Long ago, I believed that to be a successful entrepreneur, you had to avoid having children. The focus and dedication needed to run a business simply did not allow for the time and energy necessary to raise kids.
When I started my first company, I even avoided pets and plants, because I did not want the distraction or additional responsibility. The strategy worked, as I managed to stay focused and grew the business in spite of a global economic meltdown.
Things changed, as they do, and I eventually found an amazing woman and skipped right past the pets and plants and had two children. Now that I have children, my priorities have changed. I now split time between responsibilities as a consultant, advisor, and human jungle gym. Of course, I re-prioritized because I feel strongly that parents play the most important role in a child’s development, and because I had a great role model in my own dad.
The truth of the matter, however, is that my reasons for spending time with my kids are far more selfish. I have found over the past few years that doing so can be just as beneficial for me as it is for them. Here are five activities to do with your kids that will help you become a better entrepreneur.
1. Reading children’s books
It is well known that reading with your children has incredible benefits for them, but it can also pay significant dividends to you. In addition to the relaxing time you get with your kids, reading slowly and discussing a story with a young child forces you to re-learn valuable moral lessons you probably have long forgotten.
For instance, the other night, my daughter and I read The Three Little Pigs—again. The lesson there, of course, is that hard work pays off. Simple and obvious, right? Well, as busy entrepreneurs, we often get caught up in the daily grind, lose focus of what is important and occasionally take a few too many shortcuts. As with the pigs, it is important to remember that diversions from your company’s vision, mission and values can create an opening for competitors, leaving you as the wolf's pork dinner.
2. Free drawing
How often do you sit with a pencil and blank piece of unlined paper and just allow yourself the indulgence of drawing? Chances are, not nearly often enough. What you may not know is that doodling actually has anumber of benefits for adults, including developing your focus and stimulating your creativity and problem-solving skills.
Try it with your children. In addition to the joy a blank piece of paper and a fresh set of markers will bring to your kids, you may just find that going through the creative motions with them will spark the ingenious idea or solution you have been searching for.
One of the first traits we lose as young adults is our imaginations. We are taught structure, given handbooks with rules and provided an endless stream of narrated content to consume and distract us. Over time, all of this greatly hinders our ability to think critically and creatively.
One way to tap back into that creativity is to engage in storytelling and improvisation with children. In addition to being the only human beings willing and patient enough to listen to your blathering, children are probably the best source for fresh and imaginative inspiration.
Start by cutting up several small strips of paper and on each write one noun (person, place or thing). Stick all pieces (words) in a hat, then with your child, remove three words each. You must then make up a short story that uses all three of your words—the more outlandish and unbelievable, the better. Just be warned: if you make it a competition, you will lose to a child.
4. Model building
Assembling toy models with your children requires time and focus, and working on them can be a nice retreat from the rigors of business. If you are more daring, consider using random pieces of wood, nuts and bolts and other spare household items to see what you can assemble on your own.
While you can accomplish the same objective with Legos or Lincoln Logs, I have found that creating something permanent helps to achieve a higher level of satisfaction. Building a business, like building a model, requires this same focus and determination, so there is great lesson to be had for children.
For adults, building models is an incredible way to relax and decompress while concurrently refining your much neglected concentration and uni-tasking skills. Just make certain to leave the electronics in the other room.
In our house, we have strict rules about electronics for our kids, especially during the week. Computer and tablet time is only for educational apps, checking on homework or looking up topics during our “Google Nights” (when we choose random subjects to research).
On the weekends, however, it’s game time.
One game I enjoy is Minecraft, an incredibly successful electronic game where players build things using virtual blocks, while occasionally battling monsters. My kids and I enjoy "survival mode," where you are spawned in a virtual world alone and naked (only clothing), requiring you and your character to hunt for raw materials, out of which you fashion tools, food and other items. It provides a great lesson about starting out in life and the level of effort and time needed to advance and prosper.
The other mode is "creative," where players have access to the large arsenal of materials and tools, from which they can build anything they can imagine. For my kids, it teaches them about trial and error, as they have to use their creativity and planning skills to build—and often rebuild—in their virtual world.
For dad, well let’s just say he enjoys using his imagination to create and build elaborate worlds in which his kids play. Mostly, however, it is my way of blowing off steam by losing myself for a short time mentally in a virtual world.
While it may be difficult to build a business while raising kids, the two can definitely complement each other. It might also be worth noting that it is far more beneficial to engage in activities with kids than with pets or plants. That is my validation for skipping that entire step.
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This article also appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editor.