that every six months he would give the old car and get a new one. He never drove one car beyond that and never got a license plate.

After it became known, many reacted in the same way: “Probably, this is what you do when you have a lot of money.” Indeed, such a strategy is not suitable for people with average incomes. However, if you look at the situation more closely, you can see that in this way Steve Jobs created a temporary asset.

Most of the productivity methods are built on short-term efficiency: how to improve your to -do list , how to get more done in the morning, and so on. And these are all reasonable ideas. But we forget that our choices have much more to do with how we manage our time. And here there are two categories: temporary assets and temporary debts.

What are temporary assets

These are the actions you take now that will save you time in the future.

Programming is the perfect example of a temporary asset. You can write a program in one day that will work for you for months and even years. You invest your time, which will pay off later.

The Steve Jobs license plate system is another example. It took him a while to find a loophole and arrange for replacement cars, but it gave him extra time and saved him the hassle of every six months.

Here are some examples of temporary assets for my business:

  • A special page on the site where you can find answers to frequently asked questions. This helps reduce the number of repetitive emails I receive.
  • A convenient system for settlements and transactions, which we use together with an accountant. This allows you to automate the process and stop approving expenses remotely every month.
  • Program for work schedule , which simplifies the organization of meetings. So I get rid of unnecessary correspondence and calls.

What is temporary debt

These are the actions you are doing now that will take up your time in the future.

For example, email. Whenever you write a letter, you automatically commit yourself to read the reply and then send your own. Each message in the chain creates a small temporary debt that will have to be paid back.

Of course, not all debts are equally bad. Let’s say volunteer or community work. However, any obligations will have to be paid in the future. Sometimes it’s worth it, but in most cases the situation is exactly the opposite.

Here are examples of my temporary debts:

  • Email. The more I answer it, the more letters I receive.
  • Comments. I love the feedback from readers on my site, but it creates a temporary debt in the form of moderation that I have to do periodically.
  • Interview. I used to agree to any interview offer, but now I limit them to 3-5 per week.
  • Low quality work. If I don’t edit my articles right away, I have to do it later. Any poor-quality work creates a temporary debt that will have to be repaid. Basketball coach John Wooden said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to redo it?”

How to apply the concept of assets and debts

Systems are more important than goals, and the concept of temporary assets is a perfect example of this. Every temporary asset you create is a system that will work for you day after day.

If your schedule is filled with temporary debt, it doesn’t matter how much you work. Your daily choices will constantly pull you into a productive hole. However, if you think strategically and build a system out of temporary assets, you will multiply the amount of time at your disposal.

Driving without a license plate is a pretty extreme way to save time. But it’s also a level of strategic thinking that we rarely get to. And it works not only for Steve Jobs, but also for us.

Temporary debts have to be repaid, so choose them carefully. Temporary assets are profitable – try to spend more time creating them.

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