Find out the daily routines that drive 40 successful business leaders (infographic)

To get to the top you need to have inspiration, drive, luck, wisdom and many other attributes. You also need to know how to structure your day to make the most of every possible minute.

That doesn’t necessarily mean getting up at 5am and working till midnight with only brief pauses to eat and meditate, though that routine might work for you based on your daily rhythms and whether you’re an early riser or a night owl.

Successful business leaders have their days planned down to the last detail to fit their particular lifestyles, goals, jobs and commitments. OnDeck has analyzed the work routines of 40 big business leaders to see how they manage their days, to give you some inspiration for how you can follow their lead - and their path to glory.

Here’s what they found out:

The shape of an average day

Before we drill down into the individual quirks of some of these leaders, here is the sum of their collated experience and knowledge. An average working day lasts 10 hours (no 9-5 here), beginning with checking their emails before 7am, reading the news over breakfast and getting on with some office work between 8 and 10.

If you’re not a fan of meetings, look away now, because our average working day has them scheduled between 10am and 8pm. There’s no mention of lunch, but then again, like Gordon Gekko said in Wall Street, ‘lunch is for wimps’.

Even the most extroverted business leader could do with some alone time after all those meetings, so the average working day allows for ‘Alone work’ between 8pm and 10pm before checking emails ahead of further meetings between 11pm and 1am.

No-one said getting to the top would be easy did they?

Don’t forget to eat and sleep

The average working day from the research may have been short on sleep and made no real allowance for food, but thankfully self-care is more prominent for modern day business leaders than it might have been in the past and they do allow themselves to eat and sleep.

One of the people who have had the most stressful and important jobs over the last 12 months is Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’s been working at the forefront of America’s fight against Covid-19 and has admitted that his working days weren’t particularly focused on self-care at first.

“I was foolish and just thought I could get away with almost no sleep,” he said. “I mean, like three hours a night. I did that for a few weeks, and it almost killed me. Thank goodness I have a very intelligent and clinically skilled wife who turned things around and said, ‘You got to remember to eat, and you’ve got to remember to sleep.’”

The lesson from this couldn’t be clearer: If the man responsible for trying to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths from a global pandemic can find the time to eat and sleep, so can you.

Don’t lose touch with the real work

For many of the business leaders featured, meetings, emails, conference calls and keeping in touch with the news make up a lot of their time. These are all important and time-consuming elements of any leader’s day and having that big picture view is crucial but it’s also important not to lose sight of the shop floor.

No-one could accuse Elon Musk of that, given that his daily routine includes an afternoon spent at his rocket factory, getting hands-on with his latest mission in his inimitable style. Whether that’s because it’s the best thing for his business or just because ‘who wouldn’t want to spend their afternoons building rockets’ is open to discussion, but it seems to work for Musk and his businesses.

Several other leaders have lots of hands-on work in their routines, from Pharrell Williams’s trips to the studio to Vera Wang collaborating with her designers and Ava DuVernay, whose entire working day is made up of ‘filming’, with no time wasted on emails or meetings. All of these leaders manage their day to make sure that they’re on top of what goes on in their name.

Don’t be afraid to be different

Of course, these leaders’ routines are fascinating to see and learn from, but it’s unlikely any one of them suits your day and your needs. No two are the same, because no two business leaders are the same, so don’t be afraid to structure your daily routine exactly the way that suits you.

That could mean having a shorter working day than most other people, which is how Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban sets his day out. He checks his emails in the morning and late at night, then watches business news and checks his email again before finishing up just before lunch.

Andrew Wilkinson, co-founder of Tiny, does something similar but in reverse, not starting his working day until just after lunch. His focus is entirely on his staff, spending time reinforcing company culture and working on processes and tracking results. He makes a point of only working 5-6 hours a day, which might not work for everyone, of course.

Some leaders work with a daily theme to their tasks, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who has a different theme for each day, along with Treehouse founder Ryan Carson. Neither do anything outside of that theme, giving them perfect focus on it. Other leaders who like a daily theme include Arianna Huffington and Spotify boss Daniel Ek. That’s how leaders get things done.

So, whether you work a 5-6 hour day like Andrew Wilkinson or an 18 hour day like Dr Fauci, hopefully you’ve gained some inspiration and ideas from these business leaders. Your perfect working daily routine will be unique to you and your business, but the lessons from these examples are clear. So why not take a look at your current routine and work out how you can optimize your day? But don’t forget to eat and sleep.
Small and big business leaders alike need to spin an awful lot of plates under an awful lot of pressure. Faced with a myriad of responsibilities in a high-pressure environment, how do the world’s top business leaders maximise their working time? Could looking at their routines help us juggle our own daily tasks? OnDeck analyzed the work routines of 40 big business leaders to see how they achieved superhuman feats without burning out. The study revealed Elon Musk’s midnight meetings, Vera Wang’s design work from bed, Richard Branson’s 5am wake up and a lot, lot more:      The research shows that successful business leaders exploit the natural rhythms of their daily cycle.

The work routines of Musk, Branson, Dorsey + 37 other business leaders
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