barack obama productive

What Barack Obama Can Teach You About Productivity

You think your schedule is busy?

Try comparing it with the one of the President of one of the biggest countries in the world – Barack Obama – and you might redefine the meaning of the word “busy”. When the responsibility for an entire nation in on your shoulders and millions of people watch your every move, you simply cannot afford unproductive days or unfinished tasks.

Here is how the President of the United States gets things done and the time management lessons that can be learned from him:

Be an early riser

“At the hour of dawn, in the same southwest-corner, second-floor bedroom of the White House where Abraham Lincoln once slept, the president awakens.

Even though the President is a self-proclaimed night owl, he still wakes up at the break of dawn. This allows him to get an early start and go through his morning routine which includes regular exercise.

There are many benefits to waking up early. Being awake before most of the world is gives you a certain degree of control over your mornings. You can take care of your morning routine and charge yourself with the amount of physical and mental energy needed to accomplish all your tasks for the day.

There are a lot less demands for your attention so you can can really concentrate all your focus on the task at hand, be it exercise or even work.

Mornings also tend to be very quiet and peaceful and allow for some quality “me” time. No kids running around the house, no phones ringing, no emails beeping, just you and your thoughts.

Plan your days in advance

“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”

You probably don’t have a “chief of staff” to run your schedule, but you also don’t need one.

All you need is a planner.

Plan your day in advance, ideally the evening before, and know what you need to do. In the morning, when you first get to the office or start work at home, check with your planner and give yourself a quick refresher on what needs to be done and when.

Make a list of MMTs (most meaningful tasks) for each day. These are the tasks that you need to accomplish no matter what. These are the tasks that will guarantee that every day is a productive one as you are moving closer to your personal and business goals.

Being proactive and planning in advance puts you in control of your schedule and your day. None of your days should ever start with being unclear on what needs to be accomplished today.

Use your decision-making energy where it counts

“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,” he tells Lewis. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

Barack Obama has a limited wardrobe of just a few colors and a pre-set menu for most of his meals. This allows him to concentrate his willpower and “decision-making energy” where it really counts, solving the nation’s and the world’s problems.

You have a limited amount of willpower to use every day. It is usually at its peak in the morning and lowest in the evenings. If you “waste” it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, what to eat or which way to take to go to work, you will have less of it left for the decisions that can really make a difference in your personal or business life.

Especially in the morning, it is essential to your productivity to preserve your willpower and limit your choices. Decide on your outfit from the night before and lay out your clothes. Preselect what you’ll have for breakfast and prepare as much of it as possible. Charge all the electronic devices that you use on a daily basis. Reduce friction as much as possible by preparing in advance. This is going to help you streamline your morning and make your entire day more productive. If your mornings “flow” and you are not bogged down with having to make trivial decisions, you will preserve your decision-making energy so you can put it to use where your really need it.

Exercise on a regular basis

“The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time.”

Barack Obama incorporates at least 45 minute of physical activity in his daily schedule.

So should you.

Exercise and productivity are tightly linked. Physical activity gives you more energy, mental clarity, better quality of sleep and it keeps you healthy. Even in the busiest of days, you should find some time to do some light exercise.

People often skip exercising because of “lack of time”. Here are a few remedies:

  • Exercise in the morning – you have greater control over your morning schedule and there are generally less demands for your attention which allows for greater flexibility
  • Wake up 30 minutes earlier – it might seem counter-intuitive, but 30 minutes of physical activity will generally give you more energy than 30 minutes of sleep.
  • Do a HIIT workout – these high intense routines can be as short as 8 minutes and you can do them at home or at the office. Anyone can find 8 minutes in 24 hours, there is no excuse.
  • Be creative – physical activity does not necessarily mean going to the gym. Park your car 10 minutes away from the office. This will produce a 20-minute walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Bike to work or to the groceries store. If you really put your mind to it, you will for sure figure out a way to be more active and incorporate some physical activity into your day.

Make decisions fast

“Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable,” Obama tells Lewis. “Otherwise, someone else would have solved it. So you wind up dealing with probabilities. Any given decision you make you’ll wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can’t be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out.”

The President makes decisions and he makes them fast.

So should you.

Often times, people spend unnecessarily long making the smallest of decisions or are paralyzed by the amount of choices. Even worse, they make a decision and immediately start second-guessing it and changing it. This is a major productivity killer.

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling that not all decisions will be right. Even if you spend an entire day pondering, you still might not make the right choice. There might not even be a right choice. All you can do it is make the best decision with the information you have on hand and stick to it. Don’t second guess your decisions.

Have an productive evening routine

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.”

Productive people have evening routines, the same way they have morning routines

A productive evening routine has a couple of benefits:

  • Puts a productive end to your day – by doing a little bit of work you can take care of any loose ends or unfinished tasks for the day.  This can give you a sense of accomplishment and mentally put an end to your work day.
  • Prepares you for the next day – during your evening routine you should make a plan for the next day so when you wake up in the morning you can hit the ground running, knowing exactly what needs to be accomplished and when.
  • Allows you to disconnect – notice how the last activity before going to bed for Barack Obama is to read. This allows him to shift his focus from work to relaxation, disconnect and prepare himself to sleep. The last activity before sleep should always be something relaxing, be it reading, meditation, playing a game, or even watching something.

A productive day starts from the evening before so make sure to create a productive evening routine for yourself.

Over to you now

You probably don’t have a schedule as demanding as Barack Obama’s. But that does not mean you cannot be as productive.

Start your days early, always plan in advance and use your willpower where it counts. Add to that regular physical activity, a productive evening routine and quick decision-making and you have the potential to be as productive as the President of the United States. Not too shabby!

What other techniques can you use to make your days productive? Share in the comment section below: