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Are you or your business “time bankrupt?”

Time bankruptcy results from the deliberate over-commitment of core resources.

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You’d know the symptoms, if not the name.  You’re fighting to put out the fires from customer complaints, or incomplete work, or are suffering from an inability to focus upon new development or new customers before cleaning up the mess inside your organization.

I created the term “time bankruptcy” almost thirty years ago when the computer software business was young, and I was a software developer building a young company based upon quality first.  Asked to speak at software industry events, I found my voice and immediate audience understanding as I described variants of these problems to my audience. The insight became clearer as I was hired again and again to pick up the pieces of failed programming efforts by other software companies in this then young industry.

Here is one example:  You take on a new customer, customize programs or services as needed, and install perhaps an 80% completed system, product or service. The customer pays for all or at least 90% of the bill, perhaps holding back a retainer awaiting completion.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Burning through the payment and needing more to cover fixed overhead, you do the same partial task for the next 80% customer, moving on to the third.  About that time, the first would call asking for completion, firmly but politely.  The fourth installation was interrupted as the first customer suggested that he would stop giving glowing recommendations for you, insisting upon a completion date, while the second customer interrupted with its first call for completion.  By the fifth or sixth (who keeps count for these stories?), the first threatens suit, the second becomes demanding and the third makes that expected call for a completion date.  So, you stop work on the newest product or installation to complete unfinished work.  Revenues dry up while overhead continues to burn though your pockets.  It’s a classic case of time bankruptcy.  You have deliberately overcommitted your prime or core resources (in this case personal time) leading to a loss of income and reputation that you cannot easily recover.

The same story could be constructed for any company selecting a limited number of test customers for a new product. Select too many, and pay too little attention to each.  Commit all your core resources to solving the resulting problem, and new work stops.  Time bankruptcy. Not a pretty sight, and completely avoidable.

Be aware of this trap.  No-one but yourself can be blamed for allowing core resources to be overcommitted, even if by subordinates.  That’s because you now know the term and the impact of such an error in judgment, and understand that the simple but important remedy is to slow the commitment of those most critical resources to the front lines.

  • Completely true and evidence that TIME efficiency is just as important as CAPITAL efficiency. Everyone knows the key to success in real estate: Location, Location, Location. But how many focus on the key to success in startups: Focus, Focus, Focus. Relentless prioritization and learning to say NO to time vampires!

    We all have to improve our batting average in this area – including me!

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