Dave Crenshaw, Interview with the Author of ‘The Myth of Multitasking’ and Other Best-Selling Books




Wow, 100 episodes of my podcast since 2006! For this episode, I'm thankful to have the author of one of my favorite books in the last two years – Dave Crenshaw, author of The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done, a book I blogged about back in 2009.

Dave's new book is called Invaluable: The Secret to Becoming Irreplaceable, a book I'm hoping to read soon.

In this podcast, Dave and I talk about so-called multitasking – why are we so tempted to do it, what are the costs of this switching back and forth between tasks, and what are some alternatives for individuals and for organizations?

Dave received his B.S. in business management-entrepreneurship from Brigham Young University, one of the nation's top entrepreneur programs, and began his coaching career in 1998. Dave is the President of the National Association of Productivity Coaches. He is also the founder of Invaluable Inc., a coaching and training corporation dedicated to helping companies, their leaders, and their employees become truly invaluable. You can read Dave's full bio here.

To point others to this, use the simple URL: www.leanblog.org/100.

For earlier episodes, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS or via Apple Podcasts.

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

Automated Transcript:

Announcer (1s):
Welcome to the Lean Blog podcast. Visit our website@www.leanblog.org. Now, here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (12s):
Hi, this is Mark Graban. Welcome to episode number 100 of the Lean Blog podcast for October 18th, 2010. I hardly believe it's been 100 episodes since July of 2006. I wanna definitely thank you for listening. If you are a regular longtime listener, if you've just discovered the podcast episodes, I've certainly been really honored to be able to bring a lot of interesting people to you. I enjoy talking to the people I interview, and I'm happy I get to share it with you. If you are new to the podcast, you can subscribe in iTunes. You can access all 100 episodes.

Mark Graban (52s):
You can go to leanpodcast.org. You can listen to them online, you can download them to your iPod, or whatever way you prefer to listen to these. If you have any feedback, you can do so leanpodcast.org. Well, my guest today is someone I've been wanting to talk to for a really long time. He is Dave Crenshaw, and he has appeared in Time Magazine in Forbes. He's given fun and fascinating interviews on radio and TV stations across North America. And now here he is on my little podcast, so I appreciate that. He is the president of the National Association of Productivity Coaches in his first book, the one that I've read and blogged about, and we're gonna be talking about today, a really nice little book called The Myth of Multitasking, how Doing It All Gets Nothing Done.

Mark Graban (1m 42s):
It's been published in six languages, and it is a time management bestseller. And his latest book that's out is called Invaluable, the Secret to Becoming Irreplaceable. And it's available in all major bookstores. It is already a motivation and organizational behavior bestseller, so he can find more about dave@davecrenshaw.com. So here he is. Well, I want to thank our guest, Dave Crenshaw, for being here on the podcast. Thanks for taking time out today.

Dave Crenshaw (2m 11s):
Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me on, Mark. It's an honor

Mark Graban (2m 14s):
If you could introduce yourself to my audience, a little bit about your background and what led you to write this book about multitasking or the problems therein.

Dave Crenshaw (2m 22s):
Sure. Well, my background is in business coaching. That's where I started in, in particular, working with entrepreneurs, small business owners, and as a group, they are probably more prone to multitask than anyone. And part of the reason for that is that they have so many job descriptions. They don't have just two or three job descriptions. They've got 10 or 12 or more. And that really created a situation for my clients where they were jumping back and forth all the time, and it, it was my background in, in systems that led me to want to help them with that. So first I developed a program to help them stop multitasking and to start getting more time.

Dave Crenshaw (3m 7s):
And then I always knew that I wanted to write a book. And after working with clients for so long, I realized I just had so many stories and so many experiences from working with them that it was very, very easy for me to sit down and create a book that sort of represented the combined experiences of the clients that I worked

Mark Graban (3m 26s):
With. And now, when you say you have a background in systems, do you mean computer systems or, or what type of systems?

Dave Crenshaw (3m 32s):
Yeah, sure. I mean, processes, business processes, how things operate, you know, having step-by-step procedures. Most small businesses, new emerging businesses lack those sort of systems or processes. And so that was my job, is to train people on developing those. And, and as I talk about my, in my book, the Myth of Multitasking, what I learned is that businesses need to have systems, but the individuals working in them need to have systems as well. Their, their personal systems, how they handle their calendar, their voicemail, their faxes, the the disorganization or organization on their desk, the ideas that come into their head, what is their process for dealing with those things on a very personal individual level?

Dave Crenshaw (4m 21s):
And, and so that's really what I addressed both in the training that I developed and then later the book.

Mark Graban (4m 28s):
Yeah, professionals and, and people who think that they're high productivity people find it really tempting to be multitasking. I I'll admit at times, even though I'm not multitasking now that good I am, I am sometimes bad about that. Why would you say it's, why do we tend to fall into that temptation and why do you find that it's not a productivity booster, that it ends up wasting and costing time?

Dave Crenshaw (4m 56s):
Well, sure, those are two different questions. I'll start with the first one. Why is it that people do it so much? And I would say do it so much in spite of, there's been a lot of press recently. I I'd say more in the last four to five years than there have been ever about the dangers of multitasking, yet people continue to engage in it. And really, it's a cultural acceptance of it. I mean, even just recently, I was watching TV and I saw a police Officer u using a cell phone, not even a hands-free cell phone, a cell phone, while driving in the car. And, and when I saw that, it reminded me of the old movies and the old TV shows where you'd see people lighting up and puffing away on their cigarettes all the time.

Dave Crenshaw (5m 40s):
Now, now you don't see that anymore in the movies and TVs because we've learned that that's not healthy. It's, it's become not culturally acceptable. But we're not at that point with multitasking yet. We see images of it all the time. We see commercials with it. We see resumes asking for good multitaskers and all of these things. Really, it's, it's just sort of a part of our culture. And where I come from, mark, is that I'm not the expert in multitasking. There are people with, you know, doctorates who are, you know, very capable researchers who know a whole lot more about it than I do, but I am the evangelist.

Dave Crenshaw (6m 23s):
I'm the person that's out in front saying, okay, the research is there, but we need to stop, do it. So, so my my message is really to stop that cultural acceptance and start to bring in a new culture of it being culturally unacceptable to multitask.

Mark Graban (6m 40s):
So the second question, what's what's the, the research or the, the, the studies or the data around multitasking not working? How, how is that, would you say, proven as opposed to being an opinion?

Dave Crenshaw (6m 52s):
Sure. Well, there are lots of researchers out there, uc, Irvine, university of Utah in my backyard, Vanderbilt, even Basics research, which is a corporate research company. And the consensus is your brain is not able to handle multiple f active tasks at the same time. And I'm putting active a as a, as a strong word, meaning if you have to pay attention to something to accomplish it, if you have to think about it. And if you're trying to do two of those or more at the same time, then you are multitasking or, I, I prefer to use the word switch tasking, because what's happening is you're switching back and forth rapidly between those tasks.

Dave Crenshaw (7m 39s):
And there are lots of different things that they call this, but I prefer to use the word switching cost, which is usually an economic or finance term. And switching cost refers to the transition time mentally, emotionally, physically, even financially. That happens when you switch back and forth between two different things. Well, when you, when you multitask in your day, when you switch task back and forth, you're incurring lots and lots of little switching costs that add up to a whole big loss of time. And I mentioned BaseX research before they found that the average knowledge worker loses 28% of their day due to interruptions and the recovery time associated with interruptions.

Dave Crenshaw (8m 26s):
Those are, that's their phrase. I prefer to use switches and switching costs, but it's the same thing. And my, you know, I'm entrepreneurial in nature, so my research comes from the school of hard knocks and field experience, and my field experience shows that that number is dead accurate. It's about a quarter or more of your time is lost. That is an entire work week, every single month. That is a huge, huge loss in productivity for every knowledge worker.

Mark Graban (9m 1s):
And those interruptions would include things like email and other technology, dude, adss that we all have. I mean, do you, there there's some tips that you have in terms of trying to help manage or reduce those interruptions. Is it the technology, is it the work culture that you're a part of? What, what do you recommend practically speaking to people?

Dave Crenshaw (9m 20s):
Well, there are two different kinds of switches that take place. There are active switches and passive switches. Active switches are the ones that you initiate. That's where you are interrupting yourself in the middle of working something on something. And usually that comes because some thought pops into your head, right? You're working on a project and a and you think, oh my gosh, I forgot to make a payment. And so you quickly get online and go to a bill paying service and try to pay a bill. Well, that switch interrupted your workday. Then there are passive switches. Those are the switches that come at you without you, you know, necessarily asking for them. So a lot of those are the technology, you know, text messages, email calls coming in, and even the non-technology, someone knocking on your door and saying, excuse me, I've got just a, a quick question, right?

Dave Crenshaw (10m 13s):
It's the dreaded double Q and, and those little things add up to a, a, a big loss. In fact, here are two studies that you, you put them side by side and they're, they're really illustrative of the problem. Microsoft did a study among its employees in the programming field and found that the average programmer took 15 minutes to recover back to serious mental work when interrupted. Now, you couple that with another study by uc, Irvine that said the average knowledge worker can only work 11 minutes until they're interrupted.

Dave Crenshaw (10m 55s):
And pretty soon you realize when is the work getting done? Right? You know, that's where that feeling comes at the end of the day where you put your feet up on the couch, you're tired, you say, oh my gosh, I've been working so hard. And maybe your spouse comes to you and says, oh, what did you do today? And you kind of get this blank look on your face and say, I don't know, but I was working really hard. That's because you spent your whole day in switching cost and not really accomplishing much.

Mark Graban (11m 23s):
Now, you know, if an individual, what, what do you recommend to individuals that say, you know, I want to reduce my interruptions, but you know, maybe they're swimming upstream against the organization if they wanna say, I'm only gonna an answer email four times a day, but yet they've got a manager who is expecting that instant response, expecting interruptions. I mean, do you have to try to help influence managers and senior leaders in a business and organization that this is important?

Dave Crenshaw (11m 51s):
Well, yes, and that's part of the reason why I go to the cultural acceptance. You know, if your company adopts a culture of multitasking, then you are gonna have an uphill climb. Now, I, I have lots of of tips. I, I call them switch busters, things that you can implement in your day to minimize the number of interruptions. Things like having a one-to-one recurring meeting instead of asking all these little quick questions throughout the day. But if your manager or your boss does not have that mindset, if they don't understand or buy into the myth of multi the fact that multitasking is so damaging, they're gonna keep doing it.

Dave Crenshaw (12m 34s):
And so, you know, I guess it, it is self-serving, although it serves my clients as well to say, that's my job. Yeah, my job's to come in to change that culture. That's part of the reason why I wrote the book, is to convert the unconverted. And that's part of the reason why I go out and I speak to various companies, is to, you know, shock the system and say to everyone, wake up. This is hurting you. This is hurting your bottom line. It's not only hurting your bottom line, but it's also hurting your relationships and your work life balance. And here are some things we can do to change that.

Mark Graban (13m 6s):
Now in the book. And for people listening who haven't read it, it's written as a, a business novel or a fable. Is that a good way to to, to describe it and the

Dave Crenshaw (13m 16s):
Yeah, fables, the, the common term, I just like to call it a story. It's

Mark Graban (13m 19s):
A story, yeah. And it's, you know, it's a real life workplace story. The character in the book, who I assume is, is sort of your surrogate, who is trying to coach and work with a female executive in, in working, working with her to see that the multitasking is harmful. The issue comes up, and this is an issue that comes up a lot. I work in healthcare where there's a ton of multitasking and my wife says the same thing, that women are better multitaskers than men. Your thoughts, or what does the research show on that?

Dave Crenshaw (13m 55s):
You know, there's, here's the thing, let's set gender aside for just a second. Because of switching cost. It doesn't matter whether I'm a man or a woman or whether I'm a teenager or I'm 80 years old. Whenever I switch back and forth between tasks, I will always be less effect effective, always be less efficient, I will always make more mistakes, and the likelihood of of increasing my stress will increase. So it's, it's really just a matter of math. Now, in my experience in going out and working with people, I would say that in general, women make switches faster than men.

Dave Crenshaw (14m 39s):
But that's a little like saying, I'm really good at riding a bicycle. The person doing one thing at a time is driving a car, and I don't care how, how well you can ride your bicycle. You know, it's, it's a bit, a little bit like saying women can ride bicycles faster than men can ride bass bicycles. O okay, but if I drive a car, I'm still gonna win the race. Does that make sense? Yeah. So, you know, and there there's various research, but usually the research that I see cited the most is, you know, a thing outta Duke in I think 1990 or thereabouts, that found that female rats tended to look at the bigger picture while male rats tended to be more single-minded.

Dave Crenshaw (15m 24s):
But in terms of multitasking, that doesn't bear anything out. And even the more recent studies that I've seen that aren't as highly publicized, really, again, just say the same thing, that even if you're a good, you know, quote unquote good multitasker, you're still being inefficient. You're still doing things slower than the person who does one thing at a time.

Mark Graban (15m 45s):
And so in, in the workplace context to minimize the switching costs, your recommendation would be to set up longer blocks of time in your schedule where you say, I am going to commit to this certain type of work for a period and then choose to switch as opposed to two minutes on this, four minutes on that back and forth all day long.

Dave Crenshaw (16m 3s):
Correct? Sure. Well, there are lots of, lots of different things that, that you can implement in your personal systems. I mean, definitely that would be one of them is to create what I call a time budget and to have a set time and a set place where you're working on certain activities. You know, the, I mentioned before, the one-to-one huddle, certainly turning off email notification, that sort of thing where it's, you are, you are taking control of technology instead of technology controlling you. Those sorts of things can make a big difference. And, and there are lots of other things that I go into really big, you know, in great depth when I take someone through a workshop or through my program where we're looking at how much time they're losing, looking for things, because that's a switch too, or how much time they're spending getting caught up in their own thoughts, you know, getting pulled away because they have all these to-dos floating around in their head.

Dave Crenshaw (17m 3s):
All of these are contributing to switching cost.

Mark Graban (17m 7s):
Well Dave, thank you for talking about the myth of multitasking. We're running short on time. Want to ask for a brief overview of your new book, invaluable, the Secret to Becoming Irreplaceable. I assume part of that secret maybe is to not multitask as much, but what, what are some of the other themes in your new book?

Dave Crenshaw (17m 29s):
Well, you know, multi myth, the Multitasking talks about how to get more time. And because of that, it really is fairly universal. I've had a lot of people outside of the corporate world who have enjoyed the book. Invaluable really focuses on how to get more, get paid more for your time. So not just that the time, not this, just that you're being more efficient, but that you're focused on your most valuable activities. And that's really what invaluable goes into is how to identify those most valuable activities, how to protect those activities. I would say even more important, how to create a relationship with your manager, with your boss, to make sure that you're helping them be in their most valuable activities in you and your most valuable activities.

Dave Crenshaw (18m 16s):
So the idea behind invaluable is to increase the value that you're delivering at work and thereby increase the, the pay and the benefits, you know, both intrinsic and, you know, just monetary that come from working

Mark Graban (18m 35s):
Well. And that's a message that seems to fit well for Lean Thinkers that are listening to this. The idea of providing value, doing so an efficient way sounds like a good message that I think people would be interested in reading. And so Dave Crenshaw, I wanna thank you for the time. Maybe final thought, if you can tell the listeners where they can find you online if they wanna learn more and

Dave Crenshaw (18m 56s):
Interact. Sure. The best place to go is invaluableinc.com. So invaluableinc.com. And, and we actually have different things that we offer you, depending on what your position is. So you can go there and, and, and learn about me there. And I would just, you know, close with the thought that you are in control, you're in control of your day, you're in control of your time, you're in control of your career. What really needs to happen is that you step out of si outside of what's taking place in your day and develop personal systems to take control over.

Dave Crenshaw (19m 43s):
You do not need to respond every single time the email beeps at you do. You don't have to respond every single time. The phone rings. You can get everything done. You can get it done in a timely manner, but you can be in control of that schedule. So that's the last thought that I would leave with you.

Mark Graban (20m 1s):
Okay. Well thank you Dave. Appreciate you joining us here on the podcast and telling us about your books.

Dave Crenshaw (20m 7s):
Thanks, Mark.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark – Congratulations on podcast #100! And what a perfect guest, as I became a myth of multi-tasking “evangelist” (Dave Crenshaw’s term) in early 2009 after having read Dave’s book.

    You are to be commended for the wide variety of podcast guests. You give those of us who choose to listen some great exposure to exceptional people and ideas. Just another avenue for me to expand my Lean knowledge. Thank you for all of your behind-the-scenes effort involved with producing your podcasts.

  2. Mark,

    Your tireless efforts to share & build knowledge within our community does not go unnoticed in the far flung reaches of the world.

    Thank you for introducing me to Podcasts in general, helping me learn via them & the value these have helped me contribute to my organisation.

    Keep ’em coming & can’t wait to listen to this one!


  3. Great podcast
    It was very interesting to hear that during multitasking we lose 28% of day by switching back and forth between tasks. It made me really think about my day. Sadly the number seems about right.

    The entire podcast was great. A lot of good information. Definitely worth a listen! Thanks Mark-

  4. I began listening to this podcast, at first, while trying to work on something else — that is, in a state of unconscious multitasking. However, I kept hearing Crenshaw talk about how multitasking actually decreases productivity, which made me very self conscious and convinced me to set what I was doing down in order to really listen to the podcast. I think I got much more out of it, by focusing. So maybe Crenshaw is right!

    • That’s very funny, Dan — it’s so tempting to multi-task and you realize you just lost what that podcast or TV show or person on the phone was saying. Thanks for admitting your lesson learned!

  5. The link to the MP3 of this episode appears to be broken. Other episodes appear fine. I’m heartbroken, because I’d really like some more ammunition for those people who insist they can do quality work on four different things at once.

    Thanks for the podcast, it’s always on my regular listening list.


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