Daily Routines is a series by Balance the Grind, profiling successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and business executives to explore their routines, habits and rituals.
In a 2009 interview with Newsweek’s Jon Meacham, Barack Obama outlined his daily routine as the 44th President of the United States:
I’m a night owl. My usual day is: I work out in the morning; I get to the office around 9, 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.; work till about 6:30 p.m.; have dinner with the family, hang out with the kids and put them to bed about 8:30 p.m. And then I’ll probably read briefing papers or do paperwork or write stuff until about 11:30 p.m., and then I usually have about a half hour to read before I go to bed, about midnight, 12:30 a.m.—sometimes a little later.
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.
A 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.”
With a wake up time of around 7am, Obama typically got 5 to 7 hours of sleep every night. He liked to work out first thing in the morning, alternating between weights and cardio. Obama’s daily 45 minutes of exercise, 6 days a week, was a non-negotiable in his routine. “His logic was always, ‘The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time,’” says Jim Cauley, who managed Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate campaign.
After his workout, Obama joined his family for breakfast. According to his personal aide Reggie Love, during his tenure as president Obama rarely drank coffee, opting for orange juice, green tea or water instead. After his daughters, Malia and Sasha, were packed and left for school, Obama made the 30-second commute to his office, usually at around 9am to start his workday.
In a Vanity Fair profile of a day in the life of Obama, Todd S. Purdum described the start of his work day.
When Obama arrives in the office this morning, just before 9:30, the first item on his agenda, as always, is a meeting with his chief of staff for a quick rundown of the coming day: “three minutes, four minutes, five minutes—whatever it takes, but you’ve got to make it quick.”
Each evening, after the end of each day, Obama would have a similar wrap up session with his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, returning to the residence by 6 or 6:30pm, then into his office by 8.30pm.
While the demands of running a country can undoubtedly be suffocating and at times overwhelming, Obama managed to find his balance, by sticking to his daily habits, whether that’s dinner with his family, exercise, late night hours to himself, or minimising decision fatigue, as he told Vanity Fair: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Family time is especially important to Obama for decompressing. “The chance to be under the same roof with his kids, essentially to live over the store, to be able to see them whenever he wants, to wake up with them, have breakfast and dinner with them — that has made him a very happy man,” David Axelrod, Obama’s Senior Adviser, said to The New York Times.
Obama handed over the Presidential reins to Donald Trump in 2017 and embarked on much-needed holiday in the British Virgin Islands, staying on Richard Branson’s private island and spending time kiteboarding. He also spent time travelling the world, giving out speeches, making appearances, writing his memoir, and no doubt, enjoying quality time with his family.
He doesn’t spend any time at all wishing he were back in the Oval Office. He is just very much enjoying the new chapter of his life, and he’s had a chance to spend real quality time with Mrs. Obama and his familyLife after the White House: How Obama spent his first year out of office | NBC NEWS
In a 2018 post-presidency interview with BBC Radio 4, Obama reflected on his new, “hugely liberating” routine as a former president, “now when I wake up, I can make my own decisions about how do I want to spend my time.”
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