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  • Writer's pictureJosh Wymore

1+1: Avoiding time debt + overwhelmed mistakes

Hey there! Here’s one leadership idea and one resource I’ve found beneficial this week:

A grapefruit sliced in half

1 idea: Avoiding time debt

When I was in middle school, my parents accidentally got themselves into $40,000 of credit card debt.

It all started with a fluke. My dad fell off a roof, injuring his neck and missing work for the next six months. As the bills kept coming and the income didn't, my parents tried to float the growing balances between their credit cards. They weren’t spending lavishly—we were always driving the Dodge Minivan from the previous decade—but the ridiculous compounding interest rates grew our balance to more than my family’s annual income. My parents were astonished when they finally sat down to assess how encumbered they were. How had this happened?

Maybe this has never happened to you with consumer debt, but I’m guessing you’ve seen it with your time. You wake up one morning and feel overwhelmed and overcommitted. You've said yes to too many activities. You're behind on too many projects. All of your time budget seems to be spent on work, with no discretionary time left over for the people or activities that are most important to you. You're making it, but barely. You often feel in over your head, and you're not sure how to get out.

My parents could have avoided all that debt if they’d had what financial guru Dave Ramsey calls an emergency fund—extra money in the bank to cover those unforeseen expenses. As simple as this idea sounds, 36% of Americans couldn’t cover an unpredicted expense of $400 or more. Only 44% could handle a $1,000 bill they weren’t expecting.

The same principle applies with our time. Because most of us are already overbooked, we have no margin for the unexpected. Our meetings are back-to-back. Our commutes are booked with phone calls or podcasts. Our nights and weekends are loaded with events and family activities. As a result, we get stressed out by unforeseen challenges or miss out on unrealized opportunities.

What keeps us from maintaining margin—“the space between our load and our limits,” as Richard Swenson puts it? As I look at myself and the leaders I coach, five commons reasons stand out.

First, we mistake busyness for success. We think being “busy” means you’re in-demand and that you must have lots of important things to do. These assumptions are necessarily true, but we believe them all the same.

Second, we have an unrealistic understanding of our own limits. We think we can do more than we actually can. We underestimate the amount of sleep or down time we really need. We think we’re still performing at a high level, but we’re not. We’re grumpy, dull, and shortsighted due to our lack of margin.

Third, we crave control. We’re afraid that if we delegate tasks to others, things will fall apart. If we don’t write that email, it won’t get done right. If we’re not at that meeting, something will get missed.

Fourth, we fear missing out. Why arrive early and wait when I could stay a few minutes longer and read a few more emails? If I don't have my kids in that activity, will they be behind their peers? Because we are afraid to say No to opportunities, we end up saying Yes to stress.

Lastly, we already feel so behind. We say, “It would be great to delegate this to someone else, but it would take more time to train them than to do it myself.” Unfortunately, that spare time to train someone never seems to come, so we stay buried in the hole we’ve dug for ourselves. 

What do you do if this is you?

That's the question I'll tackle in my next 1+1. My parents found a way to dig themselves out of financial debt, and if you find yourself in time debt, there's a path forward for you, too. But for now, just pause and assess your current debt load.


  • How much space is there between your load and your limits?

  • What keeps you from maintaining more margin with your time?

  • How much margin would you need to be at your best?

1 resource: Overwhelmed mistakes

In an ideal world, getting overwhelmed would trigger us to step back and reconsider our approach. Unfortunately though, we often make some of our worst decisions when we find ourselves in a hole. As Alice Boyes explains in her Harvard Business Review article "5 Mistakes We Make When We’re Overwhelmed," the decisions we actually need to make can often be counter-intuitive in the moment.


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