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How One Of Digital Media’s Most Innovative CTOs Got His Kids To Stop Using Apps And Games

Routine Behavior is a new series where we talk to guys who successfully juggle businesses, careers, and parenting about the routines that keep them on track. Up next is Paul Berry, a CTO whose past credits include bringing a little blog called The Huffington Post from obscurity to 110 million monthly readers.

These days, Berry’s focus is a content management system called RebelMouse, which is used by everyone from MTV to T-Mobile (not to mention Fatherly) to engage millions of users every day. Forbes once called Berry a “Tech Wizard” and he has a house full of tablets, but his kids — age 9, 7, and 4 — use them almost exclusively for reading. How’d you like to pull off that coup in your own household?

What time do you start answering emails in the morning?
When I’m on my schedule, I’m up at 4 or 5 AM, which gives me 1 or 2 hours before the kids are up to catch up with the emails from our global team and stuff I might have missed from the late evening. That means when the kids actually wake up, I don’t have a nagging feeling of being behind, and I can really focus on them.

During the NYC winter, I read to them, and we do artwork from 6:30 to 7:30 AM or so. Then it’s Breakfast-Time Dad. Very important to me that I am not in emails that hour because it’s just impossible to really pay attention to them with email on the mind.

How do you reconnect with your kid when you get home from work each day?
The after-work time with the kids is incredibly important to me. Trying to schedule a work dinner with me is nearly impossible, and the team here all knows I’ll only join team drink events once every 2 months or so. I get back to them by 6 or 7 at the latest, and we spend a full hour reading before we begin bedtime.

What’s the one piece of kid-related gear that you can’t live without?
The Kindle tablet app. Doesn’t matter what device it’s on, it works across my Nexus tablet, Android phone, and of course the Kindles we have and my wife’s iPads and phones. Reading is everything, and in a crowded NYC apartment, I don’t have room for books or time to go get new ones.

“It’s scary what a dark future we are heading into if we let them vanish into their own devices/gadgets instead of learning to play with each other.”

For years we considered it important to find them educational apps for these devices, but we decided about 6 months ago on no more apps, no more games, and no more movies except a few times a year. This has been 100-percent killer. All 3 of our kids now read like crazy and play amazing imaginary and role-play games with each other. It’s sort of scary what a dark future we are heading into if we start letting them all vanish into their own devices/gadgets instead of learning to play with each other.

How many times a week do you get home for dinner, and do you ever cook?
I’m there for dinner 99 percent of the time. I miss it when I’m doing business travel or there is an event that I really can’t miss. I am vegan, and I don’t push that on the kids, but they have learned from me that there are lots of purely vegan/vegetarian meals that they really do love. I love to cook, but we don’t have time to clean the corresponding mess, so I tend to assemble and warm up healthy things from Whole Foods.

How much exercise do you get in a given week and what kind?
I am a SoulCycle addict, and I try to keep up with yoga. I’m positive I’m a better boss and a better dad because of it. So I try to do a SoulCycle or two-a-days, and on the weekends I’ll go overboard and do 3-a-days early morning so that I’m back in action in dad mode by 11 AM for the rest of the day. I am far more efficient with my time, patient with people, and reflective in interactions when I’m exercising daily.

“[My kids] take my mind off of work so the subconscious can get in there, which is when I have my biggest inspirations.”

What’s the longest you’ve ever played with your kid without looking at your phone?
I often read to them on a phone or tablet, so I try to just ignore everything incoming, but once in a while (5 percent of the time) something is important enough to validate distraction. Otherwise, I try to focus on them. But I am very much a phone addict, so it’s really rare that I completely vanish from communication for hours at a time.

How often do you travel for work and do you look forward to it or dread it?
It has changed a bit as we go through different phases of the company. Sometimes I have to suck it up and get it done, and I’ve traveled far more then I’d like over the last 6 months. It’s still about one out of every 6 weeks total on average.

Travel is super useful for the business, and I get a lot of energy from all the awesome people I get to meet and brainstorm with, but at the same time I absolutely dread the travel. More than anything, the dread comes because I hate missing time with my kids.

What’s your go-to when you need work-related inspiration?
Because I’ve been working so long in the startup world, I feel highly aware that they are a black hole that sucks you in. The best way to get inspired is to take your mind off the work, and there is no black hole powerful enough to counter my kids’ ability to do that. They take my mind off of work so the subconscious can get in there, which is when I have my biggest inspirations.

What’s your go-to when you need to completely turn your brain off?
SoulCycle and yoga let me shut the brain down, turn the phone off, and get out of range, so I do that daily. Reading to the kids is kind of like that. Though I do think on the weekends, occasionally on weekdays I just let myself be useless. I try to remind the key people on my team at RebelMouse that it is vital to be creative. You can’t be always on; you have to let yourself go crash and go brain dead to stay creative and inspired.

How’s your attendance record at your kid’s events/games/milestone moments?
Pretty good. Talent shows and games — I’m pretty much there 85 percent of the time and 99 percent when it’s a more vital moment. Life is too short to miss those moments, and there are very rarely meetings or work moments that you cannot delay for an hour to be there for the kids.

“I get a lot of energy from all the awesome people I get to meet and brainstorm with, but at the same time I absolutely dread the travel.”

What’s your kid’s favorite book at the moment?
The two older ones and I are on book 5 of Harry Potter, and we love it. They are both really into the Percy Jackson series as well. My littlest is starting to get into Roald Dahl, which I’m so excited about.

What’s your kid’s favorite toy at the moment?
They are doing lots of artwork, which is so awesome, and they play with each other — mostly because we took away gadgets, movies, apps and they get bored of toys.

What about a new parenting app that’s recently proved useful?
I’ve been reading on Kindle, and lately, Fatherly!