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Parenting at CYB: what fatherhood taught me about running a business

Richard Grove writes about how bringing up two young children has influenced his role as CYB’s Director of Digital
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Richard Grove

Director of Digital Services

17 Aug 2023

It’s not an unusual day. Awoken by the seemingly obligatory child shouts (I haven't needed to set an alarm in 4 years); the living room which was spotless last night now looks like Monday morning after Glastonbury; and the tranquil hush which instantaneously descended, enabling me to write this, can only have been caused by the parental loss of the daily attritional battle regarding turning on of the television. Please lord, don't let Netflix ask ‘Are you still watching?’, the nadir of all the paternal KPIs. As you can tell, I'm not quite Bandit Heeler.

But I am a great dad. My kids are 2 and 4 and I'm determined to spend every second I reasonably can with them, before they won't hold my hand / call me daddy / be seen with me in public. I’m reliably informed that’s from the age of 10, so there’s an easy roadmap right there. So how do I achieve that, while running a successful business. Easy…ish…

1. Time decreases… become a productivity hero

When kids come along, every free moment you previously had is gone. People have promised me this comes back - I'm not so sure! I spent a lot of time moaning about this, but to no avail… so I fixed it. 

Productivity hacking became a real feature of how I get my time back and how I work on things which have value. I created an annual plan of things to achieve in (and out) of work. This goes into a quarterly plan, which goes into a weekly plan, so I'm always doing something productive. 

My tasks are captured in a single place, so I'm focussed. My email is closed, my Slack is closed, my Teams is closed, my phone is in a drawer… because I'm working! What does this all mean… I get things done! Not only does this result in everything being sorted on a business side, but I'm always on time for pick up / bath / bed and I find this structure brings me calm… I always have a plan, I know what I'm doing, when and why. 

None of this is mine by the way, I'm a devout follower of Cal Newport, currently playing with the Deep Life Stack - get in touch if you fancy trying it as I need someone to buddy with!

My choice of tools is important and I'm really embracing AI - it’s become my partner in crime. It fixes my Excel formula for the hundred complex spreadsheets needed to run a business, while planning activities for our family trip to Folkstone. What used to take me 3 hours is now taking me 3 minutes. The reward is I can use that time any way I like.

2. You've got to work on things which matter

Based on the above, I now have the gift of time. Great. But what to do with it! The thing I want to do most in the world is spend time with my family. Any time I'm not doing that, I need to be doing something with similar value.

Working on rewarding things is the key. I run a business because I enjoy the challenge and it gives me the freedom to pick which clients we do and do not work with. We go to great lengths to work with clients who want to achieve things - intelligent, driven clients. With one client, we've launched over 20 digital services in a few years. TWENTY. As a business, we then use that metric of impact to define our company's success. Working on things which don't matter or services in eternal discovery / slide deck phase doesn’t interest me. It’s not a good use of time, especially in comparison to where I could be using my time - with my family. 

I’ve started trying a new technique at home - when you're working, plan what you're going to tell your family you did today. Have you got something interesting to say? Is there something you’ll be proud of and your kids will remember? If not, then you might be working on the wrong thing or in the wrong place

3. Emotions at work and emotions at home are the same thing

You're tired. You're really really tired. Everyone is. But having kids has helped me to learn to control ‘the jerk’ response. It’s so easy to immediately say no, or jump to give reasons why someone else is wrong - it’s the default response. But waiting before jumping in always reaps rewards. 

It’s really easy to say no to the kids. “No you can't eat stones”; “no you can't drive the car”; “no you can’t set your brother on fire”. But if you do say no, the immediate response is they tantrum and everything takes longer. Work is the same. Listen to people, hear them out and breathe while you do it. Often, they’ll talk themselves out of it and save you a job. Also, turns out kids can eat stones and kind of be ok after. Ish.

PS I recently found some feedback from when I was at GDS in 2013, given by the greatest line manager in history, Patricia Quinn: ‘stop reacting quickly and taking things personally at work, it’s business and you need to listen’. I’m not totally there, but thanks to being a dad, I'm a lot closer than I was, Trish!

4. Lean into your new behaviours

I'm not half the man I used to be, I'm twice the man. You could comfortably make a Netflix series about my younger years - I’ve travelled the world several times, DJ'd at music festivals, was a decent (mediocre) boxer, partied with A list celebs and these are only the things I can write down (CYB editor and BFF, Shaun Curran can attest, as he was there for most of it too). But those are things I chose to give up for children and for work. 

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I weighed up my activities, my time and saw that they no longer added value to the outcomes I was trying to achieve - being a brilliant dad, partner and running a business. So extreme prioritisation, I gave them up. I’ve been sober for 5 years, I'm in bed by 10 pm, my phone screen time is sub 1 hour per day and I meditate daily… this gives me the focus and energy to deliver what my current priorities are. Will this change as priorities change? Of course. But by being deliberate in my choices, I create time and that time gives me the ability to fill it with whatever I want. Although admittedly, there is one drain on my life that keeps dragging me back in.

What does all the above amount to, how do you run a business and have young kids? You have choices to make, and you need to prioritise the things that are most important to you. 

The first 10 years of my kids' lives are the time to make the most impact and I'm going to maximise every opportunity I can to spend that time with them because I’ll never get this chance again. Well… unless we have a 3rd (ARGH!!!!)

Big big shout out to Gemma Cameron and her blog for being the original inspiration.

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