The Productivity Habits of 8 Successful Founders & CEOs

In the high-stakes world of business leadership, the routines and habits of successful founders and CEOs can often seem like secret recipes for their success. How do these top executives manage their time, foster creativity, and make high-stakes decisions? 

The morning rituals, daily practices, and personal philosophies of these leaders not only shed light on their personal work ethics but also offer valuable insights into how they navigate the challenges and responsibilities of their roles. 

From the early risers to the strategic planners, the productivity habits of these eight influential figures provide a blueprint for effective leadership and personal management that many aspire to emulate. 

Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company

Every morning starts the same for Bob Iger. He wakes up at 4.15am, and avoids looking at his phone until after his workout. “I create a firewall with technology, by the way, in that I try to exercise and think before I read,” Iger told Vanity Fair in 2018. “Because if I read, it throws me off, it’s distracting. I’m immediately thinking about usually someone else’s thoughts instead of my own. I like being alone with my own thoughts, and it gives me an opportunity to not just replenish but to organize, and it’s important.”

“I happen to believe that in every day you need to have some quiet time to think, where you’re not really being bombarded by external forces,” Iger later said in a Masterclass presentation. “In some cases, you’re not doing email, you’re not watching television, you’re not doing anything really but enabling yourself to concentrate on whatever it is you might be anticipating or what you are planning to do. That’s vital.”

Daniel Ek, Co-Founder & CEO of Spotify

When it comes to his time management, Daniel Ek is extremely focused on efficiency. “If I have a call or another meeting, I’ll just block it out if I’m in the zone,” he told Fast Company. “That’s unorthodox because it means that you’re breaking social contracts, you’re disappointing someone because you didn’t show up. But if you’re really, really focused, those are the times when the breakthroughs come.”

This ruthlessness is also evident in his personal life. “I don’t do social calls,” he confessed.” For so many people, you’re beholden to this social thing, if I don’t show up, someone is going to be sad. I’m just pretty ruthless in prioritizing. What I tell my friends is, I like to be invited, but I probably won’t come.”

Ek also has a habit of writing out his daily, weekly, and monthly goals and tracking their progress every evening. From there, he’ll allocate time accordingly to each goal. “People think that creativity is this free spirit that has no boundaries,” he told Fast Company. “No, actually the most creative people in the world schedule their creativity. That’s the irony. So I try to do the same.”

Jack Dorsey, Co-Founder of Block, Inc.

A few years ago, when Jack Dorsey was still running both Twitter and Square, he was the only CEO on the S&P 500 to oversee two public companies. In order to deal with the requirements of such a mammoth task, Dorsey divided his week up into themes, explaining to Fast Company:

All my days are themed. Monday is management. At Square we have a directional meeting, at Twitter we have our opcomm [operating committee] meeting. Tuesday is product, engineering, and design. Wednesday is marketing, growth, and communications. Thursday is partnership and developers. Friday is company and culture. It works in 24-hour blocks. On days beginning with T, I start at Twitter in the morning, then go to Square in the afternoon. Sundays are for strategy, and I do a lot of job interviews. Saturday is a day off.

Jeff Bezos, Founder & Executive Chairman 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.

Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

When Warren Buffet arrives to work at the Berkshire Hathaway offices, a majority of his time is spent reading, “I just sit in my office and read all day.” In fact, he estimates that 80 percent of his daily work routine is spent on reading materials ranging from financial statements, journals and business reports, to newspapers and books.

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.” Bill Gates once 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.”

Aaron Levie, Co-Founder & CEO of Box

For the 38-year old CEO, who typically stays up to 2am working at the Box headquarters, taking naps are the secret weapon to what Levie dubs “continuous productivity.” Because of his late night working hours, Levie tends to wake up between 9.30-10am, “I’m in bed for 30 minutes swiping, replying, and deleting. I try to make sure I have no unread messages by the time I get into the office,” he told Fast Company in 2013.

At around 6-7pm, after the last meetings of the day have wound 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.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

Ever since taking over from his predecessor, Steve Ballmer, in 2014, Satya Nadella has rallied the stagnant tech giant, initiating a culture transformation that prioritised empathy, collaboration, and a growth mindset. As the CEO of one of the most valuable publicly traded companies in the world, Nadella has two constants in his daily morning routine – exercise and self-reflection.

Waking up at 7am, after getting his usual eight hours of sleep, the first thing Nadella does is ask himself “what are you thankful for?” It’s a ritual he picked up from Dr. Michael Gervais, a high performance psychologist who has coached Microsoft employees and the Seattle Seahawks. “It’s just grounding. It gives you the ability to get up in the morning and orient yourself for the day,” he said on LinkedIn’s Hello Monday podcast.

Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder & CEO of Meta

For the longest time there was a running joke that Mark Zuckerberg wore the same t-shirt every day has basically become a meme, there’s actually a great reason behind it. Similar to Barack Obama and Jeff Bezos, the Facebook CEO is looking for ways to minimise decision fatigue throughout his day.

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” Zuckerberg explained in an interview. “I’m in this really lucky position, where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”

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.