Steal TIME Slippers Founder Ryan Dougherty’s Tricks to Stay Focused—Your Work-Self Will Thank You For It

“Do the hardest thing first. It’s probably hardest thing for a reason—it needs to get done.”

What started as a Kickstarter campaign and a dream, turned into a wildly popular cult following brand. We’re talking about TIME Slippers. Ryan Dougherty was working a regular 9 to 5. He was successful, but unfulfilled. One day he realized he didn’t want to spend eight hours a day in a cubicle for the rest of his life, so he quit his high-paying position to go be a landscaper. “Many people thought I was crazy to “downgrade” to that kind of work,” he tells Thrive. “But I was so much happier just trying to find something that made me happy.” It was a smart move, because that was just the step he needed to take to create his thriving footwear business.

Dougherty wanted to create something that helped to calm you during the day. “We created a hybrid slipper designed to keep you comfortable in transition from home to the office,” he says. “We make slippers for the slow moments that connect the rest of your life, so when you get there you’ll be calm, collected, and comfortable. This is the philosophy that’s infused into every aspect of what we do.”

Starting a business isn’t easy—and building it to be sustainable and successful is even harder. So Dougherty decided to make wellness the focal point of the company mission. He sits down with Thrive to share how he manages stress, ways he stays focused, how failure helps him thrive, and his surprising (yet awesome!) role model.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Ryan Dougherty: I brush my teeth and drink two pints of water. I need to be able to do this for the next 60 years, and I can’t do that if I’m not healthy. There’s something to thinking and acting toward that long term goal first thing in the morning that feels like I’m starting off looking at the big picture.

TG: What gives you energy?

RD: Creative problem solving in the face of the unknown. There’s nothing better than coming up against a problem that you’ve never seen before and figuring out. I live on that feeling for weeks.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?

RD: When I walk my dog at night, I look up at the moon and stars. It sounds lame, but thinking about the unfathomable size of the universe makes all of my problems seem so small that they all but completely melt away, and that makes them much easier to deal with.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

RD: It does sleep with me. I spend too much time on it, and that frustrates me, but it also allows me to live and run my business in a way that makes me incredibly lucky. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and email myself an idea that could be a big breakthrough. I love it more than I hate it.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

RD: I was burned a few weeks ago. The same thing that gives me energy can be overwhelming in large doses. When you’re the CEO, the buck stops with you. Having to make tough decisions with little information is part of the job. That’s true for all areas of the business. I’m better at figuring out problems in some areas, and not so good in others. When there are a lot of big decisions hanging over me, and I’m slow to come up with answers, that can really grind me down.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it? 

RD: I fail ten times per day. Just this afternoon I tried an experimental material in one of our slippers that I thought was going to be revolutionary. It was not. I overcame it by acknowledging that I hadn’t found the solution, and I moved on to another possibility. Thomas Edison said it best – I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

RD: “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?” –Morty Smith

TG: How do you prioritize when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

RD: Do the hardest thing first. It’s probably hardest thing for a reason. It needs to get done.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self about reducing stress?

RD: Meditate. Understanding that the problem exists outside of your head makes all the difference.

TG: Do you have any role models for living a thriving life?

RD: I’ve been following T-Pain on Instagram for a while now, and I really like how he’s living. He had a recent post that encouraged people to take a shot at doing something their friend circle would think is lame in order to liberate themselves from the constant need of approval. This is a guy who has been on some of the most popular albums of the last 10 years and here he is building computers from scratch saying “Be a nerd and just go have fun.” I dig that.

TG: What’s your personal warning sign that you’re depleted?

RD: I get angry. If I find myself getting short with the people I love, it’s a sign that I need to take a walk and remember why I’m doing this.

TG: With so many distractions and interruptions coming at us throughout the day. What are your tips to stay focused?

RD: This is kind of a big-picture idea, but work on the stuff that you’re good at. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to make up for our weaknesses. If you’re having fun, it directly reduces the potency of distractions. Unfortunately, this may mean making a big change in your life. I was lucky enough to have done this pretty early on. Focus on what’s cool to you.

TG: What’s a surprising way you practice mindfulness?

RD: I actually think meditation and exercise can be the same thing. Want to focus on your breath and burn some pent up energy? Sprint as hard as you can for 60 seconds. Your mind will instantly be clear, and breathing will be the only thing you can think about. Do that 5 more times and the feeling will last a day or two.

TG: How do you reframe negative thinking?

RD: I like to DO something positive. If I have a negative thought, I will act in the opposite way. It’s a kind of like a defiance of the negative thoughts. It doesn’t have to be something big. In fact, it almost never is. If I think something shitty, I’ll catch myself, and instead of dwelling on it, I’ll pet the dog and tell him I love him. Or I’ll text my Mom and tell her how great she is. That’s it. I am not my thoughts. Thoughts do not determine who I am. Petting the dog does, because that’s what I decided to DO.

TG: What brings you optimism?

RD: People who expect a lot, but allow others to fail. People who understand that life is about navigating choices in real time. Some like to act as if they have it all figured out, and they can do no wrong. This is doing a disservice to the reality of creating a meaningful life. I love the people who see a mistake and say “Ok, now how do we fix that for next time?”

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your sleep.

RD: Going to bed earlier. It’s really hard to walk away from the amazing shows on Netflix, but it’s a sacrifice that is well worth it. The difference between 11:30 and 12:30 is incredible, and the difference between that and 10pm is just as big. More sleep improves the sleep (obviously). Just gotta be able to stop watching The Office.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve the way you connect with others. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?

RD: When I was a kid, I idolized my older brother and did anything he said. He never liked to approach strangers, so he would have me do it for him. He’d say “go get us in that basketball game”, and I’d walk up to the people playing with supreme confidence and say “Hey, can we play?”. It almost always worked. This taught me very early to just ask for what you want. Be honest and don’t beat around the bush. The worst case scenario is that you end up where you already are. The best case scenario is that you’re at warp speed with your goals now aligned with a stranger. The rewards outweigh the risks.

TG: Tell us about a small change you have made in your life to improve your focus. What did you do, how long did it take until it became effective, and how you sustain this habit?

RD: Reading books has helped me a ton in this regard. I’m not a naturally strong reader, so it can be hard for me to get into a book, but once I am reading every day it helps me to stay focused in other areas as well. Einstein said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer”. This is what reading has done for me. (Note: it’s important to read books and not articles and blogs. It trains your focus for longer periods of time.) I sustain my practice by finding books that are immensely interesting to me.

TG: What’s your evening routine that helps you unwind and go to sleep?

RD: I try to be home to put the baby to bed. Then I eat dinner with my wife while playing a game like Trivial Pursuit or Poker. Then I either go to the gym or work for a bit longer before watching TV/reading. Preferably in bed by 11:30. That does it for me.

TIME Slipper Founder, Ryan Dougherty

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