On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
In the early days of her law career, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nicknamed affectionately The Notorious R.B.G. by her admirers, juggled law school, late night study sessions and raising her daughter, Jane.
While most people would see this as a possible detriment to their academic success, Ginsburg viewed it as a good way to achieve work-life balance. In her eyes, balancing the two sides of work and family helped fuel her in a symbiotic way. She believed that being a mother helped her succeed in law school.
“Work-life balance was a term not yet coined in the years my children were young; it is aptly descriptive of the time distribution I experienced,” she wrote in The New York Times. “My success in law school, I have no doubt, was in large measure because of baby Jane.”
“I attended classes and studied diligently until 4 in the afternoon; the next hours were Jane’s time, spent at the park, playing silly games or singing funny songs, reading picture books and A. A. Milne poems, and bathing and feeding her. After Jane’s bedtime, I returned to the law books with renewed will. Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked.”
As a longtime advocate for work-life balance, Ginsburg fought for gender equality in the workplace and believed that people shouldn’t have to choose between having a personal life and a career. “It bothers me when people say to make it to the top of the tree you have to give up a family,” she said in a 2013 New Yorker interview.
I was tremendously fortunate to be alive and a lawyer, working at a university so I had more flexible hours, when the women’s movement was coming alive and when it became possible to argue successfully for a view of the equal protection clause that included women.Ginsburg’s dedication undimmed after 20 years on court | USA Today
Things got harder when Ginsburg was in her second year of law school. Her husband, Martin D. Ginsburg, was diagnosed with testicular cancer shortly after Jane’s birth. In addition to her own workload, Ginsburg also attended class and took notes for Martin. She described her daily routine during this period to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Rosen:
His routine was he’d have radiation, come home, become very sick, go to sleep, get up about midnight. Whatever food he could eat for the day, he ate between midnight and 1 o’clock. Then he would dictate his senior paper, and after he went back to sleep around 2 o’clock, that’s when I would begin to do my own work. Working at night, there are no distractions.RBG’s Life, in Her Own Words | The Atlantic
As an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was well-known for her dedication to the office. “I think now I am the hardest-working justice. I wasn’t until David Souter left us,” she told USA Today, referring to the retired Associate Justice who served from 1990 to 2009. The only things she was focused on outside of work were her grandchildren and the opera.
“She works late into the wee morning hours on her various cases,” said California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, who clerked for Ginsburg. “It was not infrequent for law clerks to get messages left on their voicemail at 2 or 3 a.m., because that was her prime time.”
But no matter what she’s working on, when it’s time for her workout, Ginsburg dropped everything to exercise with her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson. “Even though I tend to get consumed by my work and won’t let it go – that’s why I work long hours into the night – when it’s time to be with Bryant, everything stops and I go down to the gym,” she said in a USA Today interview.
Ginsburg started working with Johnson in 1999, after her cancer surgery, and trained twice a week in the evenings. According to the personal trainer’s book, The RBG Workout, Ginsburg’s training routine included: planks, push-ups, shoulder press, bicep curls, leg curls, one-legged squats, knee raises, pull downs, and glute work.
“She is like a machine, she keeps going, she keeps going,” Johnson told CNBC Make It. “She can come in there with only one hour of sleep, or two hours of sleep, and she is still committed to doing the work out.”
My own life bears witness, comparing the opportunities open to my mother and those open to me. The change is exhilarating, and it’s permanent. We are never going to go back to the days when women were not seen in decision-making arenas.RBG’s Life, in Her Own Words | The Atlantic
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Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.