How Richard Branson Started Over 400 Companies: The most powerful productivity (& confidence) hack of all time

On discovering the ultimate source of confidence & productivity…


Not long ago I attended an event with Sir Richard Branson and a bunch of other entrepreneurs. Something about his message and his presence brought clarity to a concept I’ve inherently known & practiced for years. Now that it’s clear, I’d like to share it.


It’s a topic I rarely write about, but it’s a huge part of every one of my days (often before I check an email, write my first sentence or even open my computer).



It’s the primary foundation of not only my own confidence and productivity, but that of almost every successful lifestyle entrepreneur and CEO on the planet.


“So, how do you get more done?”


Why is it that so many successful people seem to be able to do so much? How is it that the more accomplished the person, the more it seems they’re able to get done?


Shouldn’t it be the opposite?


How is a CEO of one company able to found another one on the side, while administering his charity and still taking the occasional family trip?


For years this has blown my mind. With how much effort it takes to do one thing well, I couldn’t imagine how people who seemed even ‘busier’ than me could produce magnitudes more results.


Then I figured it out.


Most Successful People Have One Thing in Common 


One day a handfull of people were on a small boat with Richard Branson heading out to his private island, Necker Island, for a few days (OK, maybe the boat wasn’t that small…). One of the guys on the boat asked something along the lines of “Richard, how can I be more productive?” Keep in mind, Richard is the founder and operator of a 400-company conglomerate. He also has dyslexia and a pretty piss poor academic track record.


Yet somehow, from space travel to deep sea exploration, to music and cell phones, this guy has literally been able to accomplish a bazillion times more than the average Joe. And he’s still only 61.


Hence, the crowd of boat passengers hung on the edge of their seat cushions in anticipation of what turned out to be an unbelievably simple answer…


Richard responded: “Work out.”

That was it.

And that has turned out to be the answer to so many seemingly ‘hard’ to solve problems:


How do I get more energy? Work out.
How do I get more confidence? Work out.
How do I keep from getting sick? Work out.
How do I find more time? Work out.
How do I stay focused? Work out.


And of course the obvious…


How do I look and feel better?


I’ll let you answer that one.


Most problems, and especially those related to motivation, come from inside ourselves – From our physical body and how much we do or do not respect it.


And Richard Branson is not the only one.


Look around you. Who are your idols and mentors? Who are the people who have absolutely crushed it in their industry? Open up the lastest edition of Forbes and check out the Forbes 400 richest men and women in the U.S. Look at our current and past Presidents. Look at Tony Robbins, Barack Obama, George Bush, Stephen Covey, Eckhart Tolle, Yvon Chouinard, Simon Sinek, Chip Conley, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Or even in the online world with Leo Babauta, Chris Guillebeau and Tim Ferriss, whom we talked about last week. The guys run marathons, constantly break their own records and push themselves physically almost daily.


And it has nothing to do with their actual business – at least not directly.


How many terribly overweight and unhealthy people do you see among the people who have knocked it out of the park – especially ones doing work they truly enjoy?


Sure there are some, but for the most part, the people who do well (by whatever measure) have realized that the more they respect their body, the better it will perform for them.


That is the holy grail.



Why is fitness so dam powerful?

For me everything comes back to fitness. Losing weight, gaining muscle or looking fit is only the very tip. The magical part is what happens to your mind and your world as a result.


1. You are in complete control. There are very few things in life in which you are in total control. In business (and much of life), you can do things to stack the deck in your favor, but a prospect can still slam a door in your face. A girl can still backhand you for a poorly executed pickup line. A seemly trusted friend can still deceive you.


When it comes to the outside world, we are in less control than we think (aside from how we interpret what happens to us, which is a whole separate, and hugely powerful discussion).


But when it comes to fitness, we are in complete control. A new client can fire you, but no one can stop you from coming home that night and running a faster mile than you’ve ever run, or adding a few pounds onto your favorite lift. Do you have any idea how empowering it is to be in full control of something and actually use it to your advantage?


2. The impossible breeds the impossible. When you start to harness things you’re in control of, your confidence starts to strengthen. Think of what happens to your mind if all of a sudden you watch yourself shed 40 pounds, especially after people around you doubted it would happen. If you can lose 40 pounds, then why couldn’t you double sales in your business next here? Or finally quit that miserable job to do something that matters.


Do you know anyone who’s lost a ton of weight in the past years? What effect did it have on their outlook and confidence? Think about that for a minute.


The confidence is massively transferable – So why not build it in a realm you have complete control over and then transfer it to an area you don’t? It’s the ultimate hack!


Just yesterday morning at the Crossfit gym in SF, I hit a new personal record for one of their main lifts (a hang-clean). Class was done at 8am, the sun was barely up, and I already felt on top of the world. Guess how hard I went after my writing and projects for the next 8 hours?

No matter what happened the rest of the day, I still had my workout (and the burning chest as a nice reminder).


No one could take that from me.


Once 8am rolled around, I couldn’t lose.


You play enough games like that, and you literally start to believe you can do anything.


Then you start doing it.


So why is fitness the first thing to go?


The sad thing is most of the above probably isn’t that new to you. But still so few people get off their ass and do something about it…


The problem is most the world works out not because they want to, but because they feel they should.


When you know you should do something, you immediately look for excuses.


And when it comes to fitness, excuses are everywhere.


Usually the winner is “I don’t have enough time.”


The world is missing the point. The fastest and best way to literally add minutes to your day is to get off your ass and start moving and breathing.


Busy people who don’t work out say they don’t have time. Busy people who do work out, swear they 


Successful people don’t have time to work out because they’re successful. I’d argue they’re successful because they work out.


Ladies and gentleman, there is no putting this one off for later.


“I don’t have time” is a downright shitty excuse.



A simple way to start getting active:


1. Start small. If you try to go from running 0 miles a week to running 15, you are likely going to fail. Start ridiculously small. Just take your current level and add a bit more weight or a few more laps (or even just a few extra meters). If you don’t start small, you likely won’t start.


2. Build your team. Find a few active and motivated friends to join you. This will help a ton with accountability and making it way more fun. And if your buddies are anything like mine, you’ll push each other without even trying. If you can’t find anyone locally then get online. There are some great tools. By far my favorites are Runkeeper and Fitocracy – which happen to work really well together too. More on them below.


3. Pick your activity. Brainstorm a list of things you can do for a month (or more) using the following criteria: 1. It must be fun and exciting, 2. Can be done almost daily, and 3. It must be a stretch to accomplish. Remember, overcoming challenges is what builds confidence – that’s the point. A bonus would be that it teaches you a new skill. I listed some ideas below. Most gyms and workout classes have an introductory special that is a ridiculous deal. Even trying a new one of those each month works well. Plus, you may find your perfect activity in the process.


4. Create your schedule. Ideally first thing in the morning, because that gives it the best chance of actually happening.


5. Do it. No excuses. Keep each other motivated.


6. Track it. You have to have a baseline for progress. Measure and track everything. I always do before pictures (those are especially motivating) and after, as well as measure the main areas of your body (thighs, waist, arms, chest, butt). I tend to get a little crazy with this stuff and actually for the past couple months have been getting my body fat tested in Redwood City at the BodyComposition Center (the same place that did all of Tim’s measurements for the 4-Hour Body). They have an insanely accurate $300k DEXA bone density scanner that also measures body fat. It’s only $69/scan and gives a great baseline. Whatever you do, just be sure to track progress somehow.


7. Celebrate. No accomplishment is complete without a victory dance.


8. Leverage technology: By far the two most motivating and fun technology tools for tracking fitness and workouts are Runkeeper (online and iPhone app) and Fitocracy (both totally free). Fitocracy is like the Facebook for fitness. It is so damn fun to use! You can compete and compare with your friends, enter into challenges and all kinds of other stuff. Many of my buddies and online friends track each other on this.


The Magical 30-Day Challenge


By far my favorite way to tackle fitness is through 30 and 60-day challenges.


Given our craving for variety and how quickly we get bored with the norm, especially with working out, I decided to break my activity into 30-day bursts. This allows me to try all kinds of adventures and to seriously go after the activity at hand without getting burned out. Plain and simple, it makes fitness fun.


I encourage you to use the above steps and apply them to a different 30-day challenge every month or two.


You can do anything for 30 days, right?


Some of my recent challenges include: 


  • 31 days of Bikram Hot Yoga in a month (this was last month’s January challenge). I also juiced veggies for breakfast and ate mostly plants the rest of the day to do a little New Year’s cleanse – Chelsea, my wife, is an insanely talented cook – check out her mostly plants veggie cooking blog Food-Life Balance. (Side note: I was in a body fat loss competition with my buddy – not because I felt I needed to necessarily lose weight, but just for the fun challenge).


  • See how much muscle I can gain in 2 months – that’s my Feb and March challenge, which involves a combo of Crossfit and Leo Costa’s Titan Training System (btw, the quality of the instruction at Kelly Starett’s San Francisco Crossfit gym is bar none. Also has a great view of the Golden Gate…).


  • Complete the Goruck Challenge with 8 friends this June.


  • Run a self-guided ‘Accidental Marathon’ with four friends.


  • Rock climbing (gym or outdoors) – pick a face the first day you hope to conquer by month’s end.


  • TRX Suspension training- whoever can get the most days in wins.


  • Swim Fast Escape from Alcatraz and across the Golden Gate swims – with a group of 12-year-olds.


  • Tahoe Rim Trail Ultra Marathon barefoot run- long runs and learning Chi Running as prep.


  • Pick a different staircase to run each day in San Francisco- we found a great guide book for this. Every city has countless stairs.


  • Summit Mt. Shasta or climb any mountain for that matter – this was actually what I did for my bachelor party…


  • Cross-country Crossfit (high intensity 10-20 minute workouts) – I did this challenge last year remotely with my buddy in the Navy in Maryland using his Crossfit website. Free workouts posted daily. What a fun way to keep up from afar. We compared times each morning.


  • P90X Extreme Home Fitness. The 13-week program is one of the best I’ve experienced for full body muscle, cardio and flexibility. Doing a month of it is a great start. I did the full 13-weeks and even gained just under 10lbs.



They do it for themselves…


I’m not the strongest guy at my gym.


I’m not the fastest guy in my running group.


I don’t win the races I enter.


I don’t do the things I do for some external trophy.


I do them because when I lift a little more weight, run a little farther, swim a little longer or eat a little healthier, I become a different person.


When I’m fit, I treat people better, I help people more and I’m capable of putting a bigger dent in the world.


I find new levels of confidence. I experience new heights of ambition.


I become powerful on an altogether different level.


And I absolutely love it.


The fit people don’t do what they do for those around them. They do it for themselves. 


They do it for the person it makes them and for the way they’ll be able to impact the world as a result.


There is no health benefit to being bigger, faster or stronger than the person checking himself out in the mirror next to you.


The power comes in knowing that you can control the things you can control.


That you have the discipline to move mountains.


Get in control of that, and you’ll start to surprise yourself.


By: Scott


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