Our daily routines can make a huge difference to how healthy, happy and productive we are. I’ve recently tried adjusting my own routine in the hopes of getting more done and wasting less time in-between tasks or activities.
While it’s important to understand how your own brain works and what routine will suit your body best, I always find it interesting to see what works for others when planning something new for myself.
To make it easier to go through the post, here’s a look at all we’ll cover. Click to jump to any section:
In the hopes of building the best routine I could, I did some research on the daily routines of some of the most successful people I know of. They certainly inspired me to think about different parts of my routine — perhaps they’ll be useful to you as well.
In this video interview with Twitter and Square co-founder, Jack Dorsey, he explains his daily routine as he juggles a full-time role at both companies.
To get everything done, Jack puts in an 8-hour day at each company, every day. Of course, in a recent interview Jack said that he only did this routine for a limited time and today he is more fully focused on Square.
Back then, when he wrote the post however, it meant that he’s doing 16-hour workdays, Monday-Friday. Whether that’s the kind of workday you’re aiming for or not, you’d have to admit it’s impressive that he can fit it in!
The only way to do this is to be very disciplined and very practiced.
Jack’s trick in staying productive while putting in such long hours is to theme his days. Each weekday is dedicated to a particular area of the business at both companies. Here’s what his themed week looks like:
Monday: Management and running the company
Wednesday: Marketing and communications, growth
Thursday: Developers and partnerships
Friday: Company culture and recruiting
Jack says this method of theming his days helps him to stay focused even when he’s often interrupted:
There is interruption all the time but I can quickly deal with an interruption and then know that it’s Tuesday, I have product meetings and I need to focus on product stuff.
16-hour days might sound like workaholic territory, but Jack still makes time to disconnect and recharge on the weekends:
Saturday I take off. I hike. And then Sunday is reflections, feedback, strategy and getting ready for the rest of the week.
It’s nice to know that even while working two full-time jobs, it’s possible to get away sometimes and relax. It’s interesting to compare that to the actual origin of the 8 hour work-day, as it can appear quite counter-intuitive at first.
Benjamin Franklin is known for being keen on self-improvement. He famously detailed a thirteen-week plan to practice important virutes such as cleanliness, temperance, etc. Each day he tracked his progress on a chart.
Benjamin also set himself a strict daily routine, which included time for sleeping, meals and working, all set for specific times of the day. Unfortuantely, the demands of his printing business made it difficult for him to always stick to his routine, but this image shows how he aimed to spend his time:
One thing that isn’t detailed in this daily routine is habit he adopted later on, which I found really fascinating: a daily “air bath.” Although cold baths were considered beneficial at that time, Benjamin believed that cold water shocked the body too much, and preferred “bathing” in cold air instead:
I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but on the contrary, agreeable; and if I return to bed afterwards, before I dress myself, as sometimes happens, I make a supplement to my night’s rest, of one or two hours of the most pleasing sleep that can be imagined.
I’m not always the best sleeper, so I’m tempted to try this and see if I too can have some of “the most pleasing sleep that can be imagined”!
As the founder of high-profile companies like Blogger, Twitter and Medium, you’d probably expect Evan Williams to be at work more than most of us. Particularly in the middle of the day, right? But in fact, Evan takes a break from work in the middle of the day to visit the gym.
We’ve looked at energy levels before, and how they fluctuate during the day. Everyone’s body is different, so it’s helpful for us to understand how our own energy fluctuations affect our productivity.
Although Evan used to go to the gym in the mornings, he found that it wasn’t the best natural time for him to be there:
My focus is usually great first thing in the morning, so going to the gym first is a trade off of very productive time. Instead, I’ve started going mid-morning or late afternoon (especially on days I work late).
Although Evan’s now leaving the office mid-way through his workday, he’s found that overall it’s been a beneficial change to his routine:
It feels weird (at first) to leave the office in the middle of the day, but total time spent is nearly the same with higher energy and focus across the board.
Being Prime Minister is probably one of the busiest lifestyles you can have. Yet, somehow among everything he had to get done, Winston Churchill managed to stick to his daily routine for years.
He would wake up around 7:30am every day and spend most of his morning in bed. Here, he had breakfast, read his mail, caught up on all of the national newspapers and dictated to his secretaries.
Around 11am he got out of bed, washed and took a walk in the garden.
Lunch went from 1–3:30pm most days, and was usually a full three-course meal with his family and guests. After lunch he would often work again until around 5pm.
Being a fan of naps, I’m glad to hear that Churchill took a long one at around 5pm every day — usually for an hour and a half.
At 8pm he would have dinner — dining again with family and guests. Usually he returned to his study for another hour or so of work after dinner.
I like how much variety Churchill was able to pack into his days, even though he was working for much of them. That’s definitely something I’d like to get better at!
A morning routine can be particularly important to setting up your day in the best way. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits shared his schedule when he began experimenting with the best morning routine for him:
Leo’s routine is all about starting his day in the best way possible:
The reason I like having a morning routine is that not only does it instills a sense of purpose, peace and ritual to my day, but it ensures that I’m getting certain things done every morning … namely, my goals.
You’ll notice that one of Leo’s items is a flexible one: exercise or meditate. On Fridays he meditates, rather than exercising, while every other day he does some exercise in the morning.
This flexibility is a great way to work in activities that you want to change based on the day. I’ve recently started running, and to keep my routine close to normal on the days I run, I just interchange my running time with my normal afternoon nap time.
Like Winston Churchill, Barack Obama is a fan of sharing meals with his family. He eats breakfast with his wife and daughters every morning before helping to get his daughters ready for school. He reads newspapers and does his exercise (weights and cardio) early in the morning, before hitting the Oval Office around 9am.
Obama also makes sure to eat dinner with his family, before returning to work — sometimes staying as late as 10pm.
After his family retires to bed, Obama often stays up working on odds and ends left over from the day. Chief among his nightly responsibilities is leafing through the binder of documents that his staff has asked him to review.
Having this time alone at night gives him time to catch up on work and get ready for the following day, so he can afford to spend his morning exercising and eating with his family.
Obama is also very careful to minimize distractions like decision fatigue:
“I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing,” he told Michael Lewis. “Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
If anyone’s going to struggle with work/family balance, it would surely be the President of the United States, but he seems to have a solid routine in place that helps fit everything in each day.
Tim Ferriss often gets asked what he does all day long. The thing I love about his routine is that it’s never the same — each day is different, depending on what he has on.
He does have some general rules for organizing his schedule, though: Mondays and Fridays are generally off-limits for phone calls from Tim’s assistants, so he has the flexibility to take a long weekend on either side. He usually does general preparation and prioritizing for the week on Mondays, as well as general admin tasks.
Tim also schedules very few things into his calendar, so that he doesn’t need to stress about multi-tasking to get things done:
The goal is to spend as much time possible doing what we want by maximizing output in minimal time.
Tim’s routine is especially flexible, which I find really inspiring:
I don’t have to do anything in this schedule. I choose to do them because I like them. None of them are financially-driven or unpleasant obligations. If the chance to do something more fun comes up last-minute, I can cancel all of them.
Who wouldn’t want a schedule like that? It definitely also goes hand in hand with Tim’s counter-intuitive advice on starting a business.
I’m sure there are many more entrepreneurs and people with great routines that I have missed out. I’d love to hear about them! Let me know in your response.