Can Having Fun Improve Your Productivity? – with Dave Crenshaw

Steve: Welcome to all of our “Becoming Your Best” podcast listeners, wherever you might be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we have a terrific guest with us today. I’m so excited to be able to visit with him, especially about the subject that’s on the table. It’s a big one for all of us. It’s certainly one of the 12 habits of highly successful leaders, in terms of the process of becoming ourselves and making a difference. Our guest today, Dave Crenshaw, has helped and inspired many people on how to improve their lives. So welcome, Dave Crenshaw.

Dave: Thank you. Thank you very much, Steve. I’m glad to be here.

Steve: Well, we’re excited to have you. And before we get started today, I’d like to tell you a little about Dave’s background. He is a master of building productive leaders, which of course is something important to each one of us. He has appeared in “Time Magazine,” “USA Today,” “Fast Company,” and the “BBC News,” and his courses on LinkedIn Learning have received millions of views. He’s written three books and counting, including “The Myth of Multitasking,” which was published in six languages and it’s a time management bestseller. His fourth book, “The Power of Having Fun,” is due for release in September. And as an author, speaker and online instructor, Dave has transformed hundreds of thousands of business leaders worldwide. So Dave, we’re really looking forward to our discussion today.

Dave: Yeah. So am I.

Steve: Okay. Well, let’s get right into it. So Dave, tell us a little about your background, your story. What was your life like growing up, and what experiences helped you to see that you could make a difference?

Dave: Well, you know? It’s interesting. My background is really one of seeing…I started as an entrepreneur, but I grew up around entrepreneurs who were not successful. I call them “serial killer entrepreneurs.” And so that always, it was fascinating to me, the idea of being an entrepreneur, but there was also a lot of fear associated with it. And so I sort of made it my study to try and figure out why do businesses fail, how to help them succeed, that sort of thing. And so I began as a…I was a certified business coach when I was 23. I had not yet graduated from college, and I went to school right around the corner from where you’re at, at BYU.

Steve: All right.

Dave: And so I started working with business owners and what I saw, the biggest challenge that I saw with entrepreneurs was something that I struggled with myself, which was time management. It was a repeated problem. If you look at the average business owner, if you say, “What do you want?” the top two responses are either, A, “We want more sales,” or B, “I need more time.”

Steve: Mm-hmm.

Dave: And the problem is the time issue, even though it might be secondary, really feeds into everything else, because if you can’t follow through, if you can’t keep up with your calendar, you’re not going to get anything done. And it’s something that I experienced myself. I was diagnosed as being off the charts ADHD.

Steve: Hmm.

Dave: And so it was something that first, I really dove into and tried to help myself overcome. I looked at some of the greatest time management thinkers in history, everybody from Covey to David Allen, to Brian Tracy. And the one pattern that I saw among all of it, it was all great, but it was also too much. It was built by people who are what I call “focus masters,” they’re already inherently organized. It wasn’t built by a chaos master like me, someone who’s inherently disorganized. And so by first helping myself and then developing my own program to work with the most crazy, disorganized person in the world, then I was able to teach that to other people. So that’s sort of where my interest in both leadership and business started, and also my particular bent toward productivity.

Steve: Okay. That’s terrific. Well, I can’t wait to get that perspective as we get into our discussion because it’s really helpful for people, because we all do want to be able to get the most out of our time. We want to have balance. We want to be able to feel at peace and be doing the right things. Which taking a page out of your book of what helps an entrepreneur, well, it’s focusing on the right things because you can’t do everything. So this will be a fun discussion.

Now, just maybe one other thing that might help our listeners get a little better feel for you, would you mind sharing…It’s interesting that you bring up this dimension of seeing failures and that was one of the motivating factors that inspired you to say, “Hold it. How do we find things that help people be successful and overcome those?” So what’s been one of the biggest challenges that maybe you’ve had in life, whether your personal life or business life, and what did you learn from it and how did you overcome it?

Dave: Sure. Well, I mentioned their failures, but I had just as many myself.

Steve: Hmm.

Dave: And I mentioned the difference between a focus master and a chaos master. I view that as a continuum. On one side, you have people who are inherently organized and focused, and they’re able to stay on top of everything. And then on the other spectrum, you have people who their natural tendency is to create chaos and disorder wherever they go. You can be successful no matter where you are on the spectrum, but you need to understand where you’re at because each side has its strengths and weaknesses. And I was very much on the chaos master side of that spectrum. I still am, inherently.

You would not think it the way that I operate, but my wife can tell you I used to be a complete chaotic mess. You used to have to use a shovel to get from the front door of my office to my desk. On top of that, my career was in complete chaos. I was switching careers every year. And for several years, even after I’d become a business coach, I tried to be a rock star. I had a band for three years, while my wife supported me. And it was when I heard two words that I realized everything in my life needed to change and the two words were, “I’m pregnant.”

Steve: Mm.

Dave: And when I heard those two, I realized, “My gosh. There’s a life coming into this world and I’m going to have to provide for this life.” And so that’s where I went and sought psychological help, and realized that there were underlying issues that were causing this chaos. So first was understanding who I was and then next was, as I mentioned before, taking all of the best tools and then streamlining them. Everyone that’s listening to this has a unique gift, something that they do that makes them a unique leader.

Steve: Absolutely. Right.

Dave: Yeah. And one thing that makes me unique is my ability to synthesize and streamline. You give me a complex problem and I can break it apart, and then put it back together with 80% less pieces than before and it still works great. And that’s how I approached this issue, and so overcoming that challenge…I mean, really, you mentioned all the video views on LinkedIn Learning. The most popular course is Time Management Fundamentals. So me overcoming this biggest challenge has become the greatest strength to my career.

Steve: Okay. All right. Well, let’s dive right into your world then, especially since we’ve started talking about time and organization, and doing the right things. And these attitudes, our focus, our skills, our ability in this area does have a huge impact on virtually every area in our life. So let’s talk about some of the different things that you’ve been working on, the aspects of being effective and having fun in the process. So this seems like maybe an obvious question, but why should we have more fun? I know this is something you’ve talked about and it’s a big deal, but what’s the big deal here?

Dave: Yeah. So my next book is “The Power of Having Fun: How Meaningful Breaks Help You Get More Done.” On the surface, that sounds like it’s a book about happiness or stress management, and there are certainly aspects of that to it. But again, as I mentioned, I’m a productivity guy. I’m a time management guy. I’m approaching fun from the productivity mindset. And the one thing that I’ve seen over and over in coaching leaders all around the world, in working with people, in seeing them, is that when people forget to have fun, their productivity tanks. It just completely drops off the radar.

Instead, when we start to inject little moments of fun…And in the book, I call these “oases.” When you schedule a daily personal oasis to just take a little time to do something meaningless and fun…My personal oasis, I like to play video games. And when you take a little time prescheduled to do something like that, it dramatically boosts performance. There’s an increase in focus, there’s an increase in well-being, and there’s a decrease in the amount of time it takes to complete projects. So having fun is actually very serious business.

Steve: Okay. So I’m interested, is this from a personal observation? Has research supported that this kind of break actually makes you more productive? Or what kind of got you onto this pathway and pursuing this?

Dave: Well, as with all things that I do, it comes from personal observation initially. And so what I would see, for example, was a business owner who was working long hours and wasn’t taking proper times to provide breaks for himself. And then we scheduled time to do this, and not only did he end up working less hours, but he had a much more positive outlook about what he was doing. So first, personal observation. Then, when I go to create a book, I don’t want to rely just upon my observation. I want to back it up with research and look to see what’s been done.

So for instance, there was a massive study done by the Harvard Business Review and the Energy Project. And they worked with thousands of people in the workplace and found that when a supervisor encouraged team members to take regular breaks, and when I say “regular,” I’m talking at least every 90 minutes, employees were 81% more likely to stay with the company and had a 78% increase in their sense of healthiness and well-being. Additionally, they reported a 40% increase in creative thinking and a 28% improvement in focus. That’s just one of many studies and research experiments that have been done to show the impact of having fun in the workplace.

Steve: Okay. All right. Well, thanks. Thanks for that background on it. Now, let’s see. If the average person works, let’s say around eight hours a day, that’s 480 minutes. Every 90 minutes, we…

Dave: To 120.

Steve: Okay. All right. So somewhere in that range. So taking four to five breaks a day. And when have you found is the best time to schedule those in? What do they look like? What are the kind of things that they can do to have fun?

Dave: Sure.

Steve: And how long is the break?

Dave: Okay. A lot of questions there.

Steve: Yeah.

Dave: So first of all, let me explain why 90 to 120 minutes. This is based on the research by a noted sleep researcher named Nathaniel Kleitman. We’re all familiar with his work on the circadian rhythm, right? Most people have heard that, the sleep-rest-activity cycle within a day. But he also discovered the ultradian rhythm, and the ultradian rhythm are periods of time within a day. And each of us while we’re sleeping have optimal sleep periods and while we’re working, we also have optimal work periods, and this is usually between 90 and 120 minutes. And just as each person has a unique amount of sleep that they need, each person has a unique ultradian rhythm.

For instance, I worked with one manager, I was coaching him, and we started by experimenting with 90 minutes. And that’s my approach, by the way, Steven, is I ask people not to just take my word for it, but experiment. Try it. See what the result is for you.

Steve: Very good idea.

Dave: So he tried it with 90 minutes and he said, “You know what? I still feel like I have gas in the tank. Let’s push it to 120.” And then that was too much, and so we backed it up and found that his optimal spot was around 100 minutes. And what he chose to do for his work oasis, for his breaks, he’s into MMA, so he would do shadowboxing for his break.

Steve: MMA is, for our listeners?

Dave: Mixed martial arts.

Steve: Okay.

Dave: Okay? So that was his choice and that is the perspective that I’m coming from. In fact, a big part of the book is devoted to helping people rediscover what they used to do for fun. Too many people have forgotten that over time. They lost recess. Someone stole recess from them somewhere along the way.

Steve: Okay.

Dave: And so what we have to do is we have to rediscover what is interesting to you. And whether that’s video games, whether that’s going for a walk around the block, whether that’s shadowboxing, whatever it is, you can still get the same benefit from it as any other activity, as long as it’s something that you choose and is meaningful to you.

Steve: Okay. All right. Well, I think this helps our listeners. So how long should the breaks be?

Dave: About 10 to 20 minutes within the workday.

Steve: Okay. Ten to twenty minutes total during the workday?

Dave: No. Per.

Steve: Per. All right. So if you take five, that’s maybe an hour breaks, give or take. Maybe more, hour and a half. It seems like a lot.

Dave: Yeah. You’d probably total a maximum about an hour…

Steve: I mean, I’m a business owner here, Dave.

Dave: …within a day.

Steve: What’s that?

Dave: I would probably total maximum of an hour within a day, no more than that.

Steve: Okay. I’m just pushing back because I’m a business owner, and …

Dave: Yeah. Push back. Please do.

Steve: Yeah. And so I’m just thinking, “Boy, is it worth it?”

Dave: It’s absolutely worth it. So let me give you a different study to understand this principle. There was a study done called “The Role of Dopamine in Learning Memory and Performance in a Water Escape Test.” Now, that’s a mouthful, right? It was done at the University of Washington, and what they found…What they did was they had a set of mice that they allowed to experience dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical in your body that’s motivation-inducing. They had another set of mice where they did modifications so that they could not experience dopamine in the task that they were performing.

Steve: Okay.

Dave: And the ones that did not experience any dopamine, their times got worse and worse, and worse the more they persisted in the task. Rather than learning how to do what they were doing, they were getting slower at it. And the ones that were able to experience just a little morsel of dopamine within that experience were able to get better and better with their time. So what’s the translation? When you have people that are working and they push past that point of their ultradian rhythm, when they push past the point of exhaustion, of what I call the “desert,” and they’re just wandering and they’re tredging through it, you are getting diminishing returns over time.

I’ve found just from my field of research that typically companies, when they implement this, see an increase of about 5% to 10% in terms of productivity. Not lost productivity, gained productivity. And that doesn’t sound like much, but put this in perspective. Even if it’s half that, even if it’s just a 2% increase, that’s an entire work week of productivity every single year for every single employee that you have. It’s massive, the increase that you can get from this.

Steve: Okay. That’s great. Well, thank you for taking a little bit more time on that. Now, many people do get in ruts. You just talked about that, and you refer to those as “deserts.” So your language is “deserts” and “oasis.” So what are some of the metaphorical deserts that we can get trapped in…

Dave: Well, first …

Steve: …that affect this productivity?

Dave: Yeah. Let me define what a desert is. A desert is an extended period of depravation and/or chaos. It’s a time period where you’re just pushing through, hoping to make it to the other side. So common deserts can be retirement for a lot of people, right? “I’m just going to stick to it. I’m going to keep doing this job and eventually, someday, hopefully I’ll get out of it.” In fact, I call that the “culture of WISH,” “Worth it someday, hopefully…”

Steve: Okay.

Dave: “I’ll get the reward.” So there can be a retirement desert. There can be a family desert. I mean, I have three children. I love my children. But if you’ve been a parent, you understand that there are periods when you’re in extended chaos with your children, right? It’s just a mess.

Steve: Right.

Dave: And so you think, “Oh, when they’re out of the house, then everything’s going to be better.” Right? That also is a desert. Entrepreneurs experience it when they’re trying to grow their business and they’re thinking, “Well, when Google or Facebook, someone swoops in and cashes me out, then it will be worth it.” All of these deserts that we put ourselves in diminish our performance, wear us down, and help us get less done.

Steve: Okay. So you’re trying to help leaders and people generally get the landscape of managing time and doing the right things, and how do they maintain their highest levels of energy and focus. And so you’ve helped this by creating the metaphor of helping people recognize when they get in a desert, so they can see it’s happening…

Dave: Right.

Steve: …and how to get out of the desert. So they’re looking for an oasis, it sounds like.

Dave: They create their own oasis, and that’s the key.

Steve: Oh, okay. All right. Yeah. Let’s talk about that part then.

Dave: Yeah. Well, let’s take the first one I mentioned, the desert of retirement, which doesn’t apply to everyone, but I’m sure it applies to a lot of people. So they view their oasis as vacation, right? “I take a yearly vacation, a yearly vacation, a yearly vacation.” But really, all you’re doing is just creating lots of little deserts.

Steve: Huh.

Dave: Or pretty big deserts, really. It’s not much of a reward and it doesn’t speak to your brain. It’s not much of a dopamine fix. So instead, what you want to do is strategically plan out and preschedule a daily oasis, a weekly oasis, a monthly oasis, and a yearly oasis. And when you do that, what happens is you transition from that culture of WISH, “Worth it someday, hopefully,” to the culture of WIN, “Worth it now.” And you make every day worth it now. “It’s worth it now for me to do this work today because I know, because of the work that I did, I scheduled this time and I am going to have my oasis. I’m going to have my relief, my release.”

And when you think about the way most people approach it, they flip it backwards. They say, “Well, if I have time, if I do good work, then I get this. Then, I’ll deserve this.” If you’re wandering through the desert, is water something that you deserve?

Steve: Yeah. You need it. You require it.

Dave: You need it. It’s a necessity. It’s a requirement. And in the same way, we want to make these pockets of fun, these oases, top priority. Not necessarily the first thing that you do in the day, but the first thing that you schedule for every day. Because when you see that, it actually makes you work harder and it motivates you to do more. Now, that’s not very attractive. So what I do is I start with the fun side of it, because then everybody wants to have fun, right? But the dirty little secret of the book is I’m actually going to end up making you work harder. You just didn’t know that.

Steve: Okay. Well, that’s music to every leaders’ ears of how to help our people be at their optimal productivity.

Dave: Right.

Steve: And the things that make it hard for them. So you’ve talked about WIN and a culture of WISH.

Dave: Right.

Steve: So describe those acronyms one more time.

Dave: Sure. So the culture of WISH is “Worth it someday, hopefully.” I believe that is the epitome of a desert. If you have something that you’re doing and you go, “Well, someday, hopefully this is going to pay off,” you are in a desert. And instead, putting oases, prescheduling them, strategically choosing them, planning them out, putting them in your calendar, that is the culture of WIN. You’re making it worth it now. And by the way, I should say, not in a way that sacrifices future success. With all respect to Tim Ferriss, I’m not talking about the four-hour work week. I’m talking about the 40-hour work week that has pockets of fun.

You don’t have to leave your job for extended periods of time. No. You do your job, but you have prescheduled fun moments every single day, every single week. And not just for yourself, but for your family members as well.

Steve: Okay. Well, this is getting clearer and clearer. It’s very helpful to talk about it. And so what are some of the characteristics for creating really successful oases, so that they give you that kind of energy, so that when you’re done with these breaks during the day that you’re really ready to attack these other things, these things that really count?

Dave: It’s a great question and the answer may be surprising to you, and the answer is whatever works for you. And the reason why I say that is let’s look at this from the bigger picture of company culture. What a lot of leaders do when they say, “Oh, we need to have more fun in the workplace,” is they choose activities for everyone. “Let’s have a company golf day,” right? Well, that’s great for the 40% of the people in the company that love golf, but for everybody else that was demotivational.

Steve: Yeah. Right.

Dave: Instead, you want to foster an environment that allows people to choose for themselves. LinkedIn is a great example of this, and I’m very familiar with their company. I don’t work for them, but I contract with them and I know their culture very well, and it’s amazing. People love working there and they’re very happy, friendly, motivated people. The thing that they do is InDays, and InDays are the equivalent of what I would call a “monthly oasis.” Once a month, they have a designated day that is set aside for people to choose for themselves something that they’re going to do to take a break from work.

Now, they give them themes. Like one month it may be family or another month it may be giving back to the community, or something like that. So it gives a little bit of guidance, but then there’s a lot of latitude for every employee to choose for themselves what they’re going to do on that day. That’s how you do it, because then you’re inspiring people and empowering them to find things that are meaningful to them.

Steve: Okay. All right. That’s a good distinction, both as you apply it to your own life and your team or organization. Now, work-life balance is a big deal. It’s something that we talk about. So how can oases support a work-life balance approach. In other words, should you mix it up? Or how do you use this concept to also maintain your balance?

Dave: Yeah. It’s an interesting question and I do think that there’s power in work-life balance. I think just doing this is going to create that. I really emphasize oasis balance. And what I mean by that is there are three different types of oases, and we’ve really talked about two of them. One is the work oasis, taking the breaks at work. The other is the personal oasis, you taking breaks for yourself. And then there needs to be the family oasis, you taking breaks with the people who love you and you love the most. And you want to see a balance between all three of them, like a three-leg stool.

Steve: Okay.

Dave: That is what truly creates a feeling of worth it now, not just for you, but the people around you. So part of the process that I take people through in the book is understanding where you’re at, finding your Fun scorecard, so to speak, when it comes to all of these three areas, and then improving each of them so that there’s a balance across the board. Then, you’ll not only perform better at work, you’ll not only feel better about yourself, but the people who are supporting you will continue to support you, which by the way helps you perform better at work.

Steve: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, these really fit in with what we too, Dave, have observed that highly successful leaders do as they create a vision for life and set regularly annual goals. And then each week they take a moment, and through their roles they think about the things that matter most and then sketch them out. So this is a helpful discussion to think in those terms and to actually implement it, perhaps in a more energetic and useful way. So I’m always amazed at how fast time goes. Like we’re done. Our time is out. So before we end today, two things. One is any final tips or suggestions for our listeners?

Dave: Well, I would say let’s start with that Fun scorecard that I mentioned. You can get that online for free. If you go to, you’ll see a Fun scorecard. It’s the same 21-question scorecard that’s in the book, and that’ll help you understand where you’re at and which of those three oases needs your most attention. And the second thing is just take action. If there’s one thing that you heard from this that stood out to you as meaningful, schedule time in your calendar to do it and try the experiment out.

Steve: Yeah. So do it. Just give it a try. See how it goes.

Dave: Yes. Absolutely.

Steve: Yeah. Okay. Well, that’s great. All right. So how can our listeners learn more about what you’re doing? You’ve talked about your website. Let’s be sure we have our listeners know how to be able to get more information.

Dave: Okay. Well, as far as my website, my website is, Crenshaw with a C. And on that, I give out weekly tips. Like we have a little thing right now, where people ask me questions and each week I respond to a question from someone who’s been through one of my courses or read my books. So that’s a great place to connect with me. And then if you’re interested in the book, you can certainly go to We’ve got links to all the different places where the book is available and some extra goodies that you can get for getting the book.

Steve: Okay. Well, good luck on this new book, and I’m looking forward to also getting it and reviewing what we’ve discussed today. I’ll bet it’s going to be a great hit.

Dave: Well, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.

Steve: Yeah. You bet. Well, thank you, Dave Crenshaw, for being part of the show today. You’ve done a great job and we wish you and all those that work with you the best as you work to make a difference in people’s lives. And to all of our listeners, wherever you might be, one of the things we’ve been talking about is a Becoming Your Best leader is different than just being a leader. It’s set apart from others. It’s a different approach. It’s a can-do attitude. And a Becoming Your Best leader is not negative, is not pessimistic, doesn’t complain. What they do is that they work to achieve the seemingly impossible, and it’s these kind of things we’ve been talking about that give us the little edge that can make a difference.

So we wish each of you the best. I’m Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day.



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