ontrary to what one in four working millennials believe, television is not a hobby. Although making time to fit in something in the middle of the week that isn’t work or socialising is a trying thought for most, like any great target we accomplish, it’s not about having the time, but needing to making it. Guilty as we all may be in categorically assuming our colleagues are also dismissing the effort to make time for themselves, there’s no escaping that some of the world’s most powerful people make room for a little personal downtime. Famed investor Warren Buffet may have learned the ukulele in an (unsuccessful) attempt to woo a girl he had a crush on at university, but it’s a hobby he has retained throughout his career to keep a level of sanity (and write an ode to his favourite drink, Coca Cola), leading by example in highlighting the importance of balance in our professional lives.
Inconvenient as it may seem recent evidence has risen to show that not only should we maintain hobbies for our mental health but that doing so enriches and develops the skills we use and strive to improve at work. Dr. Kevin Eschleman, an assistant psychology professor at San Francisco State University, who led a study on the correlation between hobbies and job performance on 341 employees in 2014 reiterates this, arguing how the sole pursuit of enjoyment and the targets we set ourselves when pursuing hobbies are both natural motivators to get better results in our own working life. It’s a simple school of thought but there’s no denying the benefit of a balanced life and considering the expanding list of CEO’s who have gone public with their personal pursuits in order to lead by example, there’s little reason the rest of us shouldn’t follow suit. Allow the following skills and workplace benefits to serve as your humble guide.
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Although hobbies use the same skills at work, engaging your brain with something topically different keeps the mind sharp thanks to the change of focus. Scott Picken, founder and CEO of Wealth Migrate is known for his love of kitesurfing; both for the joy of the adrenalin rush but also for the mental workout in multi-tasking it provides. In contending with four potentially life-threatening aspects – the wind, the waves, the kite and the board – Picken relishes how his hobby forces him to maintain focus whilst multi-tasking, comparing it to starting a business; “without the necessary skills, you end up fighting against the various obstacles along the way…Kitesurfing has taught me how to anticipate challenges, solve problems, and embrace the exciting life that comes with being a global entrepreneur." Also a fan of sharpening his ability to focus is self-made multi-millionaire Anil Ambani, who maintains a tunnel-vision sense of focus thanks to a daily 7 kilometre run. Arguing how something as simple as focusing on continuous movement forces him to be more creative in engaging his brain, which, like his work, involves “pushing the limits and realising one’s possibilities”.
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Working towards a goal and hitting targets is a prime part of any job. Work-place expert Lynn Taylor emphasises how hobbies are a reflection of our working strategy and a candidate who has a number of niche or physical hobbies makes them an appealing candidate as it demonstrated their familiarity with working towards goals. “They want to see that you enjoy completing a project and have the desire to reach certain milestones in your leisure activities," says Taylor. "Goal-setting is essential in any job, as managers like to see that you have a sense of purpose and determination to reach goals that you've mutually established." Whilst sports have always been a common example of this – also reflecting a preference for team work and problem solving – niche hobbies such as role-playing games within sub-culture communities demonstrates an ability to talk and build relationships in an isolated environment as well as working towards a fictional aim; adapting with the consequences of external influences as you progress.
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Stanford Professor, Soviet specialist, and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took up golf in order to network with colleagues and use it as a physical release from the stresses of her job. Now a passionate player, Rice praises golf for having a positive effect on the way she thinks at work as she is purely focused on the strategy of the game and replicates this way of thinking in the office. “It's actually… a thinking-person's game” she told Golf Digest, “I find that I enjoy walking from shot to shot and deciding how I'm going to get out of this or that trouble.” One can be very good at their job but their way of thinking to obtain results could be holding them back. The nature of a hobby that forces you to reassess how you are tackling a task could be the catalyst for change and thus, improvement; an attribute always welcomed in the corporate environment.
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Expanded Skill Set
A hobby that replicates the use of your work skill-set inevitably compliments your performance. Tapping into our human desires for entertainment and engagement, the instances of employees taking up a hobby that requires the same skill for their job allows them to improve and expand upon said skills in a neutral environment, develop those skills thanks to the ‘hindsight’ perception in stepping back from work. Former Twitter CEO Dick Constolos was famous for being a bee-keeper during his spare time. Stemming from a fascination in how honey combes are made and maintained, Constolos discussed in an interview how observing team work, cause-and-effect and the sheer amount of labour-intensive time it would take the bees to make the produce was a way of unwinding for him, as well as being inspired when he was unmotivated by the state of his working environment. Bing able to spectate rather than participate was both always a refreshing and motivating experience, readying him for another day at the office.
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Maintaining and Building Relationships
The nourishing aspect of maintaining a hobby is how it enriches your people skills. Akin to weight training, improvisation classes are now cited as the new ‘must-have’ hobby for those in industries that require a lot of face-time and colleague interaction. In the cut-and-thrust of closing deals and working with clients, improve classes are widely credited with improving confidence and building relationships with new people as it eliminates the frozen moment of fear that comes all-too easily when put on the spot at work. Having provided classes for more than half of all Fortune 100 companies, Sandy Marshall, Vice President of Second City Communications argues how improvisation enables a person to become more efficient and perceptive in their professional conduct because they’ve become accustomed to overcoming the moment of panic when they overthink their response and to simply roll with the punch that is thrown. Not only does it make a person more adaptable and flexible in their interaction, but also also builds confidence in the face-time setting.
Words by Emily Freund