June 10, 2019

There are only 24 hours in a day. A large chunk of it is spent at work, especially if you’re the head honcho of an organisation with a million balls to juggle. Back home, you’ve got responsibilities as well to your spouse, your children, and your house. Who would have time for play, let alone a legitimate hobby? It seems like the road to success is paved with a deprived personal life, but don’t underestimate the power of having a hobby.

For many prominent CEOs and business leaders, they make a point of dedicating regular time each week (sometimes each day) to their hobbies, and for good reason. Hobbies offer a semblance of respite from the stresses of work, recharging you for the week ahead. Without such breaks, accumulated stress can otherwise undermine critical, creative and strategic thinking.

The most obvious benefit of adopting a hobby is the joy of engaging in it, which leads to enhanced productivity and more positive interactions between you and your employees. Above all, the right extracurricular activities can lend a hand in boosting brain power, making you better at your job.

Here’s the thing about age. It brings with it the trap of falling into a “lazy” mode of thinking. As you settle down, your life becomes a little more routine every day. Before long, you’ll stop picking up new skills and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations where you’re not the top dog anymore. Having a hobby—particularly one that is more mentally exacting—keeps your brain, as well as your body, young and active.

Think about what you can learn in your field. Everyone in your industry has probably mastered the same skills and absorbed all knowledge relevant to their jobs. What is your edge then? What else can you bring to the table that makes you a better leader or business person? Participating in a pastime is like reading a book, travelling to a country, or gaining new life experiences. It adds value to your personhood, widens your ken, and makes you unique (think of it as an inadvertent contribution to your personal brand).

Certain hobbies, such as making music and learning a language, also engage your problem-solving skills. Here are a few useful ones that are popular among the top moguls.

1. Bridge

Rather than a juvenile card game relegated to high school students, bridge is a complex, intellectual challenge that involves strategy. Think of it as chess with a social element. Bill Gates, the man behind Microsoft, has been an avid player for ages.

2. Tennis

Anna Wintour, the face of Vogue since 1988 and Condé Nast’s artistic director, has long been vocal about her love for tennis. According to reports, her daily routine usually begins at 5am with a quick session on the court, which we reckon is a foolproof way to wake up and energise your mind.

3. Segway polo

This seems like a wacky one, pioneered by Apple’s Steve Wozniak, but it takes quite a bit of coordination to balance yourself on a Segway while jostling for the ball and driving it through your opponent’s goal. Not to mention, it’s mad fun.

4. DJ-ing

By day, David Solomon is the suit-wearing, briefcase-wielding CEO of Goldman Sachs. By night, he’s DJ D-Sol, who’s gotten so good at his side-line craft that he started releasing EDM remixes on Spotify. It could be tacky to see your boss spinning at the club, but for David, it’s only brought him closer to his younger employees.

5. Playing the ukulele

Research shows that playing a musical instrument aids one’s long-term memory and mental alertness, while preventing you from losing your hearing with age. The brain of a musician is also different from a non-musician’s, with the corpus callosum (which links the left and right brains) visibly larger in the former. It’s no wonder Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is such a massive ukulele fan, regularly performing, teaching lessons and donating these tiny instruments of joy to various clubs.

6. Marathon running

It’s one thing to go for a 30-minute jog every morning. It’s a whole different ball game to train for a marathon and participate in one. You’re looking at hours upon hours of mental torture and physical pain. Yet, Anil Ambani, the chairman of Reliance Group, willingly and routinely subjects himself to it. Anyone who is able to pull this off has to be chock-full of endurance and sheer willpower.

7. Poker

It takes a while to understand poker, but the incentives outweigh the initial confusion. Beyond the possibility to earn a few extra bucks, playing poker is able to boost your focus, build your patience, enhance your observational skills, and help you to better manage your emotions. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos and expert poker player, adds, “It’s a good way to get casual face-time with someone and build a relationship. Even if I lose money, I’m still winning.”

It can be sobering to pick up a new hobby and feel like an inexperienced newbie, but as you get better over time, it’ll remind you that it’s possible for old dogs to learn new tricks. Offering a lesson in humility, it braces you for disruption and removes all fear of going back to ground zero. So cut yourself some slack, take a breather, and remember that all work and no play makes you an ineffective leader.