2 counterintuitive time management tips from expert Dave Crenshaw

What’s a gathering point? It’s the thing that’s killing your productivity, explains time management expert Dave Crenshaw. Here’s how to get a handle on things.

Courtesy Dave Crenshaw

Dave Crenshaw is best known for declaring multitasking a lie in his book, “The Myth of Multitasking.” He is an author, time management expert, speaker, LinkedIn Learning instructor, and despite his success, has admitted to being “off the charts ADD.” His most recent book is “The Power of Having Fun.”

In an interview, he shared two of his biggest tips on time management with Ladders.


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1. Get rid of gathering points to regain concentration

“A gathering point is any place in your life where an unresolved task or item gathers,” Crenshaw told Ladders. At home, a gathering point could be the place you put your mail down but never really resolve or tidy up. But at work, gathering points tend to be digital or paper-related.

“For instance, if I had three different email accounts, in three different places, like a Yahoo, a Hotmail, and a Gmail, those are three different gathering points,” said Crenshaw. “Every gathering point that you add to your day represents multiple switches that are going to occur.”

A “switch” is a switch between tasks, which results in a loss of productivity – a form of multitasking, which Crenshaw frowns on.

Another example of a gathering point would be “lots of stacking trays on a desk that all represent different things.”

Every time you switch between tasks – between stacking trays, between email accounts, between piles of papers, “you make mistakes, things take longer, stress levels increase, there’s an increase in mistakes,” he said.

Crenshaw’s slightly scary-sounding solution? Consolidate all the gathering points so that there’s only one place to go to when you need to get things done. Combine your stacking trays, your email addresses, your paper piles.

This “reduces the attention switches,” said Crenshaw. “It’s a really interesting, almost paradox of time management.”

But doesn’t it just create a big mountain of impossible things?

“The reality is, the mountain was always there,” Crenshaw said. “The mountain didn’t go away by breaking it up into 20 different things… What we want to do is we want to have it in one spot, and then we need to budget enough time in your week to go through it. Just bring it all to zero.”

Crenshaw said that tackling the mountain might be difficult at first – “that might take 10 extra hours” – but there are rewards. Once you reach zero, he says, it’s all maintenance. “It’s going to be so much easier to stay on top of it on a weekly basis.”

2. Banish your to-do lists and break out the calendar

To-do lists have taken something of a beating lately, and Crenshaw is no fan.

“The interesting thing about the to-do list is it represents a lack of control,” he said. “It’s great because you’re keeping track of what needs to get done, but there’s no control on the calendar when it’s going to happen.”

“If you start using a calendar instead, you take control. You say, “Here’s what I need to do and this is when I have allotted the time to do it. So now you are the one in charge of the when. A to-do list is completely at the mercy of whatever else happens in your day.”

The other part of the problem with the to-do list, Crenshaw told Ladders, is that most people have a “time horizon” of just about two weeks.

A time horizon, he explained, is “how far into the future you feel you have enough time to get things done.”

People are unused to thinking far into the future – and therefore, most people’s line of thought is, “Can I get in done in the next two weeks?”

This is a stressful way to operate, putting us in a constant mindset that our to-do lists must get accomplished in two weeks. In fact, we have much more time to work with.

With a calendar, Crenshaw says, “you can open your time horizon up to two months or two years. Now, you feel so much more relaxed. There’s this feeling that people have that they don’t have enough time. The reality is, you have more than enough time.”

So basically, you could schedule that annoying task four weeks from now instead of cramming it into the next two weekends.

In fact, you absolutely should, said Crenshaw.

“What you want to do is procrastinate. I teach people positive procrastination. Negative procrastination is when you’re pushing something off because you don’t feel like doing it. Positive procrastination is you’re pushing something off because it’s more appropriate to do it later.”

Never looked at it like that? Neither had we.

“I encourage people to procrastinate as much as possible,” said Crenshaw.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.