Dan Clark is the CEO at Brain.fm, a company that pioneers in auditory neuroscience and designs functional music to enhance how people focus, relax, and sleep. Their product is very useful for people who must get through a lot of work without distraction, procrastination, or boredom. Clark previously worked as a website and app developer before working at his current company.
Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in a family of six. My dad was a UPS driver, and my mom ran a daycare in our basement. My parents were the hardest working people I know and seeing them had a lasting impact on my work ethic. Their perseverance is what reminds me of how privileged I am to show up at this amazing company and help people for a living.
Learning martial arts as a kid was also very instrumental in teaching me discipline and perseverance. The physical strength and confidence it provided me translated into mental confidence, which helped me be more deliberate in thinking about my future personally and professionally.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I had realized how much more value I can produce when I’m working at a slower and deeper level. Instead of tackling everything at once, I learned that doing just a couple of things and doing them very well allows me to make a much more significant impact. I’m also able to get more stuff done (surprisingly) when taking the deep (and slow) work approach.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I don’t know if I’ve heard of too many “bad” recommendations. There’s maybe a lack of focus and preoccupation with the “glamour” of entrepreneurial life. I always encourage people to focus on making the product better. You’ll rarely go wrong if your focus is on the product.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it, and what you learned from it?
In fifth grade, I was bullied relentlessly. It made me dread going to school. Even at its worst, there was a quiet voice in my head that told me this experience wouldn’t last forever. Thankfully, that quiet voice instructing me to persevere and think long-term has gotten louder over time. And as it goes, I did stop getting bullied in seventh grade when I started learning martial arts 🙂
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Kaizen has been one of the biggest drivers of my success today. It means “change for the better” in Japanese. I first learned about the concept in martial arts, and I’ve carried it over to the other areas of my life since then. It’s a practice of continuous, never-ending improvement. We’re only talking about 1% a day. If you were to improve a facet of your life by 1% a day, do you know how much you’ll have improved after a year of incremental growth? 3700%. Of course, you won’t be able to hit 1% every day, but the attempt needs to be there if you’re trying to grow in a meaningful way.
What is your morning routine?
I usually wake up at 7:30. I brush my teeth and drink a glass of water (and all that typical morning stuff). I make my own iced cold-brew coffee and sit down at my computer with my notebook and Brain.fm. In my notebook, I’ll jot down the answers to the following:
What am I thankful for?
What do I need to do today? (aka. What will make today a success?)
What’s on my mind regarding the different facets of my life (personal, professional, relationships, spiritual, physical)?
After organizing my notes, I’ll go ahead and start my day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Again, Kaizen has played a massive role in my life. If I were to dig a little deeper, the habit is about embracing change at every opportunity. “If you fall in love with change, you’ll always be in love.” My first-grade teacher taught us that, and it’s clearly stuck with me. To want to change, you’ll need to reprogram your perspective of change from bad to something you actually want to run toward.
Within that same vein, adopting a positive perspective about life, in general, can be transformational. We are constantly distracted by the 1% of things that aren’t going well but never on the 99% going great. When we’re able to fixate on that 99% through intentional acts of gratitude and change our perspective, that’s when we’re fully able to tap into our inner superpower.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
First and foremost, implementing a deep work schedule (aka. planned time to focus on one task with zero distractions) is critical to being productive. This means blocking out time in my calendar. I’ll do work in 90-minute periods, personally.
I’ll also prioritize my week’s workload based on effort. Just as people recommend you frontload your morning with the difficult tasks, I will frontload my week with the more challenging work that needs to be completed on Monday, Tuesday, etc., and leave the light work for Friday.
I’ll also ask myself what I’m building before I go dive into a project. If you have no idea what you’re working toward, you’ll waste time. It’s easy to run in the wrong direction if you don’t know where the finish line is.
Another strategy is being in the right headspace or mental state for the task at hand. (Which is why I personally love Brain.fm.) Sometimes, I won’t be in the right mindset for what I’m doing, and that’s okay, too. I’ll do something else, move my schedule around, and get back to it later. Muscling through your to-do list when you’re not feeling it is just not sustainable or worth the effort.
Lastly, delegating tasks to a team I trust has been crucial in being more efficient. It’s all about trusting teammates to do what they do best, so you can do what you do best.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The books that have influenced my life the most are the ones I read as a kid. Books like the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho pushed me to think creatively and imagine a world beyond myself. Envisioning the world you want to live in and giving yourself the time and space to build it is the ultimate superpower.
“See You At The Top” (by Zig Ziglar) taught me that being a good person aligns perfectly with being successful. I try to help as many people as possible, knowing it’ll help me achieve what I ultimately want to do. The book “Relentless” (by Tim Grover) also taught me how to harness the power of the deep (and sometimes uncomfortable) things that make me who I am and use it to fuel me in the direction I wanted to go in life.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
Anyone can sit around and play it safe, but the real magic happens when you challenge yourself. Life is about taking risks.