The Daily Routines of 7 Famous Entrepreneurs and How to Design Your Own Master Routine

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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.

Amazing routines of 7 successful entrepreneurs

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.

Jack Dorsey, CEO Square & Founder of Twitter

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
Tuesday: Product
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: “Evening question: What good have I done today?”

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:

benfranklin

 

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”!

Evan Williams: “Take the middle of the day off”

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.

Winston Churchill: “Start the day by working from bed”

winston churchillBeing 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!

Leo Babauta: “Start your day by planning what you need to get done”

leoA 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:

  • Wake at 4:30 a.m.
  • Drink water.
  • Set 3 Most Important Things (MITs) for today.
  • Fix lunches for kids and myself.
  • Eat breakfast, read.
  • Exercise (run, bike, swim, strength, or yardwork) or meditate.
  • Shower.
  • Wake wife & kids at 6:30 a.m.

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 instill 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.

Barack Obama: “Get a head start on tomorrow, tonight”

Like Winston Churchill, Barak 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: “Keep your routine as flexible as possible”

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.

Our 6 best tips for designing your own routine

If you’re ready to get started on your own awesome routine, here are some tips to get you started.

1.) A good breakfast can still be fast and easy

This is a great suggestion from Lifehacker which can help you get your morning routine going. If you struggle to eat breakfast every day because it’s too much effort or takes too long, this one’s for you.

Preparing your breakfast the night before by getting out the dishes you’ll need or cutting up fruit pieces can save you time the next morning. You might want to opt for a simple meal like cereal to save time and effort as well.

If something more time-intensive like oatmeal is your thing, you can make breakfast for the whole week in 5 minutes – perfect for a Sunday night before your week starts.

Here are some other fast, easy breakfast recipes you could try:

Do you have another great breakfast recipe that’s easy to make? Share it in the comments below—the more the merrier! This is especially important since breakfast is so tightly connected to higher productivity.

2.) Do creative work for when you’re tired

Our bodies have built-in clocks that determine the best times for us to eat, sleep, exercise and work. You might not have the flexibility to do everything at the right time for you, but try listening to your body clock as much as you can.

If you do better creative work at night, for instance, try to put creative tasks off during the day and schedule more admin or analytical tasks for your mornings.

If you find, like Evan, that exercising is best for you in the middle of the day, you could try doing this during your lunch break or taking a mid-afternoon break from work and hanging back a little later in the evenings.

3.) An alarm to wake you up might not be enough – have one to tell you to go to sleep

Most of us have alarms to wake us up in the mornings but we all-too-easily stay up later than we plan to. Having an alarm to remind us when it’s bedtime can be a great help in sticking to a regular routine for sleep.

In Eric Barker’s experiments with sleep, he found that setting an alarm to tell him when to go to bed was even more effective than one to get him up in the mornings.

To get you ready to wake up fresh and rested the next day, try simulating natural sleeping patterns as much as possible. An alarm clock like this that simulates sunrise, or even a gentle alarm sound like birds chirping can help you wake up more gently in the morning. Making your bedroom pitch-black and keeping the temperature low (and consistent) can also help with a more restful sleep.

4.) Switch yourself off at night to sleep better – the “zero notifications” method

We’re pretty fond of hacking and experimenting with our routines at Buffer, but a nightly wind-down routine is one we pay particular attention to. Many of us have found that this makes a big difference to how much—and how well—we sleep.

Our CEO, Joel, has written about his own routine before, and I really like how he explains his nightly wind-down habits:

Disengage: An activity to allow total disengagement from the day’s work. For me, this is going for a 20 minute walk every evening at 9:30pm. This is a wind down period, and allows me to evaluate the day’s work, think about the greater challenges, gradually stop thinking about work and reach a state of tiredness.

Avoid re-engaging: After the activity, go straight to bed. Be sure that all devices are in a separate room to the one you sleep (and slient). Once in bed, do not read books which are related to your work in any way. For me, this means reading fiction.

You might want to try a walk, like Joel, or some quiet reading time. Other great wind-down activites include meditation, drinking tea, sitting quietly, stretching and taking a bath.

And since light of any kind, including backlit screens like our computers and phones affect our sleep patterns negatively, try avoiding these for a while before you go to sleep.

5.) Develop a morning routine that you keep on weekends too

Building up a habitual morning routine can help you to start your day in the best way. This is another one Joel is fond of, and he has a great suggestion for creating a consistent morning routine:

I certainly believe that allowing imperfection and some slack at the weekend is important, but I personally made the mistake of having a weekend wake up time which was too divergent from my week day wake up time. Only once I started to think about the weekend, I hit a chain of many days of early mornings.

I love this point especially, because I’m prone to have big sleep-ins and late nights on weekends, which can make my morning routine much harder to get into on a Monday morning.

6.) Track your habits to understand yourself better

It takes time and effort to track everything you over a day. I recently started tracking my weekday activities and noticed that remembering to track each activity is the hardest part for me.

Having said that, if you can put in the effort for a few days, you might find the insights you need to improve your daily routine. Understanding how you live right now can help you to work towards how you want to live.

With habits especially, it’s good to follow Richard Branson’s advice and start something before you feel ready. It’s one of the most powerful things that has helped him succeed.

What other tips do you have for improving your daily routine? What does your routine look like right now? Let us know in the comments.

PS: To make your daily routine even more productive, we’ve got some scientific proof about the best productivity habits here: 7 Simple productivity tips you can apply today, backed by science

  • Nikko

    Great post! I’ve been optimizing my breakfast for a while and came across a winning formula:

    3 stalks of green onions, 3 leaves of kale or swiss chard, and 3 eggs, scrambled and fried in olive oil. Add a cup of greek yogurt, a banana, and a class of orange juice and it hits the sweet spot of energy without the food coma.

    • Belle

      Thanks for sharing that, Nikko!

  • TRU Motivation

    I found sleeping for 6 hours during the week instead of 8 gives me 2 extra hours to do my routine. Which consists of daily goal planning, walking meditation/Prayer/Positive Affirmations, reading Buffer post or other great content blogs, breakfast AND I STRONGLY SUGGEST people read or watch something inspirational or emotionally moving. It really helps you stay connected with the “WHY” aspect of why we do what we do.

    • Belle

      Thanks for sharing your routine :)

  • Daniel Richman

    Awesome writing, Belle! What inspiring people you chose to focus on. I especially enjoy Tim Ferriss’ approach, like you said…Who wouldn’t want that schedule? I hope to one day schedule myself in the likeness of ANY of our fair examples written here. I know it takes time, and these examples have WAAAY more than just time to deal with, but it’s a constant reminder to keep on doing what you love. Cheers!

    • Belle

      Thanks, Daniel! I agree, there are some excellent examples here :)

  • http://www.makelearningfun.info/ Jeremy

    Of course people’s routines must be determined by their own personalities and by the nature of the work that they do. The seven men you described have very different routines, but what unifies them is that they all have routines. My job description includes various short-term and long-term responsibilities. I try to stay on top of them all by taking two different approaches. One is like Jack Dorsey, having a theme for each day of the week. The other is realizing that different responsibilities have their own seasonal ebbs and flows of busy-ness. These two approaches are often in tension, but it’s a tension that helps me stay on top of everything when I manage it well.

  • http://www.sahilparikh.com/ Sahil Parikh

    hey Beth, this is very well written. Enjoyed reading :) A few months back I wrote up something similar but as a Startup Dad – http://sahilparikh.com/post/51539972450/productivity-hacks-of-a-startup-dad

    • Belle

      Thanks for sharing that, Sahil!

      - Belle.

  • http://zacjohnson.com/ Zac Johnson

    Great list of ideas and people profiled in the post. As much as I’d like to create a daily routine and list in the morning, my days always end up being a bit different than planned. Though I still like to have a notepad next to my computer to write down what I’d like to accomplish for the day.

  • http://www.johnrmeese.com/p/about-me.html John Meese

    I foolishly believed I understand my routine and was happy with it when I saw this post, but now that I read it I see I still have much to learn! Great outline, and inspiring ideas!

    I’ve been trying to get to bed earlier so I can wake up earlier and get more done, but that’s just not happening due to where I am in life (engaged, often visiting a city 30+ minutes from home where my fiancé and her family live).

    After reading these examples, I think I’ve decided to push my work schedule back an hour in the morning every day so that I can still focus on starting the day right!

  • Adam Cothes

    Belle, this is one of the best blogs I’ve read in a long time. You’ve done an excellent job and have done your homework. Very helpful!

    • Belle

      Thanks Adam! So glad you like it :)

  • http://www.WesleyWiley.com/ Wesley Wiley

    Great article Belle! One fun fact is that Jack Dorsey doesn’t have kids, so he can go at that pace. I know too many men (some of my coworkers admittedly) who try to pull that kind of schedule off and end up neglecting their families. This is a recipe for regret for sure. I just finished a 23-day challenge of going to bed at 10 and getting up at 6, everyday. It was harder than I though it’d be but more beneficial as well. Going to bed at 10 was surprisingly harder than getting up consistently at 6. It’s funny, but in the book of Genesis the day actually starts the night before (“And there was evening and there was morning – the first day.”) We really do start our days the night before don’t we?

    • http://hellocode.co Belle Beth Cooper

      Thanks, Wesley. Good point there about Jack not having kids—I know that’s one of the reasons Paul Graham says 25-year-olds are around the right age to start startups. Having family commitments to think of would definitely make it hard (if not impossible) to work 16-hour days.

    • Jen Antoniou

      This makes a lot of sense, and I like this perspective. As the Jewish people celebrate Sabbath at sundown, on Friday, we see that Sabbath begins and rest begins in the evening. I will be pondering this. :)

  • Klaus Bravenboer

    Great information Belle thank you, I’m going to focus on incorporating Jack’s themes for each day into my week.

    For breakfast I have Bulletproof Coffee (coffee + butter + coconut oil) it may seem weird but it is super quick, you feel light and it’s strangely effective! see http://www.cavemanklaus.com/health/bulletproof-coffee-the-best-breakfast/

  • mg

    What workes best for me is
    a) make a weekly schedule – so you don’t get the feeling that you have to do everything on one day. keep in mind that just making that schedule is hard work. Better to do it on a Friday NOT on a Monday!
    b) be flexible: choose to do a OR b every Monday, but c OR d every Tuesday, for example. So you have a choice and can adjust it to your daily mood. ‘a’ could be something physical and ‘b’ something more creative.
    c) you have to find your own way. that’s the most important one. One schedule might work for person A but is terribly wrong for person B.

  • Lisa

    Definitely agree with morning routines you can carry into the weekend, and adapt into a travel itinerary if necessary. A small routine of up, hydrate, exercise (you can exercise anywhere), breakfast, and shower. For me it works, keeps me within some form of routine, clears my head and gets me focused to take on the day and get it done.

  • http://mariadkins.com/ Mari Adkins

    i’m glad franklin had virutes. we all should.

  • MrLannister

    Oh lovely article, I am trying to you know develop some good habits ( >_> ) so this will probably help me out to some extent.

  • Sindur Pangestu Santoso

    Good knowladge :)

  • Bretwalda

    Very interesting insights – I do like the idea of an alarm to remind you to go to bed and the idea of a time to disengage for work – those of us who work from home are v prone to this failing I think. Thanks for the article Belle :)

  • Erin Miller

    Clearly these guys don’t need to factor in tasks such as domestic cleaning, child care or food management. 16 hour day? Piece of cake.

  • Micheal Hussey

    These blogs are valuable because these are providing such informative information for all the people.http://instagram.com/bubblegumcasting

  • http://www.mattheweathers.com Matthew Weathers

    Good stuff.

  • ItSet

    The visual of Franklin sitting naked in his office makes me giggle :)

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  • Jasir

    Great post. Here is a site that helps you to create your own schedule and see how others schedule their day [ http://dailyschedule.jterminal.com ]