An Interview With Dave Crenshaw

Author, Speaker & Entrepreneur

Interview-with-Dave-CrenshawAs each new year approaches, millions of people vow to finally tackle time management. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be more productive and find success this year.

Meet Dave Crenshaw, who is a master at helping people. Dave helps everyone, from business owners to busy moms, triumph over chaos. He has appeared in Time magazine, FastCompany, USA Today, and the BBC News. His first book, The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing It All’ Gets Nothing Done, has been published in six languages and is a time management best seller.

His latest book, The Focused Business: How Entrepreneurs Can Triumph Over Chaos, is also a small business best seller. As an author, speaker, and business coach, Dave has transformed the professional and personal lives of millions of people worldwide. His new online course, Time Management Fundamentals, will help even more people create order and recapture their lives.


1) In The Focused Business: How Entrepreneurs Can Triumph Over Chaos, you mention that “business success breeds business chaos”. How do most organizations handle chaos? Is it the one factor they largely overlook?

First, I should clarify what I mean by chaos because many people have different definitions. Chaos, by my definition, is the haphazard allocation of resources toward things of variable value.

How you often see that in an organization is that people are working hard, and occasionally they’re working smart. But they’re doing it a little bit here, a little bit there. They’re allocating their resources, in terms of time and money, all over the place.

I do believe that it’s often overlooked because people feel like they’re successful while in the midst of chaos. That is the definition: you get good results sometimes, but sometimes you don’t. Yet we interpret the occasional good result as an indication that we’re working the right way, when in fact, it’s just another indicator that we may be chaotic.

The key is to replace chaos with focus. Focus, by my definition, is similar to chaos but the differences are critical. Focus is the strategic allocation of resources toward that which is of most value. In other words, when we work, we work on only things that have the best payoff in terms of time, money, and well-being. Focus leads to consistent, steady growth. Chaos leads to a roller coaster ride, one which many organizations fail to survive.


2) How does chaos (by your definition) lead to overall business failure?

Chaos leads to business failure because it causes an “all over the place” expenditure of energy, and time, and money. It doesn’t lead to an immediate death. Few businesses fail overnight. What most often happens is that they slowly work themselves into the point of failure.

One of the best examples that I can give of this is when a business that sells its way into bankruptcy. What do I mean by that? I mean that they go out and put so much emphasis on the top line, and they sell, sell, sell. But if they’re selling things that aren’t profitable, the bottom line continues to bleed money for every item that they sell.

This is chaos incarnate. No one took the time to focus strategically on what to sell, how to sell it, or how to deliver it profitably. They just ran with it—an entrepreneurial lemming diving off of a cliff.


3) You’ve been extremely public about having ADHD, but it hasn’t stopped you from becoming successful. Do you have any advice for others that struggle with ADHD?

The first thing that I would say if someone thinks that they have ADHD, I would recommend that they go to both a licensed clinical psychologist and a medical psychiatrist. Also, do not go to someone who says that they’re an expert in ADD, ADHD…everything looks like a nail when you’re a hammer.

Get an official diagnosis if you suspect it. This is because genetically speaking, most people don’t have this condition. Most people instead have a learned behavior, and the way in which you address these problems is often different.

Most people have conditioned themselves through years of constant interruptions and stimulus to behave as if they have ADHD. They have what I call SASS: Short Attention Span Syndrome. Because SASS is a learned behavior, it can be unlearned through conditioning.

If it turns out that you indeed have ADHD, then it becomes a question of functionality. I have a brother-in-law who’s a psychiatrist, and he says, “When it comes to medication—the first question I ask is how functional are you. Are you able to have a fairly normal life in spite of this condition? If so, medication is probably not necessary. Instead, you may just need to change your lifestyle.”

I find that my training program, Time Management Fundamentals, is a powerful tool in helping people re-pattern their behavior. It works very well for people who either have mild ADHD or who have SASS.

If, however, you’re not functional, if it gets in the way of you being able to operate on a daily basis, or damages critical relationships in your life, then it may be necessary to get some medical help to level the playing field. Once you get that help, it will make it easier to follow through on a course like Time Management Fundamentals.


4) Most entrepreneurs steer clear of mentioning faith and business together. However, you believe you can use principles of faith in your business. How did you personally integrate faith into your business principles?

This is an interesting question, and the first thing that I should say is that I consciously make a choice not to talk about my personal faith when it comes to business. I come from a perspective of teaching principles in a universal way possible and I speak around the world to people of a variety of faiths, and beliefs, and backgrounds.

However, I have found that regardless of your personal beliefs, there are a few principles that apply to anyone when it comes to being successful as an entrepreneur.

Number one is the principle of having a sacred day. So many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of working constantly. But that’s not helpful for your or the business. Instead, you want to at least have one day a week where you’re not touching work in any way. That allows you to recharge your batteries and be more focused for the coming week.

Number two is the principle of giving freely. This means that you donate time and money to charitable causes. I have found that when entrepreneurs make this kind of donations, they always come back and repay the business in return. My business personally supports Defy Ventures, which teaches entrepreneurship to former convicts and helps them transform the hustle of the street and turn it into legitimate businesses. I am passionate about that cause.

The third principle is of sacrifice.  And when I say sacrifice, I mean the idea of giving up something good for something better. In an essence, that is what entrepreneurship is. It’s the constant sacrifice of time or money to obtain something in the future that is better, or something that makes the world a better place. And I believe that sacrifice is something that guides the best entrepreneurs.


5) How do you see the role of technology in helping unfocused entrepreneurs succeed?

Technology that is neither the problem or the solution. It’s the use of technology—or improper use—that matters most. This is why I steer away from recommending particular apps or tools.

Too many entrepreneurs fall into what I call “app addiction”. It’s the idea that if I get this new app, can you tell me the latest, greatest program that came out that will help me be productive? That idea is a trap. If you use a new tool in the same way you used old ones, because the fundamental principle didn’t change, you’ll likely get the same results.

Instead, you want to focus on living true principles that would help you get the most from technology. For example, one principle is the idea of reducing interruptions. You could do this by turning off notifications. Rather than having your phone or your apps check you, you check them on a schedule. This will help you be more productive and get more done.

Technology can certainly help us succeed. But we have to use it wisely and appropriately.


6) Many of our readers are still in the startup phase. How can these entrepreneurs apply your principles to their new businesses?

These principles are universal, and apply especially to people starting their business. If someone comes to me and ask me for advice when they’re just starting, I give them one word of advice. And the word is FOCUS.

Most new business owners practice what I call the chaotic business model. The chaotic business model is that they start with an idea. And the moment that they start to experience just a little bit of success, they immediately diversify.

Once I met one young entrepreneur who was selling ice cream. He was starting to have success selling ice cream on the streets of New York. And the moment he started to have success, he began talking about adding in apparel such as t-shirts and hats. I encouraged him to slow down and focus first on making sure that his ice cream was the best in the business.

That principle applies to any kind of business that you’re trying to start up.


7) You seem extremely comfortable in your role as a public speaker. Since public speaking is a huge fear for most people, do you have any advice for those entrepreneurs who now have to speak to large groups of people?

One concept I teach is the idea of skills versus traits. Traits are things that you’re inherently born with, while skills are things that you can learn.

It is a trait of mine to like public speaking. This has always been the case. I’ve always wanted to be up in front of people. I feel at my most comfortable when the audience is the largest.

Yet I know that public speaking is people’s greatest fear. As Jerry Seinfeld said it, people’s fear of death is number two, which means most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy.

So, keeping in mind that most people don’t have that freakish trait of wanting to speak publicly, I would say that practice is critical. Practice on audiences that have the least amount of risk associated with them. Rather than going out and immediately speaking to your chamber of Commerce, practice is with your employees, with your team. With your family. Practice by teaching them.

Teaching and training employees is one of the most neglected areas of a small business, which means this is a great opportunity. After practicing, you could ramp up by doing something like an interview or a podcast or simple videos.

By practicing regularly, that fear will start to disappear and you’ll develop the skill of speaking, even if you don’t possess the trait of naturally loving it.


8) If you time travel back to the day you started your company, what one piece of advice would you give yourself?

If I could travel back in time, I would smack myself across the face, and I would say, “Stop trying to take over the world.” I had delusions of grandeur at the beginning. While vision is good, vision must be tempered somewhat with reality.

My biggest problem was that I sought world domination. This caused me to expand too quickly. When I talked about the chaotic business model, I know exactly what I am speaking about because honestly that’s how my business failed initially. I diversified and expanded almost immediately after experiencing a little success.

A wise mentor once said to me, “The secret to success in business is to make sure that it’s your second time.” So, looking back, in addition to tempering my vision with reality, I would have allowed my business to fail sooner.


9) What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs today?

The biggest challenge is focus, especially as it relates to the use of time. In fact, I often say that time management itself is dead. The bigger challenge is focus management.

With entrepreneurs, that’s especially true.  Entrepreneurs suffer from opportunity addiction. And that they see opportunities around every corner.

Yet, the best entrepreneurs, the businesses that make the leap from being small to medium, and then even bigger, stay the course and are consistent for seven to ten years. This is the focused business model.

Sadly, most entrepreneurs are diversifying at around the two- to three-year mark. This is the chaotic business model, add the odds of its long term success are extremely low.


10) Sometimes the perception is that successful business people never make mistakes. What’s your biggest business mistake and the lesson you learned from it?

I already mentioned my overly aggressive expansion mistake, which is probably my biggest one. I’ll address another, though. It’s the mistake of chasing other people’s success. Often when we see in a model of success that someone else did, we try to copy it. I have been guilty of that in the past.

The problem with chasing the success of others is we are trying to copy what we see externally. But we don’t understand the inside, the systems, the development. We don’t understand the process a person took to get there. Additionally, what makes other people successful often in no way will make us successful because we do not have their traits, and their background, and the insight that they have.

One of my favorite books that unfortunately is out of print is, Getting Rich Your Own Way. The title alone is enough. It’s the idea that, rather than chasing what other people do, find your own path. Perhaps you’ll modify of someone else’s model, but do it in a way that plays to your strengths.

In the past, I tried to create a business model that was built on oft-promoted concepts of building a “sellable business.” Yet I had far more success building a royalty-based model, which is radically different than an asset-based sellable business. It took me a while to even get comfortable with the idea that I could have a successful business that wasn’t based on the archetype of business perfection that’s often held out in the world.


11) In your Time Management Fundamentals course, you bring up an interesting concept about the Bank of Time. Is it really possible to borrow time? What do you mean?

We often hear the phrase that “time is money.” Time is not always money. The time that I spend with my children and family, for instance, can’t even be compared or equated to dollars and cents.

What is true though is that time behaves like money. It is a scarce resource. And because it is a scare resource, whenever we borrow time, just like money, we must repay it with interest,

How do I borrow time? I can’t borrow time from someone else. But I can borrow it from myself. For instance, if I borrow from sleep to pay Netflix, I will have to repay that with interest. How?

The next day, my productivity is much slower. I may actually lose an hour or more of productivity due to the lost hour of sleep. Plus, I probably need to sleep an additional hour at some point in the week to make up for that.

Time demands a brutal interest rate, usually in the neighborhood of 50 to100 percent or more! Never borrow from essential activities to pay something else. Live a balanced time budget and underspend time instead. The paradox of the Bank of Time is that if you underspend your time a bit, you’ll actually get far more done.


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About Liesha Petrovich

Liesha is a small business owner of 20 years, host of Startup Savant, the owner of a karate dojo in Maine, and creator of Work Mobly. During free time she's with her family and working on a Doctorate in Entrepreneurship.