Daily Routines and Habits of Successful People

I'll just start tomorrow. How many times have we repeated that comforting sentence? Probably a million times. But then, tomorrow arrives, and it turns out we're still not ready for a change. Lucky for us, famous successful people have been there too, and they have managed to fine-tune their routines to perfection.

Daily routines and habits of highly productive people

Now, you can turn to the habits that worked out for famous productive people and choose to adopt the ones that seem the most doable for you. But first, we'll need to take a closer look at the difference between habits and routine and see why we even need habits and routines. Then, we'll go into routines and habits that work for famous productive people today and the ones that worked for productive people throughout history.

Ultimately, we'll look into the daily habits and routines of Americans today to see if there's anything you can do differently to perfect your daily routine, increase your productivity, and improve your efficiency just like a famous, successful person.

What is the difference between routines and habits?

If you have ever searched for ways to start a new habit or looked up the daily routines of famous people (which you must have, since you're reading this article), you might have figured out that the word ‘routine' and the word ‘habit' mean the same thing.

But, are they really the same?

It turns out that, although habits and routines are part of the same process, there is a difference between them.

Namely, the psychology of human behavior shows that habits belong to a type of behavior that we are not even aware of doing.

Still, although we engage in this type of behavior unconsciously, we need some kind of a cue to remind us to start our habitual actions.

For example, you might have developed a habit to brush your teeth immediately after a meal.

When this is the case, whenever you finish your meal, you probably automatically rush to your bathroom. So, finishing a meal and moving from your dining table would be your cue.

But, what about routines? Don't they become automatic too?

Well, unlike habitual actions, our routine behavior is not connected to a cue. Following a particular routine requires conscious and deliberate effort precisely because this behavior does not depend on a trigger

For example, a part of your routine might be to go for a run every day. However, even if you enjoy physical activity, there's a slim chance that you'll simply walk out of your home and start working out on autopilot.

So, habits are automatic behaviors triggered by a cue, whereas routines require conscious effort to maintain.

Why are routines and habits important?

You have probably heard more than once that the road to success is paved with consistent action. So, developing established routines and healthy habits seems to be the most logical way to remain consistent in reaching your goals.

But, forming productive habits has its merits even if you're not currently focused on any particular goal.

Namely, studies show that not only do habits and routines help us increase the overall quality of our lives, but they also give us more room for creativity and innovation.

When we form a habit out of some of our daily, time-consuming tasks, these tasks become automatic and do not require our full attention. Then, while the task is on the “back burner of consciousness”, our mind is free to give its attention to creative thinking.

Daily routines and habits of successful people

There will probably never be an ultimate recipe for success.

Still, routines and habits are a vital addition to the daily lives of a great number of highly productive people, so there must be a connection.

Let's see if we can join the dots by looking at the daily routines of famous people.

Barack Obama's daily routine

The 44th president of the United States contributed to plenty of changes in his country.

But, with change came great responsibility as well as a jam-packed schedule.

So, to keep up with the extensive amount of work, Obama frequently had to work late into the night, becoming the country's most famous “night guy.”

Why some people are more productive at night (+ tips for night owls)

But, what about the rest of Obama's day? He probably didn't have enough time to make up for lost sleep.

Let's take a closer look.

Barack Obama's schedule

Key elements of Barack Obama's routine

Obama rarely left his home without spending at least 30 minutes of his time exercising.

He also never skipped breakfast, regardless of how busy his day was.

Queen Elizabeth's daily routine

Although she's been on the British throne for almost 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II has never given up on her regular daily routine.

Since her schedule has remained as tight as it was the day she inherited the British crown, the Queen of England had to follow a detailed plan to keep up with a multitude of duties that come with the royal rank.

Does the secret lie in rarely taking a day off?

Let's see what a day in the life of Queen Elizabeth looks like.

Queen Elizabeth's schedule

Key elements of Queen Elizabeth's routine

Queen Elizabeth rarely introduces any changes to her schedule.

Following a strict routine, she manages to remain on top of all of her royal duties while still having enough room to enjoy her leisure time as well.

Jack Dorsey's daily routine

Before he stepped down as Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey managed to balance two different leading roles for 6 years.

To keep up with all the responsibilities that came with his two jobs, Dorsey had to figure out a rigid routine.

Apart from changing his eating habits to only 7 meals per week and organizing his workday around a theme, the current Block Inc. CEO has introduced many more unusual habits to his schedule to stay on top of his tasks.

Let's find out what they are.

The ultimate time blocking guide (+ time blocking apps)

Jack Dorsey's schedule

Key elements of Jack Dorsey's routine

The vital element of Jack Dorsey's daily schedule is most certainly day theming.

By concentrating on one area of his work instead of trying to balance dozens of tasks every day, Jack Dorsey managed to maintain focus and give his undivided attention to both companies equally.

Oprah Winfrey's daily routine

Popular talk show host and entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey was more than once named one of the most powerful and influential women in the world.

But, with great success come swamped schedules.

Still, Oprah seems to manage her time pretty well.

Let's see what her typical day looks like to find out the secret behind her thriving career.

Oprah Winfrey's schedule

Key elements of Oprah Winfrey's routine

By waking up without an alarm clock, Oprah maintains healthy sleeping habits and prepares her body for a successful day even before she gets up.

By relying on the alarm clock in the morning, we risk waking up from a deep sleep, which might leave us feeling groggy and disoriented.

But, when we wait for our body to gradually enter the stage of light sleep, we wake up naturally, feeling refreshed and energized.

Elon Musk's daily routine

The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX seems to be one of the busiest people in the world.

Well-known for his time blocking habits and his 20 hours per day work routine, Elon Musk's time management skills never cease to amaze.

Apart from putting a tremendous amount of hours into work, and plotting MARS colonization with NASA, Musk still finds enough hours in a day to spend quality time with his family.

Does he have more hours per day than an average person? Let's find out.

Elon Musk's schedule

Key elements of Elon Musk's routine

By developing a habit of breaking his workday into 5-minute blocks, Musk manages to have better control of his time and maintain high productivity levels.

Taking a shower immediately after waking up is beneficial for his productivity too since research has shown that this habit regulates our circadian rhythm and helps us engage in critical thinking.

Anna Wintour's daily routine

The name of the Vogue's editor-in-chief has become almost synonymous with power and influence, at least in the fashion industry.

Still, Anna Wintour had to develop almost perfect time management skills to grapple with the busy lifestyle that the fashion world entails.

But, how did she fine-tune her schedule so as not to fall behind the never-sleeping world of fashion?

Let's peek at her usual day.

Anna Wintour's schedule

Key elements of Anna Wintour's routine

By waking up as early as 4 a.m., Anna Wintour has got just enough time to exercise, have breakfast, and remain up-to-date with the newest ongoings in the world of fashion.

Evan Williams' daily routine

You would probably expect the founder of Twitter, Blogger, and Medium to work around the clock, rarely stopping to catch his breath.

Surprisingly, Evan Williams got into the habit of listening to his body and adjusting his schedule accordingly.

This is what his day usually looks like:

Evan Williams' schedule

Key elements of Evan Williams' routine

Williams takes into account his biological prime time and allocates his work time and gym time accordingly.

Leo Babauta's daily routine

The creator of Zen Habits is perhaps the perfect person to consult about healthy daily routines.

As a former procrastinator who transformed his lifestyle by adopting radical changes, Leo Babauta has now become more productive than ever.

Dealing with procrastination: Why it happens and how to fix it

A glimpse into his daily routine could potentially reveal the key to his drastic transformation.

Leo Babauta's morning routine

Key elements of Leo Babauta's morning routine

Getting into the habit of deciding on the three most important things that require his attention during the day, Babauta avoids multitasking because he's entirely focused on his priorities.

Angela Merkel's daily routine

During her 16-year tenure, the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel ranked first on the Forbes list of most powerful women for 9 consecutive years.

But, hand in hand with immense power and influence goes a handful of responsibilities that need to be taken care of within a 24-hour frame.

How busy must Merkel's day have been before the end of her tenure?

Let's break it down.

Angela Merkel's schedule

Key elements of Angela Merkel's routine

Quite aware of the importance of physical activity, the former German Chancellor never skipped exercise.

What do successful people have in common?

Highly productive and successful people:

Successful people stick to strict schedules

Their daily routines don't vary much, and they don't let distractions get in the way of their success — they try to stick to their routines.

Successful people get up early

All successful entrepreneurs like to get up early in the morning, usually before 7 a.m.

This way, they don't have to head straight to work, but have time to shower, eat breakfast, meditate, work out, and prepare for their daily workload.

Successful people never skip exercise

Most of them exercise in the morning, before heading out, but Evan Williams shows that you can plan your workouts according to your productivity peak hours.

If you're most productive in the morning, focus on work early in the day and move exercise for later.

Successful people don't forget breakfast

Apart from Musk who skips breakfast in favor of other activities, and Dorsey who got into the habit of fasting, all the other mentioned successful people try not to forget their breakfast, no matter how busy they are.

This helps them gain an initial boost of energy to help tackle their daily workload.

Successful people block their schedule

Making and following a schedule means you've already allocated a specific time to each activity, and some entrepreneurs take this to the next level.

Musk was famed for his 5-minute blocks of time that helped him parse his daily activities into manageable chunks.

Daily routines and habits of successful people throughout history

If reading about famous people has led you to believe that you need a strict schedule to thrive, maybe looking into the habits of successful people from the past could change your mind.

History abounds with people who had unusual sleeping schedules, and yet, they still managed to become successful writers, poets, physicians, scientists, etc.

But, they made sure to remain consistent with their routines, and that was their main formula for success.

Virginia Woolf's daily routine

One of the most highly valued female writers of the 20th century was quite concerned with her writing schedule.

Since Virginia Woolf struggled with depression and anxiety, having a structured day helped her keep her focus even during the darkest hours.

Virginia Woolf's schedule

Key elements of Virginia Woolf's routine

Following a strict schedule helped Virginia Woolf maintain her focus and ward off distractions.

Since breaks and mealtime were scheduled too, the writer was able to prevent herself from overworking or skipping meals.

John Milton's daily routine

The famous writer of Paradise Lost remained a prolific author even after losing his sight at the age of 43.

Although he had to rely on dictation, he still managed to publish more than 15 pieces of work after his loss of vision.

John Milton's schedule

Key elements of John Milton's routine

Even though John Milton used to wake up extremely early, the fact that he went to bed not later than 9 p.m. enabled him to develop healthy sleeping habits and restore his energy levels.

Voltaire's daily routine

Famous French writer and philosopher wrote more than 50 plays and 20,000 letters during his lifetime.

Although Voltaire's productivity is often linked to his excessive caffeine intake, maybe there's something about the way he structured his days too.

Voltaire's schedule

Key elements of Voltaire's routine

Despite the fact that Voltaire spent numerous hours engaged in his work, he still managed to split his tasks into different blocks separated by breaks.

By carefully structuring the time he spent off work, the writer was able to restore his concentration and maintain high productivity levels.

Benjamin Franklin's daily routine

One of America's Founding Fathers is well known for his many roles — he was a scientist, inventor, writer, philosopher, and entrepreneur.

But, to juggle multiple tasks that came with different professions, he needed to work out a proper routine.

Benjamin Franklin's schedule

Key elements of Benjamin Franklin's routine

Since self-improvement was such a vital addition to Benjamin Franklin's daily schedule, he'd make sure to stop and reflect on his day every evening.

This habit allowed him to realistically assess his actions and direct his attention to all the changes that he needed to introduce to his routine in the future.

Susan Sontag's daily routine

Highly acclaimed American writer, filmmaker, and political activist Susan Sontag published more than 7 collections of essays during her lifetime.

Still, Sontag had a hard time overcoming procrastination, so she needed to develop a set of strict rules to prevent herself from postponing her work.

Susan Sontag's schedule

Key elements of Susan Sontag's routine

Being particularly aware of the dangers that come with giving in to distractions, Susan Sontag came up with a clever rule — don't respond to phone calls if you're trying to get anything done.

Pablo Picasso's daily routine

Often regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso is well known for his revolutionary art.

Since the famous artist is thought to have produced as many as 50,000 artworks during his lifetime, he must have had a rigid daily routine.

Let's find out if that's true.

Pablo Picasso's schedule

Key elements of Pablo Picasso's routine

A closer look at Picasso's daily routine uncovers his unusual habit of working deep into the night.

The fact that he managed to produce such a great number of pieces of art is proof that he was aware of his most productive hours.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's daily routine

The famous Austrian composer managed to compose more than 600 pieces that had a huge impact on classical music throughout the world.

But, he probably wouldn't have been able to accomplish such a success if it hadn't been for his carefully thought-out daily schedule.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's schedule

Key elements of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's routine

A glimpse into the composer's daily schedule reveals that he used to follow through on his goals by dedicating separate parts of his day to different activities.

Ultimate Time Management Guide

Ludwig Van Beethoven's daily routine

The celebrated and admired composer lost his ability to hear at an early age, but he still persevered and managed to compose the famous Ninth Symphony.

The fact that he paid a lot of attention to his daily routine could be the reason he remained as productive as before his hearing loss.

Ludwig Van Beethoven's schedule

Key elements of Ludwig Van Beethoven's routine

Beethoven's daily routine seems like a perfect example of a well-balanced work schedule.

He spent 8 hours composing, led an active social life, and still managed to have a good night's rest.

Maya Angelou's daily routine

Apart from being known for becoming the first female inaugural poet in U.S. presidential history, the great American author, poet, and activist, Maya Angelou, is also famous for her unusual writing routine.

Maya Angelou's schedule

Key elements of Maya Angelou's routine

Maya Angelou took great measures to ensure that she wouldn't be disturbed during her focused hours.

The habit of writing in hotel rooms enabled her to produce some of her greatest works.

Coco Chanel's daily routine

Coco Chanel, a revolutionary fashion designer and businesswoman, achieved her greatness through hard work and dedication.

But, there must have been something about her daily routine that made her triumph possible.

Let's take a closer look at Chanel's schedule.

Coco Chanel's schedule

Key elements of Coco Chanel's routine

Although Coco Chanel was so engrossed in her work that she didn't take any breaks, she managed to adjust her work schedule to her own biological rhythm.

Sigmund Freud's daily routine

Apart from developing revolutionary theories that led to him being known as the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud spent hours working with patients in his private practice.

To be able to balance such a great deal of work, Freud carefully structured his day.

Sigmund Freud's schedule

Key elements of Sigmund Freud's routine

The founder of psychoanalysis certainly did have long workdays — he spent 10 hours per day treating his patients.

Yet, he never forgot to include breaks and physical activity in his daily schedule, which helped him restore his energy levels after a long stretch of work.

Victor Hugo's daily routine

One of the most important French writers Victor Hugo is widely known for his brilliant novels.

But, he's also famous for his unusual writing habits that helped him combat procrastination.

Victor Hugo's schedule

Key elements of Victor Hugo's routine

Even though Victor Hugo's method of battling procrastination does seem unusual, it helped him produce some of his greatest works and still have enough time to lead an active social life.

Joan Didion's daily routine

The notable American journalist and novelist Joan Didion produced dozens of non-fiction works that had a tremendous impact on American culture.

But, writing did not always come easy to Didion, so she had to create a writing schedule that would enable her to get into her zone of genius.

Joan Didion's schedule

Key elements of Joan Didion's routine

Joan Didion has more than once talked about the difficulties she encountered whenever she was about to write.

She used to dread beginning to write and even devoted an entire windowless room to her work. But, designing a structured schedule helped her carry on even when it was too difficult to begin working in the first place.

What do highly productive people throughout history have in common?

Despite their widely different routines, the one thing all creative people from the past had in common was that they had routines in the first place.

Most of them also did some form of exercise, socialized with friends and family, and worked on their skills and talents every day.

Their often unusual sleep, eating, and exercise habits helped them stay on track with their work in their own unique ways. These people prove that everyone can be successful, as long as they have a schedule that works for them and stick to it.

For more interesting daily routines and habits of people from the past, check out the Daily Rituals: How Artists Work book by Mason Currey.

A day in the life of an American

When it comes to daily habits and routines in the life of an American, this is how the day of a typical American flowed in 2020 according to the American Time Use Survey:

A daily routine in a life of an average American

For a great animated representation of a typical day in terms of daily routines and habits, based on the American Time Use Survey, check out Nathan Yau's visualization of the most common daily routines.

Productivity showdown: an average Joe vs a famous person

When compared to successful people of the past and present, you'll see that American daily habits and routines don't stack up well in some areas:

However, most do:

How can you become a highly productive person?

Perhaps there's no magic formula for tapping into your most productive self.

Still, if we've learned anything from the most productive successful people, it's that being consistent with your routines works like a charm.

But, what routines should you follow exactly

We've singled out 4 tips that could help you set yourself up for success.

Prioritize your night routine

Although making your bed in the morning will make your mind better equipped to tackle the upcoming daily challenges, the real hack to a productive routine is to put your nights first.

But, what does that mean, exactly?

Well, instead of beginning from an elaborate morning routine, try going a step back and focusing on your sleep.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How would you describe the quality of your sleep?
  2. How many hours of sleep do you usually get per night?

If at least one of your answers made you realize there's something rotten in your sleep pattern, chances are that you won't be able to increase your productivity levels until you change something about your sleep schedule.

So, what can we do?

Neuroscientist and sleep specialist Dr. Matthew Walker claims that regularity is the key:

Deep within your brain, you actually have a master 24-hour clock. It expects regularity and works best under conditions of regularity, including the control of your sleep-wake schedule. Many of us use an alarm to wake up but very few of us use a to-bed alarm.”

Dr. Walker further encourages having a wind-down routine and disengaging from technology at least half an hour before sleep.

When you pick a relaxing activity instead of your smartphone, your mind easily prepares for a full night's rest.

You can even go for a worry journal and write down everything that troubles you so that you can literally leave all your troubles behind before going to bed.

Make the most out of your peak productivity time

Regardless of the length of your workday and the quality of your sleep, if you are not sure of your peak productivity hours, you risk ending up overworked.

For example, if you're a UX designer whose biggest task is to focus on research analysis, but you end up tackling this task only after lunch because you started your workday by responding to a bunch of emails — chances are you'll end up staying overtime.

But, what should you do instead?

An effective way to make sure you complete your most demanding tasks during your focused hours is time tracking.

If you track the time you spend on each task, you will easily figure out how long it takes you to complete it.

Consequently, you'll be able to pinpoint the exact parts of the day when certain tasks come easier to you.

Productivity tracker app - start timer

You can try tackling your crucial task as soon as you log in on Monday.

Simply start the timer in the time tracking app and see exactly how long it takes you to finish it.

Then, on Tuesday, you can start with your task a bit later in the day and let the timer tell you how much time you've invested in completing it.

After a while, you'll have enough data to be able to recognize a pattern in your workflow. This pattern will help you devise your work schedule to fit in your most demanding tasks within your most productive hours.

Make sure not to ignore your to-do list

You probably didn't create a to-do list just to end up ignoring it.

But, sometimes, things get in the way and we don't check off everything on our list.

Frequently, it's not our fault that we have to postpone a bunch of tasks for tomorrow.

Still, there are times when we set ourselves up for failure because we didn't plan our day well.

Peter Bregman shared his solution for finishing your to-do list.

According to Peter, as soon as you start jotting down your most important tasks for the day, you should decide when and where you're going to do them.

Maybe it looks a bit silly to think about the place and time, especially if you don't intend on moving away from your desk for a while. But, when you define the exact moment and a place for a certain task, you also set a clear intention and increase your likelihood of actually completing it.

Take time for self-care

Sure, your entire mile-high to-do list is your top priority, and nobody else can finish it instead of you.

But, this is precisely the catch — if you don't identify a clear priority, you increase your risk of burnout.

When burnout's on the horizon, people tend to increase the number of hours they put in to keep up with the busy life despite their struggles.

Ultimately, the majority simply end up with almost no strength or ability to work due to this tempo.

But, finding enough time to care for your mind before jumping into work can decrease your chances of burnout and ensure your productivity levels remain optimal during the day.

The activities you choose are entirely up to you.

Perhaps you like to:

Regardless of your choice, what matters the most is to set aside at least an hour of time just to nourish your mind.

Then, try to think of this time as non-negotiable despite the chaotic schedule that awaits you right after your self-care time.

You might not always feel like you've truly unplugged during this specific time. But, squeezing in an hour just for yourself into your daily routine gives you both the energy and tools to handle anything the day might bring without feeling overwhelmed.

Final thoughts: The best routine is in the eye of the beholder

As careful scrutiny of the daily schedules of more than 20 successful productive people has shown, no two routines are the same.

Yet, despite the differences, each of their carefully structured schedules led to success.

Still, increasing your own productivity levels and paving your way to success takes much more than reading about a great routine and sticking to it. What was great for Mozart's productivity would perhaps entirely ruin Obama's day, and the same goes for the rest of us.

So, what matters the most is to:

Before you know it, you've crafted yourself a routine. A highly productive person's routine, to be more specific.