Learning to Manage the Madness

By Dave Crenshaw, an EO Speaker and president of Invaluable, Inc.

As every entrepreneur can attest, running a business brings with it a certain measure of madness. It’s an understood part of the entrepreneurial journey, but one that also affords innumerable opportunities for improved performance. In this interview, Dave Crenshaw, a best-selling author, speaker and business coach, offers tips on how to use chaos to transform your business.

What is the biggest contributor to chaos in a business, and how can entrepreneurs overcome it?

DC: “The biggest contributor to chaos in a small business is the entrepreneur’s own attention span. I call it ‘opportunity addiction.’ Most entrepreneurs have a gift to see opportunity where others see nothing, and this gift makes them successful. Chaos arises when entrepreneurs don’t rein in that power, but instead pursue too many opportunities while bringing only a few of them to fruition. As business owners, we must learn how to harness this power or we risk being destroyed by it.

“We can harness this power by choosing what is most valuable, and then redirecting that entrepreneurial energy into one area. For instance, if my business sells water, I want to become the master of water. Before going out and diversifying into soda and other drinks, I might ask, ‘What opportunities are we not yet taking advantage of in terms of increasing our market share, improving customer loyalty or improving the way that we’re marketing?’

“Focused entrepreneurs innovate within one chosen area; they take what is most profitable and make it even more profitable. Channel that energy into improving your highest performer, rather than spreading your effort into myriad random low performers. In other words, the solution is to go deep rather than wide. Master one thing,  and then move to the next item on your list.”

What should every entrepreneur know regarding the role of chaos in business?

DC: “Don’t fall for ‘the Con’ of small business ownership— the idea that sacrificing everything for your business success will be worth it in the end. The Con whispers that the effort, pain, sweat, tears, leveraging of credit, jeopardizing of health and damaging of relationships are worth it because, in the end, you’ll be able to cash out, sell your business, buy a sports team and retire to a private island. It’s a good long-term goal, but focusing on only the ultimate harvest— and ignoring everything else—is dangerous.

“Chaos creeps into the business when you lose sight of the fact that being a business owner can be worth it now. You can build a life that gives you rewards for owning your business today, on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis and every year. These affordable investments of time and money are what I call ‘mini-harvests.’ For instance, take a break each day to enjoy a hobby— something far too many entrepreneurs have neglected. If you’re married, make sure you go on a date with your spouse every week. These are the little things that, if given consistent attention, can keep your life and business balanced, while protecting you from chaos.”

How does multitasking factor into the cycle of chaos most entrepreneurs experience?

DC: “Simply put, multitasking just does not exist. Your brain is not able to handle multiple, active tasks at the same time, which is why in my book, The Myth of Multitasking, I redefine it into two categories: ‘switchtasking’ and ‘background tasking.’ Switchtasking is when you attempt to do multiple tasks at the same time that require effort and attention. An example of switchtasking would be if you’re on a conference call while trying to answer email. Switchtasking always makes the completion of tasks take longer, decreases the quality of work and increases stress levels.

“Background tasking is when something mindless or mundane occurs in the background. For example, you start your printer working on a large print job while you have a conversation with an employee. Background tasking can be productive because time is being used effectively without attention switches. The question you want to answer as to whether multitasking is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in a particular situation, is: ‘Is this switchtasking or is this background tasking?’ If it’s switchtasking, it’s neither efficient nor effective. If it’s background tasking, it can be both highly efficient and highly effective.”

Dave Crenshaw (pictured) is the president of Invaluable, Inc., and the author of two best-selling books: The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done, and The Focused Business: How Entrepreneurs Can Triumph Over Chaos. Dave last spoke at an EO San Antonio event in March, and can be reached at dave.c@davecrenshaw.com.

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