On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
Lee Kuan Yew was a man who liked to stay busy. As the founding Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, Lee is recognised as the driving force behind the country’s transformation “from the bottom rungs of the third world to the first world in a single generation,” according to CNN.
After stepping down from his role as the Prime Minister on 28 November 1990, Lee continued to serve as a Senior Minister, from 1990 to 2004, then as a Minister Mentor from 2004 to 2011. After his retirement, the former Prime Minister continued to stay active on the political scene until his passing in 2015.
In his 2013 biography, One Man’s View of the World, Lee described his post-political daily routine:
My daily routine is set. I wake up, clear my e-mail, read the newspapers, do my exercises and have lunch. After that, I go to my office at the Istana, clear more papers and write articles or speeches. In the afternoons and evenings, I sometimes have interviews scheduled with journalists, after which I may spend an hour or two with my Chinese teachers.Lee Kuan Yew on… Life after Cabinet… and death | The Straits Times
On his sleeping routine, Lee once said in an interview, “I get six and a half, seven hours of sleep. I sleep late, I wake up late, I work late. I have no trouble sleeping.”
Throughout his life, Lee was extremely health conscious. He gave up smoking when he took office, after starting the habit in the early 1940s (“we were all growing up and it was a sign of manhood”) and smoking as many as 20 cigarettes a day until 1957.
“The pressures became very great and I knew that if my health is poor, then my work suffers,” Lee said, explaining his lifestyle overhaul. “When you are under heavy stresses you must be in good health or you are in trouble. I began to be careful about how much I ate and how much I drank.”
As the Senior Minister, Lee also made sure to get his workout in every day. A 1992 Straits Times article describes his exercise routine:
A car drives up the front porch and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew alights, trailed by his security officers. He heads for the building and changes into a plain white T-shirt, blue shorts and Nike running shoes before starting his exercise routine: 20 minutes of cycling on a stationary bicycle; five to 10 minutes on a rowing machine; a 10-minute jog. Sometimes, if he is in the mood, he hops onto a bicycle and breezes through the grounds of the Istana.Keeping Fit: Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Way | Strait Times
He also ran, cycled and golfed, though he cut the latter out when he felt it was taking up too much of his time. In addition to his exercise, Lee also practiced meditation as a stress-reliever from the pressures of high office, learning from his daughter, who was a medical student, and reading meditation books.
“When you are working on high pressure, your adrenalin flows. And you must have your adrenalin flowing or else you would not be working at a pitch,” he said. “I learnt how to slow down my breathing and bring my metabolic rate down so that my heart beat will go down. That made the rest of the day much easier.”
For his diet, Lee was a known food lover and had a soft spot for fried chicken. “I can eat anything and enjoy it, if it is good to eat,” he said in a 1992 interview. To moderate his eating habits, Lee stuck to smaller meal portions throughout the day.
Breakfast was usually sugarless soya bean milk and a small bowl of soya bean curd, and for lunch he typically had fish or a small portion of meat, steamed green vegetables and lots of fruits such as pineapple and pomelo.
In a 2016 interview, Lee’s longest-serving personal bodyguard, Karuppiah Kandasamy, who accompanied him for over 20 years, described his work ethic as the Prime Minister. “When I was on duty, almost every night, I saw him working in his room till past midnight,” Karuppiah Kandasamy remembers. “Yet, he was up by 7.30am every morning to start working from home before he went into the office.
Yet, despite Lee’s busy schedule, he always made sure he spent time with his family. According to Kandasamy, Lee was home every evening to have dinner with his wife and children. After that, he and his wife would go for a stroll around the Istana grounds — “They would talk non-stop for the whole 45-minute walk, about their day and everything else.”
Kandsamy was so moved by Lee’s commitment to his wife that he was inspired to do the same in his marriage. “It was from Mr Lee that I picked up a lot, especially on how to love and appreciate my wife and my family,” he said in an interview. “I now take my wife everywhere I go.”
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