How 7 Successful Entrepreneurs Find Focus

Whether you're managing a company or just your daily life, these successful entrepreneurs have great advice for cutting through the chaos.

It happens every day. Wherever you go, anything you look at, every noise you hear is another piece of information fighting for your attention. How do you block out the noises that don’t matter in order to focus on the ones that do?

This is no easy task, especially when every ping is another temptation to pull your mind away. Entrepreneurs who want to think outside the box are constantly exploring different creative avenues in hopes of finding a strategy that will get them closer to their next “aha” moment.

We ask the several successful entrepreneurs to reveal their secrets to blocking out the noise and pushing their minds to think even more creatively than they normally do.

REIMAGINE THE SCENE

Julia Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite

“When I'm trying to block out the noise and create space for creative ideas, I'll often go in a room on my own or pull a few Britelings [Eventbrite employees] into a room and do a spontaneous blank canvas exercise where we reimagine whatever it is we're trying to create in a way that has never been done before,” Hartz tells Fast Company.

“It takes the right type of thinker and mindset to get into that mode quickly but when it works, it's pretty incredible what you can quickly conjure up. A lot of times we're reimagining how to create a unique way of doing something at the company that doesn't stifle the organic nature of what we've built at Eventbrite.”

REMOVE YOURSELF FROM YOUR USUAL WORK ENVIRONMENT

Mark Bakacs, co-founder of Ideapod

“My most creative time is when I’m completely removed from my usual work environment. It’s the ability to connect with something bigger than your immediate situation,” says Bakacs. “It’s not thinking. It’s actually the opposite of thinking. I find that when I let go of thoughts, especially the habitual thoughts that you’re used to thinking every day, that’s when new ideas can come.”

“We’re surrounded by noise … people feel like they need to know so much. It’s like you’re not doing your job unless you know everything about your industry, unless you’re up-to-date with the latest,” he says. “But when you’re creating the latest, you just have to be up-to-date with yourself.”

Every once in awhile, Bakacs will travel to be closer with nature in order to rejuvenate his mind and think more clearly. During his most recent trip to the rainforest in Brazil, Bakacs spent some time with a shaman he met several years ago.

“Where I felt he was useful is that he gave me--through his work--an experience of myself,” says Bakacs. “I think that you hear so much about how inspiration comes from within. I think that’s really true. If you’re not connected to a part of yourself from within, then what you’re going to get is not inspiration. It’s going to be some form of imitation.”

GET SOME ALONE TIME AND STAY ON THE GO

Katie Rae, managing director of TechStarsBoston and founder of Project 11

Named one of our Most Creative People in 2013, Rae reveals that she stays on the go whenever she needs to think outside the box.

“My big way to tune out everything else is that I need to move,” she tells Fast Company. “I need things to move very fast so that I can think. So I ride my bike, go on a run, go in a car by myself and drive for hours.”

“I use a tape recorder to tape my thoughts. Some people are naturally writers. I’m naturally a talker. In these moments, I just let things flow. I’ve got to get alone and moving.”

During more desperate times, if Rae needs a desperate measure, she will force herself to do a public talk on whatever topic she’s thinking about.

“If I really have to come to a decision on my thoughts or a synthesis, there’s nothing like being overly embarrassed in front of others,” she says. “I will literally say ‘yes’ to any speaking engagement.”

Rae explains that she uses the experience as sort of a workshop where she can share what she’s thinking and see how people react. She then uses the audience responses to make a decision.

GET ON A PLANE AND FAR AWAY FROM ANY DISTRACTIONS

Amber Valletta, model, actress, and founder of Master & Muse

“I get really creative on airplanes. I find that being away from my phone and being up in the clouds gives me great time and distance to feel inspired again.”

If she needs to get her team inspired at Master & Muse, Valletta says the group will participate in word games or have creative writing sessions based on single words to get the mind flowing freely.

START EARLY FOR CONCENTRATION AND USE THE “CAFE EFFECT” WHEN YOU NEED BACKGROUND NOISE

Scott Adams, creator of [i]Dilbert comic strip[/i]

When he needs to block out distractions for nose-down concentration, Adams says he starts at 5 a.m. before the day overwhelms him.

“In the afternoons I take advantage of the ‘cafe effect’ which involves the recent discovery that people concentrate better when there is human background noise, so long as they can't make out specific conversations.”

To do this, Adams goes to his local coffee shop.

“When I owned a restaurant, I wrote one entire book during lunches while sitting in a booth with my laptop. The noise really helped. That was before studies confirmed that it helps.”

GET OUT OF YOUR OWN HEADSPACE

Catie Lazarus, creator of "Employee of the Month" podcast

“My dad always told me that when you’re handed a test, put your pencil down and don’t write a thing,” says Lazarus.

Her dad’s wisdom reminds her to take a moment to think, pause, and reflect every time she needs to make an important business decision.

“I’m someone who happily blurts things out, but when I need to think creatively, I shut down and get off the grid,” which usually includes meditating, sitting still, and not taking phone calls.

To mentally tune people out when she can’t physically distance herself, Lazarus tells Fast Company that she puts on headphones even when she’s not listening to anything.

“That way, people don’t bother you. I definitely do that in the office.”

SHOWER, RUN, WALK … AND MAYBE A PLANE OR TRAIN RIDE

Rachel Sklar, co-founder of Change the Ratio and The Li.st

“When my brain can whirl without distraction, I can get some great stuff done. Shower, run, walk are my top places of inspiration,” she says. In fact, the “best thing” Sklar came up with in 2014 came to her during a walk around her downtown Manhattan neighborhood.

During these thinking sessions, she keeps her phone nearby to prevent any ideas from being lost in the flow.

Sklar says time and place constraints can also be really helpful when trying to get creative. “I love working on planes and trains for this reason. For me, the ideal creative bubble is the Amtrak ride between N.Y. and D.C. Love that trip.”

[Image: Flickr user Garry Knight]

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3 Comments

  • jimmyflyn031

    Go on a plane, go in a room, go on holiday, force yourself to do a public talk. I will suggest these to my boss when I'm lacking creativity and I'll let you know his response.

  • watsonb.pr

    Great article, Vivian! It was pretty cool to scroll down and see a former Grady College classmate as the writer. GO DAWGS!!!

    • Brittney Watson
  • Hi Vivian,

    Interesting post showing how others find focus. I know from personal experience that the cafe thing definitely works for some reason (as does driving).

    What I did notice is there does seem to be a general theme that we get most of our ideas and focus when we can't actually do anything about them. Some twisted trick of our subconscious? Or maybe by just letting go of the ability to be able to do anything actually frees the mind of expectation thus releasing flow? So always having something on hand to capture ideas is definitely the way to go.

    Keith