- 6:45 am: Works out, reads several newspapers, has breakfast with his family.
- 8:50 am: Begins work just before 9.
- 10:00 pm: Works well into many evenings but always stops to have dinner with his family each day.
What you should take: Barack’s routine is all about simplicity. He focuses just on what matters. (By the way, he also wears a “personal uniform” to eliminate any decision-making that isn’t crucial.) He works out, reads, eats, and then gets down to business. Nothing fancy here, and perhaps that’s key.
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.
“For me, these were often the quietest and most product hours of the day, a time when I could catch up on work and prepare myself for whatever was coming next, poring over the stacks of material my staff secretary sent up to the residence for my review,” he wrote
With a wake-up time of around 7 am, 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, six days a week was a non-negotiable in his routine. Even during the grueling 2008 presidential campaign, which he also had to balance with senate duties, Obama was adamant about including his exercise routine every morning. In his memoir, he writes about the daily grind of the presidential campaign:
“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,” Obama said
I’d wake up after five or six hours and try to squeeze in a workout at whatever facility we could find (the old treadmill in the back of a tanning salon was memorable), before packing up my clothes and gulping down a haphazard breakfast; before hopping into a van and making fundraising calls on the way to the first town hall meeting of the day; before interviews with the local paper or news station, several meets-and-greets with local party leaders, a bath-room stop, and maybe a swing by the local eatery to shake hands; before hopping back in the van to dial for more dollars. I’d repeat this three or four times, with a cold sandwich or salad wedged in there somewhere, before finally staggering into another motel around nine p.m, trying to catch Michelle and the girls by phone before they went to bed, before reading the next day’s briefing materials, the binder gradually slipping out of my hands as exhaustion knocked me out.
After his workout, Obama joined his family for breakfast. According to his aide Reggie Love, during his tenure as president, Obama rarely drank coffee, opting for orange juice, green tea, or water. After his daughters, Malia and Sasha, were packed and left for school, Obama made the 30-second commute to his office to start his workday, usually at around 9 am.
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 for dinner by six or 6:30 pm, then into his office by 8.30 pm. The former president revealed in an interview with TheSkimm that exercising in the morning and having dinner with his family at night were two crucial components of maintaining his mental health as president.
“The two things that were most important for me were an exercise in the morning, hitting the gym. And the second thing was family; having a block of time with my girls and with Michelle that was inviolate unless there was a genuine immediate crisis,” he said. “I was at dinner at 6:30 every night. And you know, listening to my daughters talk about their days and stupid boys and strange teachers and gossip and weird questions, that always put my mind right.”
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 minimizing decision fatigue.
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits, and I’m trying to pare down decisions,” he told Vanity Fair. “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
He also took advantage of his commute, a one-minute walk between the White House residence and the West Wing, to get him ready for the day, as well as to decompress. “It was along this walkway that I’d gather my thoughts for the day, preparing for conversations with members of Congress and constituents, reviewing plans and proposals to move the country forward,” he revealed on Instagram.
“On the way back to the residence in the evenings, my briefcase stuffed with papers. I’d use the time to clear my mind, anticipating my dinner with Michelle and the girls and an exuberant greeting from the dogs.”
Family time is especially important to Obama for unwinding from his day. “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.
One of the advantages of essentially living above the Oval Office was that Obama could take a break out of his day to spend time with his family, have dinner, read the girls’ bedtime stories, and catch up on movies with Michelle.
“In that hour and a half or so each evening, I found myself replenished – my mind cleansed and my heart cured of whatever damage a day spent pondering the world and its intractable problems may have done,” he wrote.