How do you balance creative thinking with focus and productivity?

Richard Branson with Virgin Atlantic crew
Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Galactic
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Published on 5 July 2023

I was asked this great question for my Ask Richard LinkedIn Newsletter, and I thought I would share my answer with you all.

As a dyslexic, I really understood the concern about balancing creative thinking with being productive and finding the focus and structure to help you implement energetic ideas. Over many years, I’ve learnt some tools and processes that work for me, so I hope you all find my answer useful.

A second question was penned by someone who asked if IQ or EQ (emotional intelligence) is more important when building a successful business. I thought the two questions worked well together, and so I answered both.

Richard Branson reading his ipad while having a cup of tea
Owen Buggy

I’m a very determined person who likes to see things through, but I often have a million different ideas whizzing through my brain at any given time. To help stay focused and drive ideas forward, I make a lot of lists - and make sure I stick to them! I carry a notebook everywhere I go and write down almost every idea that comes to me. This helps to filter and prioritise my (often) expansive thoughts. I then make a list of small and manageable daily tasks that need to be done to turn my ideas into reality. A few years ago, I found an old to-do list of mine from 1972 and it always makes me smile. I like to think my lists have become a little less lofty over the years, but it shows how important it is to dream big too!

Richard Branson's 1972 to do list
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In case you can’t read my handwriting, here’s what I had planned for November 6, 1972:

  1.   Learn to fly

  2.  Look after me, you, boat

  3.  Entertain everybody with me

  4.  Invite nice people back

  5.  Start getting the small house together at The Manor

  6.  Start buying odds and sods for The Manor

  7.  Work with me on projects/sort me out

  8.  More shops to be found

I was 22-years-old at the time, which might explain why one of the tasks was to sort myself out! I’m not quite ready to tick that one off yet, but it’s wonderful to look back at this list and realise what followed. Other things that help me find focus include:

  1. Concentrating on one task at a time. 

  2. Working out a daily routine, and sticking to it.

  3. Figuring out when, where, how and why you work at your best, and creating a sort of ‘productivity toolkit’. This might include a list of certain processes, tools, places, systems and spaces where you find the most focus and productivity.

  4. Work to your strengths and make sure you collaborate, delegate and outsource as much as possible when you feel out of your depth. Leaning on a business mentor is really useful here too.

Richard Branson with founders who have been supported by Virgin StartUp in Edinburgh
Virgin StartUp

Although it takes a bit more effort to find this focus if you’re more creative or neurodivergent, I’ve found the perks of being an atypical thinker have far outweighed the challenges. This lends itself well to Vladimirs' question about EQ vs IQ. In short, I think being emotionally intelligent is more important in every aspect of life – and this includes business. Being a good listener, finding empathy, understanding emotions, communicating effectively, treating people well, and bringing out the best is critical to success. It will also help you build a business that really understands people and solve their problems, and it will make for a happier and healthier team too. 

Richard Branson kissing a man on the cheek who's laughing
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If I had let my IQ and my school grades determine my success I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today, so I hope that nobody lets a standardised test result get in the way of a good idea.

Thank you to Andy and Vladimirs, who posed these wonderful questions. I hope my answers have inspired all of you to find your focus, embrace your creativity, connect with people, and celebrate the unique things that make you ‘you’. This is what life is all about.