5 Mind Hacks Silicon Valley Founders Use to Stay Focused

The people working hard on the technology that distracts know better than anybody the value of sustained concentration.
5 Mind Hacks Silicon Valley Founders Use to Stay Focused
Image credit: Yuri_Arcurs | Getty Images

Focus is the name of the game when it comes to getting ahead and staying ahead in Silicon Valley today.

Competition, constant pressure and a commitment to being the best all push Silicon Valley founders to find new ways to focus. Entrepreneurs, inventors, techies and dreamers experiment with everything -- from fasting to “smart drugs” to physical exercises to cognitive challenges -- in order to increase their concentration and daily output.

Related: This Founder Has a 5-Minute Secret Weapon That Helps Her Focus Every Day

If you want to be more innovative, mindful and efficient, consider the following five mind hacks favored by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

1. Wim Hof Method.

Dedicated to helping practitioners “become strong, happy and healthy,” this mind hack rests on three pillars -- cold therapy, deep breathing and commitment. Wim Hof Method enthusiasts believe the right combination of physical and mental work can increase energy and reduce stress, promote better sleep and enhanced creativity and heighten focus and performance while offering faster recovery from injury.

It all starts with breathing -- a lot of breathing. When you wake up in the morning, you take 30 to 40 deep breaths until you begin to feel light-headed. Then you exhale all of your air out and hold for as long as you can. Then you inhale and hold your breath -- again, as long as you can. After several rounds of this breathing and pausing, your body will begin to “buzz.” This can be revitalizing on a cellular level, creating more alkaline blood while reducing pain, increasing metabolism and decreasing inflammation. Some practitioners focus only on the breathing. After several sets of breath work, the second phase involves holding your breath and doing as many push-ups as you can. Following the intensity of the push-ups, you take a few yoga poses and stretches while breathing steadily. The last step is no one’s favorite, but fans swear by it -- a cold shower.

What happens next? The hormone epinephrine begins to course through the body, mobilizing both the body and mind while bolstering the immune system, burning fat and creating a sense of euphoria -- after you acclimate to the cold, of course. Ultimately, the system helps create a clear mind, pain-free body and a shift in energy and focus.

2. The Pomodoro Technique.

If you want to work with time, rather than against it, the Pomodoro Technique might be the ideal method for you. Another mind hack for focus, this time management technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo. He created the practice while studying in business school and launched it more widely several years later as a software entrepreneur struggling to manage. With a focus on eliminating burnout, reducing distractions and enhancing work/life balance, it encourages the use of a timer to break up work into intervals -- usually 25 minutes of work followed by a short break.

The work intervals are called “pomodoros” or tomatoes, in honor of the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo adopted as a study aid during college. The Pomodoro Technique has six steps:

  • Determine the task and commit to it.
  • Set the Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes.
  • Work without breaks of distraction until the timer buzzes.
  • When the timer rings, place a checkmark on a piece of paper.
  • If you have three checkmarks or less, take a short break of five minutes or less to relax, and then repeat steps 2-4.
  • After you record the fourth checkmark, take a longer break of up to 30 minutes, reset and begin again.

Related: 4 Ways to Focus Fiercely and Stress Less

3. Apps that focus on focus.

Apps such as StayFocused are intended to increase your productivity by decreasing wasted time -- the time you spend accidentally browsing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email and other apps that aren’t exactly intended for focus or productivity. You determine an allotted amount of time for being unproductive, and that’s it. Once your time is up, those sites are inaccessible for the rest of the day. You can choose to block entire sites, pages, content (video games and images, for example) and more. Check out this and other apps focused on productivity to prevent social media distraction.

4. Nootropics.

Can a supplement make you smarter? Devotees of nootropics, also known as smart drugs, believe that they can. Nootropics, comprised of dietary and herbal supplements, caffeine and other ingredients, are designed to increase focus, stamina and resilience as well as mental stimulation. “Noos” comes from the Greek word for “mind,” and the creators seek out ingredients that aren’t harmful or addictive.

Popular nootropics come in a lot of different forms. From Nootrobox’s “Go Cubes” (edible, caffeinated cubes) all the way to the more traditional OptiMind supplement by AlternaScript.

Fans swear by the mental boost they get from smart drugs as well as the increased ability to concentrate, multi-task and make good decisions. Skeptics caution that the drugs require greater study, including controlled trials and rigorous scientific research, to determine their long-term effects.

Related: 3 Simple Ways to Sharpen Your Mental Focus

5. Write it out.

When was the last time you took notes by hand? No tablet, no laptop, no screen. If the answer is “I don’t know” or “a long, long time ago,” it might be time to try out your handwriting skills again. Studies show that students who write instead of type have better recall and success when it comes to test-taking. Even if you’re past the age of final exams, you can still benefit from the art of writing -- which requires greater concentration and focus than typing -- to help you stay focused.

Wrapping up.

Distractions are everywhere -- online, in the cube next to you, out the window and in your head. The more you can manage distraction and turn daydreaming into focus and productivity, the more you will emulate Silicon Valley’s best and brightest.

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