The Daily Routines, Habits & Rituals of Successful People: Barack Obama, Richard Branson, Jack Dorsey & More

Behind every successful person, there is a successful routine. Well, that’s what we’re trying to figure out with our Daily Routines series, where we profile world leaders, athletes, entrepreneurs, artists and business executives to see how they set up their day for success.

Whether it’s Lebron James with his 12-hours of sleep a day, Jack Dorsey having only one meal a day, Michelle Obama working out at 4.30am, or Aaron Levie’s evening power nap; here are some of the most interesting daily routines of successful people.

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Michael Phelps had a race day routine during the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Known for: Former competitive swimmer, most decorated Olympian of all time.

Waking up 6.30am, Phelps arrived at the Olympic Village cafeteria by 7am to eat his usual breakfast of “eggs, oatmeal and four energy shakes, the first of more than 6,000 calories he would consume over the next 16 hours.”

Two hours before his first scheduled race for the day, Phelps would begin his stretching routine, “starting with his arms, then his back, then working down to his ankles, which were so flexible they could extend more than 90 degrees, farther than a ballerina’s en pointe.” Following that, Phelps started his 45 minute warm-up routine in the pool — “800 metres of mixed styles, followed by 600 metres of kicking, 400 metres pulling a buoy between his legs, 200 metres of stroke drills, and a series of 25-metre sprints to elevate his heart rate.”

Once he was done stretching and warming up, Phelps put on his LZR Racer swimsuit, and waited for the race to start while listening to a hip-hop rotation of Eminem, Biggie, G-Unit, JAY Z, Rick Ross and Young Jeezy. Eminem’s “‘Till I Collapse” played a big part in Phelps’ mix.

Read more: Michael Phelps daily routine

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes her time drinking water in the morning

Known for: American politician; U.S. representative for New York’s 14th congressional district

On a typical day in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s life, she’s up at between 7-8am, usually cuddled up next to Deco, a French bulldog she and her partner Riley Roberts got earlier in 2020.

If it’s not a day where she needs to head out the door right way, Ocasio-Cortez will take her time to have some breakfast (“toast with a little bit of peanut butter or almond butter”), drink her matcha tea, and scan through the news on The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and New Republic.

Then, she’ll drink her water, a meditation-like ritual that has become a vital part of her day. “The most important part of my morning routine has been drinking water. I like to put some lemon in my water and I try to drink it pretty slowly and mindfully,” she said. “I will look out my window. I will try to look at the clouds passing by just really slow down for even a minute, five minutes in the morning and that has been my little meditative practice recently.”

Read more: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez daily routine

Virgil Abloh doesn’t have an office and works almost entirely off his phone

Known for: Fashion designer; creative director; DJ

The bulk of Virgil Abloh’s work is done on the go. Instead of an office with a computer, Abloh operates almost entirely using his phone, with separate WhatsApp groups for each project he’s working on. “It removes you from being plugged in to an ironically corporate desk-like place,” he explained to Mr Porter. “All of a sudden, everywhere is an office. If I have a fully charged phone, I can do anything.”

“I literally have no desk in the world. I work on the street, phone in hand,” he told The New York Times. “I’ve occasionally been stuck at the corner of Prince and Mercer Streets in Manhattan not even realizing I’ve been standing there for 20 minutes responding to messages.”

Read more: Virgil Abloh daily routine

Robert Caro wears a suit and tie on his writing days

Known for: Journalist; author of The Power Broker, The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Even though Robert Caro is the only person in his office — there’s no secretary getting him coffee, he makes his own in the kitchen — and rarely receives visitors, he still prefers to wear a suit and tie while working.

Whenever I go to work I wear a jacket and a tie, because I’m inherently quite lazy, and my books take so long to do, and my publishers don’t bug me, so it’s so easy to fool yourself into thinking you’re working harder than you really are. So I do everything possible to make myself remember this is a job I’m going to, and I have to produce every day. The tie and the jacket are part of that.


Read more: Robert Caro daily routine

Tom Ford has a bath every morning

Known for: Fashion designer; filmmaker

On most mornings, Ford is up at 4.30am and the first thing he does is weigh himself. “I do this every morning, and if I have gained more than two or three pounds, I try to eat fruit and vegetables exclusively for a couple of days until my weight is back to my ideal,” he told Harper’s Bazaar.

He’ll then make himself a large cup of iced coffee and do some work and answer emails until 6am. He’ll then make himself another cup of iced coffee and run a bath. “I lay in my bathtub with a bendable straw in my coffee and no lights and only one candle lit,” he told Mr Porter. “I love that time in the morning when no one else is awake, and I’m alone, and then I can slowly come to life.”

Read more: Tom Ford daily routine

Jack Dorsey only has one meal a day

Known for: Co-founder & CEO of Twitter; founder & CEO of Square

During the interview with Ben Greenfield, Dorsey revealed that he had been on the One Meal a Day (OMAD) diet for the past two years, with dinner being his only meal for the day.

I don’t have anything until around 6:30[pm]. And then, I usually eat a really big meal and I have a protein, whether it’d be fish, chicken, or some steak. I try to have a lot of greens in terms of salad, a big arugula salad, spinach. And then, I sometimes have asparagus or Brussels sprout or some other green vegetable. And then, I have mixed berries as a dessert, maybe some dark chocolate.


Read more: Jack Dorsey daily routine

Bill Gates like to wash the dishes in the evening

Known for: Co-founder of Microsoft; co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

To unwind at the end of a busy day, one of Gates’ preferred options is to do some household chores, telling the readers of his Reddit AMA session that he finds washing the dishes quite enjoyable and a way to de-stress from the day, “other people do volunteer, but I like the way that I do it”.

Read more: Bill Gates daily routine

Gordon Ramsay’s go-to breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal

To cater to his demanding lifestyle, as well as maintain his health, Gordon Ramsay keeps a close eye on his diet and exercise. For breakfast, he’ll usually keep it simple with a bowl of oatmeal. During the reddit Q&A, Ramsay described his go-to oatmeal recipe:

“The night before, put 3-4 bananas in the oven on a pilot light. And the next day, squeeze the bananas into almond milk, bring it to a boil, then add the oatmeal and dried cranberries, and you’ll have the most amazing oatmeal for breakfast.”

Read more: Gordon Ramsay’s daily routine

Malcolm Gladwell prefers writing in cafes and restaurants

Known for: Author of The Tipping Point, Outliers; staff writer for The New Yorker

At around 9am is when Gladwell will start the most important part of his work — writing. But not at home, or in his office. In a 2009 profile by The Guardian, Gladwell explained that as a result of spending 10 years in a newsroom, he can’t write when it’s quiet and needs the buzz of people around him, “I like people around me; but I don’t want to talk to them.” He’ll ride his bike around lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, setting up shop in cafes and restaurants where he’ll write for a few hours.

Read more: Malcolm Gladwell daily routine

Joe Rogan has a “Hulk Loads” shake

Known for: Comedian; podcast host; UFC commentator

Joe Rogan has one of his his Insta-famous “Hulk Loads” kale shakes every day, which he calls his “morning nutrient blast,” made up of:

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 apple
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 chunk of ginger
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • large salad size clump of kale

Read more: Joe Rogan daily routine

Jeff Bezos sticks to 3 good decisions per day

Known for: Founder & CEO of Amazon

Jeff Bezos likes to stick to making three good decisions per day, a strategy that Warren Buffet also uses.

As a senior executive, you get paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions. Your job is not to make thousands of decisions every day. Is that really worth it if the quality of those decisions might be lower because you’re tired or grouchy? If I make, like, three good decisions a day, that’s enough. Warren Buffett says he’s good if he makes three good decisions a year.


Read more: Jeff Bezos daily routine

Richard Branson exercises and has breakfast with his family every day

Known for: Founder of Virgin Group

After waking up at 5am, Richard Branson will either play a game of tennis, go for a walk or run, do some biking, or kitesurfing (if the wind permits).

“Exercise puts me in a great mind frame to get down to business, and also helps me to get the rest I need each night. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing I have applied myself both physically and mentally every day.”

After exercising, Branson will sit down for breakfast with his family. Exercise and family time are his two non-negotiables for the day.

Read more: Richard Branson daily routine

Haruki Murakami trains every day after his writing session

Known for: Author of A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), Norwegian Wood (1987)

If Japanese author Haruki Murakami is in novel mode, he’ll wake up at 4am and immediately start writing, working for five to six hours. Murakami will typically finish up his day’s writing at 10am or 11am. From there, he’ll proceed to his physical training. As he explains to the Paris Review:

In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long — six months to a year — requires a good amount of mental and physical strength.


Read more: Haruki Murakami daily routine

Barack Obama was a night owl during his presidency

Known for: 44th President of the United States

During his presidency Obama gained the reputation of being a “night guy,” known for carving out late nights hours in his upstairs office in the Treaty Room, when things were calmer, with fewer people running around and less demands on his attention.

2016 New York Times profile showcased a nightly routine that consisted of reading, writing and planning, as well as ESPN and Words With Friends. Obama often used this time to catch up on the day, decompress, and also just to think. He also had a habit of snacking on “seven lightly salted almonds” every night.

The most difficult thing is to carve out time to think, which is probably the most important time for somebody who’s trying to shift an organization, or in this case, the country, as opposed to doing the same things that have been done before. And I find that time slips away.

Obama After Dark: The Precious Hours Alone | The New York TImes

Read more: Barack Obama daily routine

Sheryl Sandberg leaves work at 5.30pm every day without fail

Known for: Chief Operating Officer of Facebook

When Sheryl Sandberg was a Google executive, working on developing Google’s ad business and regularly putting in long hours everyday, from 7am to 7pm.

According to a 2017 Bloomberg article, after Sandberg welcomed her first child, she started sneaking out of Google’s office early, “sometimes placing a decoy jacket on her chair, leaving the light on at her desk, or scheduling afternoon meetings in other buildings so her colleagues wouldn’t see her leave.”

These days at Facebook, in stark contrast to her days at Google, Sandberg makes it a clear point to leave work every day at the same time. Each day, without fail, no matter which jobs may need doing, Sandberg leaves the office at 5.30pm to ensure she has time to get home, have dinner with her family, and spend the evening with them.

Read more: Sheryl Sandberg daily routine

Jason Fried minimises distractions by only having one monitor

Known for: Co-founder & CEO of Basecamp

For his work setup, Jason Fried has gone from multiple computers and multiple monitors to just one device, a 12″ Macbook. He’s all about minimising distractions and prioritising focus, “I go full screen on nearly every app. I also hide my dock. I don’t want anything pulling my attention away. When I’m curious I’ll look. Otherwise, I’m looking at what I want, not what someone else might want me to see.”

Read more: Jason Fried daily routine

Elon Musk sleeps about 6-6.5 hours per night

Known for: Founder, CEO, CTO and chief designer of SpaceX; CEO and product architect of Tesla

With a bedtime of around 1am, Musk typically wakes up at 7am, getting 6 to 6.5 hours of sleep, which, he discovered over the years is his sweet spot. “Sleep is really great. I find if I don’t get enough sleep I’m quite grumpy. I could drop below a certain threshold of sleep, although I would be awake more hours I would get less done because my mental acuity would be affected,” Musk said in a 2015 reddit AMA.

Read more: Elon Musk daily routine

Matt Mullenweg used the Uberman sleep cycle while building the WordPress

Known for: Creator of WordPress; founder & CEO of Automattic

In a 2018 interview with Tim Ferriss, Mullenweg spoke about how he used the Uberman sleep cycle (also known as Polyphasic sleep) while writing WordPress. “So it’s four hours on, and then 20 or 30 minutes of sleep,” Mullenweg explained to Ferriss. “This was probably one of the most productive periods of my life.”

Read more: Matt Mullenweg daily routine

David Heinemeier Hansson doesn’t use an alarm clock to wake up

Known for: Creator of Ruby on Rails; co-founder & CTO at Basecamp

Most days David Heinemeier Hansson will go to sleep at 9.30pm to 10pm, and wake up with no alarm, “I’ve always slept 8.5-10 hours. My most cherished luxury is not having to wake to an alarm clock 97% of the time,” he onced tweeted.

Read more: David Heinemeier Hansson daily routine

Michelle Obama wakes up at 4.30am every day to exercise

Known for: Former first lady of the United States; author of Becoming

Michelle Obama’s daily routine starts just like Barack’s daily routine — with exercise. Michelle started her morning exercise routine when their first daughter, Malia, was 4 months old.

My “aha” moment came when our first daughter, Malia, was 4 months old. My husband’s exercise routine hadn’t changed a bit; he was still getting his workouts in, and I was getting irritated (laughs). Then I realized he was just prioritizing it differently. So I said, “If I get up and out before the first feeding, I will work out.” That will engage my husband to do that first feeding with the baby. So I started getting up at 4:30 in the morning and going to the gym. With exercising, the more you do it, the more you get into it. And the more you see results, the more you’re pushing for the next level. That’s when it just clicked for me.

Michelle Obama’s Rules for Staying Healthy and Happy | Prevention

Read more: Michelle Obama daily routine

Anna Wintour brings homework to do every night

Known for: Editor-in-chief of Vogue; artistic director for Condé Nast

At 5pm, Anna Wintour will leave the office, heading home with work to do for the night. This usually includes resumes, pitches, publications, as well as sample pages of the upcoming issue of Vogue.

She makes it a goal to work through everything before the next day, “It’s super important to me to get everything done at night so I can keep on top of the work and nobody is waiting for my feedback.” Wintour will typically head off to bed at 10.15pm, getting anywhere between 6 to 7 hours of sleep per night.

Read more: Anna Wintour daily routine

Warren Buffet avoids scheduling meetings or appointments

Known for: Chairman & CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Buffet is also well-known for fiercely protecting his time and avoids scheduling meetings or appointments in advance, “Keep control of your time. You won’t keep control of your time unless you can say no — you can’t let other people set your agenda in life.”

Gates wrote, “one habit of Warren’s that I admire is that he keeps his schedule free of meetings. He’s good at saying no to things. He knows what he likes to do—and what he does, he does unbelievably well.”

Read more: Warren Buffet daily routine

Melanie Perkins starts off every day with journaling

Known for: Co-founder & CEO of Canva

In an interview with Thrive Global last year, Melanie Perkins talked about using the Five Minute Journal every day, “It’s a lovely way to start the day and helps to ensure I’m proactively shaping my day ahead. I’ve only been doing it for a couple of weeks — but hope to keep it up!”

Read more: Melanie Perkins daily routine

Arianna Huffington drinks bulletproof coffee and avoids breakfast

Known for: Co-founder of The Huffington Post; founder & CEO of Thrive Global

In an interview on the Tim Ferriss Show, Huffington revealed that she drank bulletproof coffee every morning and avoided breakfast, with lunch being her first meal of the day.

Every morning, I have coffee, bulletproof coffee for breakfast which is, basically, as you know, coffee with organic butter. Then I don’t really like breakfast in terms of food. I was brought up in Greece and people don’t have breakfast. They have coffee. Like a good Greek peasant girl, I don’t really eat until lunchtime. If you want to know what is my favorite food at lunchtime, it’s breakfast.


Read more: Arianna Huffington daily routine

Maria Popova does most of her reading on the ellipitcal

Known for: Founder of Brain Pickings

In an interview with Tim Ferriss, Popova revealed that, while her wake up time varies, it’s always “exactly eight hours after I’ve gone to bed.” She’ll then start her day in her Brooklyn apartment with a 15-20 minute meditation session and a workout — 20 chin ups, 50 push ups, then a series of planks and stretches — before heading to the gym where most of her long-form reading is done while she’s on the elliptical.

Read more: Maria Popova daily routine

Nir Eyal uses the Forest app to stay focused

Known for: Author of Indistractable, Hooked

As an expert in productivity, habits and staying indistractable, Eyal employs several techniques to help him stay focused. For instance, he uses an app called Forest every time he writes, “It’s a timer that plants a virtual tree when you start a focused work session. If you pick up your phone and try and exit the app, the tree dies. It’s a little pre-commitment device that helps me stay focused.”

Read more: Nir Eyal daily routine

Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t stopped training every day

Known for: Actor; former Governor of California; former professional bodybuilder

While Arnold’s current exercise routine is vastly different to his bodybuilding days, his bodybuilding routine is vastly different to Arnold’s current routine, he still follows the same disciplined habits of his younger self.

These days, he’ll wake up at 5am and ride his bike to the gym where he’ll train for 45 minutes, with a focus on lighter weights. “I’m not training heavy anymore,” he told Men’s Health. “After my heart surgery, I was advised not to train heavy. Not go go three reps, heaviest weight, and all that stuff. So now I do lighter weights and more reps.”

Read more: Arnold Schwarzenegger daily routine

Scott Adams likes to “flood his mind” before starting his work

Known for: Creator of Dilbert comic strip

Before settling down to work, Adams will reads news, usually Business Insider, and check social media — a process he calls flooding the mind. “There’s a process where once you clear your mind, you have to flood it,” he explained to Tim Ferriss. “So, I’m looking at the news, I’m looking at stuff I haven’t seen. I’m not looking at yesterday’s problem for the fifth time; I’m looking at a new problem, I’m thinking of a new idea. So, I’m flooding in all the new stuff.”

Read more: Scott Adams daily routine

Lebron James supplements his sleep with naps throughout the day

Known for: Basketball player

When it comes to sleep, Lebron has long recognised the benefits of getting enough and typically averages 12 hours of sleep a day. He wakes up at 5am after getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep, and will nap throughout the day.

“For my 13-year career, I’ve taken a nap for the most part every day and for sure on game days,” Lebron told CBS Sports. “Sleep is the most important thing when it comes to recovery. And it’s very tough with our schedule. Our schedule keeps us up late at night, and most of the time it wakes us up early in the morning. There’s no better recovery than sleep.”

Read more: Lebron James daily routine

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson wakes up at 3.30am to get his quiet time

Known for: Actor; retired professional wrestler

With a typical wake up time of 3.30am, Johnson is one of those rare people who don’t need as much sleep, he usually gets three to five hours per night. While this sounds an insanely low amount of hours for sleep, Johnson revealed that being awake and having time to himself was more important than sleep.

“The only thing that’s regimented is I have to wake up before the sun gets up, and I have my two hours alone when no one else is up and the house is quiet,” he told Variety in a 2017 profile. “I often sacrifice two hours of sleep just so I can have the quiet two hours that I need before the whole house wakes up, including the animals.”

Read more: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson daily routine

Ryan Carson divides up his week into themed days

Known for: Founder & CEO of Treehouse

Ryan Carson, founder and CEO of online technology school Treehouse, follows a similar weekly routine to Jack Dorsey; dividing up his week up into theme-focused days. He also only works 4-day weeks.

Each workday — Monday to Thursday — is divided into four main areas of the Treehouse business: Mondays — product, Tuesdays — video & teaching, Wednesdays — HR, culture & finance, Thursdays – Marketing & Sales.

Read more: Ryan Carson daily routine

Max Levchin blocks out 2-hours every day to focus on deep work

Known for: Co-founder of PayPal; co-founder & CEO of Affirm

Although Levchin loves having long stretches of uninterrupted, focused work, the nature of a CEO’s role is to be disrupted constantly throughout the day. Levchin balances this out by scheduling dedicated time for deep work.

“If I really need to focus on creative work, I’ll go to a coffee shop. I like the anonymity — all these people buzzing around, ordering drinks and going about their lives,” he said in a 2015 Inc profile. “Every day, I dedicate a couple of two-hour time slots to cutting myself off from everyone else — to do whatever needs to be done. Unless it’s my wife, I won’t pick up the phone. I don’t check email, and I turn off my messenger apps. That has really helped my productivity.”

Read more: Max Levchin daily routine

Aaron Levie has a power nap every evening in a conference room

Known for: Co-founder & CEO of Box

At around 6-7pm every day, after the meetings wind down, Levie will put on his earplugs and have a quick power nap in a conference room, “just 20 to 25 minutes is all you need, and then you get fully recharged,” he told Business Insider. Although the Box team are now well aware of their CEO’s evening napping habits, there have been times when the cleaning crew have accidentally interrupted his power snooze.

Read more: Aaron Levie daily routine

Andrew Wilkinson wakes up at 1pm and only works 5-6 hours a day

Known for: Co-founder of Tiny; co-founder of Metalab

In a podcast interview with Dorm Room Tycoon, Wilkinson talked more about the benefits of limited time on his working style, “the constraint of knowing I was only going to work five or six hours that day forced me not to do a lot of extraneous crap and it also forced me to delegate.”

I wake up around 1pm and almost always get eight hours of sleep. Most days, I head to the office in the early afternoon and work around 5-6 hours. Sometimes I put in another couple hours at night, but I take the majority of my time away from work, and I never work weekends.


Read more: Andrew Wilkinson daily routine

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Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Arianna Huffington, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.