Are your employees as productive as they could be? What about you? Do you find there aren’t enough hours in the day for the things you need to accomplish? TruMethods CEO Gary Pica read your mind when planning the most recent Schnizzfest, then. One of the invited speakers to this year’s event, Dave Crenshaw, promised attendees he could increase the amount of time in their days by significant percentages.

Diagnosed with “off the charts” ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), Crenshaw says genetically most people do not fit the clinical ADHD description. However, technology today has made us all sufferers of SAS – Short Attention Span. He offered a host of tips to help get back your time and regain control over your schedule.

Crenshaw offered compelling numbers about how much time we waste each day by doing something we consider to make us more productive, not less.  Crenshaw says multitasking is a lie. By multitasking we lose our place and must refocus our attention. By doing this we lose productive time rather than gaining it.

Switchtasking kills productivity

And it’s an epidemic in today’s world. Smart phones, tablets, email, texts, in-person interruptions and more are chipping away at productivity. If you get to the office early or leave late just so you can have time to work without interruptions, you know what Crenshaw is talking about.

He cites the following figure: the average knowledge worker loses 28 percent of his or her day due to interruptions and recovery time from those interruptions. That costs U.S. economy $1 trillion a year. He cites a Microsoft study that found programmers needed 15 minutes to recover after being interrupted. And another that said knowledge workers are interrupted 11 times each hour.

Women are better

And yes, Crenshaw says, women ARE better at multitasking than men are. But they still lose significant time due to recovery from switching tasks. He calls it “switchtasking” rather than multitasking, and talks about switching costs, the costs of time lost while switching. When you switch from one thing to another, you lose productivity time.

But rather than waste too much more of your workday time on the introduction, here are some quick tips for executives gleaned from Crenshaw’s talk at Schnizzfest. If you want to go deeper, he has a book “The Myth of Multitasking” and a consulting business (you can hit him up on LinkedIn.)

Meanwhile, the following are some insights to help you today:

Don’t have an open door policy. Constant interruptions are bad for your productivity and you will tend to not give the person in your office your complete attention, which is bad for employee relations. Instead, have open office hours – designated times when people can come talk and when you will give them your complete attention.

Delegate the right way. Are you looking to move some tasks off your plate as your company grows? Don’t just hire someone and throw him or her in. First create the system. Then improve the system. Fix inefficiencies, use the best technology, find and fix points of failure. You need to standardize the process before you give it to someone else to do. Otherwise you won’t be satisfied with their work, you will fire them, you will take back the process, and no one will be happy. Here’s the right process, in the right order, for doing that.  Do it right and you will have more time for your most valuable activities such as negotiating high level accounts, mentoring and managing team, setting up high level processes. 

Never schedule your schedule more than two-thirds or one-half full.

Set realistic expectations of when you will get back to someone. Instead of saying in your voicemail that you will return their call as soon as possible (what does that mean? Probably something different to the caller than it does to you), give a definitive time frame for responding that you know you will hit.  Crenshaw calls this switching out of the “culture of now” to the “culture of when.”

Create a gatekeeper system. You should have a list with three columns for phone interruptions, Crenshaw said. Those in the “Yes” column are always put through immediately – spouse, children, a top client, a top manager – and this Yes list is a very short one.  Those in the “No” column are never sent straight through. Those in the “Maybe” column are ones the gatekeeper should screen and then ask whether to send them through. “The trouble comes when the gatekeeper doesn’t know which is which. And that leads to the next recommendation.

Document the system. “Most of you believe that the system exists the moment that you think of it,” said Crenshaw. “The truth is that the system does not exist until it’s documented, until it is written down.”  You need to tell your workers about the system and you need to document it so they can refer to it.

Few gathering points. A gathering point is an inbox, a pile on your desk, a filing cabinet, etc.  How many piles are on your desk?  Crenshaw said that the average person he works with in his consulting business has anywhere between 20 to 30 gathering points. The goal is to get that down to six or less.  And here’s why – the fewer gathering points you have, the less switching costs you will have, and so you will become more productive.

A clean mind. You need a spot to put ideas that you have so you don’t have to keep them in the front of your head. It can be a notebook, but if it is a notebook, make sure you use just one notebook at a time. Or you could use technology such as the Evernote app/system.

Finally, change comes from above. Crenshaw counsels that the knee jerk reaction of many business leaders is that they want to change everything in their business to fix switching costs. But the reality is that it’s better to change the CEO’s personal systems first. You can’t change the rest of the business until the CEO changes.

So those are the quick tips. And here’s one caveat to the switching costs rule. There’s a difference between switch tasking and background tasking. Your employees don’t need to watch an operating system load. They can start that process and do something else one while they wait. But you must be careful about what you choose for background tasking. It must be something mindless or mundane that is occurring in the background.

Are you the exception to the multitasking myth? Tell us about it in the comments.