Overgrown hedges and gutters clogged with shingle debris and maple seeds. One email address that refuses to forward properly to another. The Mother’s Day card you need to write. Your chronically tight shoulders and chronically sore back. Unfiled sales tax forms, now with a surprise bonus… penalties!
I could go on, but I’ll stop before I discourage you. I know discouragement’s psychic weight all too well. The massive bulk of undone tasks threatens to smother you. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
You slouch into “What’s the point?” resignation rather than proactively pay down what I call “life debt.”
“Perfect” isn’t a luxury they have.
I first learned the concept of “technical debt” in my iOS app days. Perhaps one or two perfect pieces of software have ever existed. For a brief moment in time their code, logic, and functionality found perfect harmony. But most software products—99.99% of them—have bugs.
Sometimes the bugs trace back to weak architecture or sloppy coding. A human being made a wrong or short-sighted choice. Or perhaps a third-party component like a library, framework, or API was to blame.
For example, Apple might deprecate an iOS function. Before, you could write the code and cause the app to behave a certain way, but once deprecated, that function no longer… functions. By no fault of the developer, the app now misbehaves.
Whatever the root cause, whether a lack of expertise, foresight, skill, or maintenance, the sum total of minor bugs and major structural issues becomes technical debt.
Software is always trying to slide backwards into obsolescence, and software developers are trying to haul it up a muddy, slippery slope to a place of relative stability.
Technical debt is something to be wrangled and managed, not something to be vanquished.
For any piece of software to work for any length of time is like a plane flying. It is something to be marveled at. Always technical debt sucks at its performance, usability, and longevity the way gravity sucks at a plane’s mass.
What if you could finally…?
The idea of technical debt has stuck with me because I see its corollary in life debt.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners tell themselves that they could accomplish so much more if they had only a little more time.
What if you could disappear to a cabin for a week or two, one with a gigabit connection?
You could really crush through your backlog of high-level and strategic tasks. Maybe you’d update your operating budget (or finally create one). Maybe you’d dream and journal and sip coffee and listen to the birds and have the epiphany and finally grab your business model by the tail.
Some muse would deliver the crescendo missing from your symphony so that you could return to your team with the clarity, direction, and plan needed to 10x your revenues.
You could finally build out the team and remove yourself from day-to-day operations. You could finally take a real vacation.
You could start working out five or six days a week. You could get your health back. You would keep running appointments with a chiropractor and massage therapist. You could buy a new mattress and better shoes.
You’d start mornings more slowly, with tranquility and intentionality. You’d hire an executive coach. You’d waste more time with your kids, and you’d call your parents each week.
You would have the fiscal wherewithal to be more generous to everyone.
We make promises to ourselves that stem from an ideal future. That ideal future exists on the other side of some obstacle, some “If I could only” scenario that, once resolved, would clear a path to true prospering.
We fantasize about having enough time to be gifted leaders, attentive spouses and skilled lovers, wise parents with a twinkle in our eyes, gardeners and artists, accomplished chefs and brilliant strategists, people of profound faith and clear principles—whole people.
I’ve found that the pregnant opportunities in my calendar stay open only if I schedule and protect them with the same resolve and ferocity that I’d have if a bear went after my children.
Yet, scheduling is the smaller problem. The bigger one is this: My mind is often too encumbered with life debt to soar into the strategic. I’m tethered to my inbox, my phone, and everyone else’s needs.
Dozens of tiny, mundane tasks accrete over time like stalagmites.
Or perhaps a better analogy is plaque. Plaque clogs your arteries. It creates bottlenecks and chokepoints. It adds friction and raises blood pressure.
Life debt always accretes. It hinders our thinking. Left unchecked, unmanaged, it blocks the leap forward.
What is the remedy for life debt?
My remedy isn’t sexy or growth hack-y or Instagram-worthy. Sorry.
Software developers squash one bug at a time. That’s really the only choice that they have.
Sometimes, they must take a step back and acknowledge that the whole ship is sinking. The more prudent or cost-effective decision is to jump ship, not make repairs; or perhaps bail water on the one ship while their colleagues build a better one.
You cannot eliminate the entirety of your life debt on a Saturday. More leaks happen overnight.
The point isn’t a perfect, bug-free life but managed life debt. If you give up on the ideal future, then you activate yourself in the present. Fix leaks and remove small points of friction as soon as you notice them.
- Pay your bills on time.
- Email a photographer friend and schedule a time to get a new headshot (because you hate the old one so much).
- Launch your ugly website before you’re ready.
- Publish your first crappy blog post.
- Pay someone else to do your sales tax filings.
- Get the AC in your truck fixed.
- Save $50 per month toward a vacation.
Too much life debt affects your peace of mind, clarity, and ability to focus. So pay down a tiny sum of life debt each day. This simple habit will help you feel like the ship isn’t sinking. “At least EVERYTHING isn’t wrong,” you’ll think. “I fixed the newel post.”
Pay down your life debt. Strive for order before increase. Make your bed before you build your empire.