On Wednesday, January 17, 2018, I officially became the president of the United States.
Well, not officially. That day marked the first in a one-week experiment in which I tried out Donald Trump’s daily routine.
Axios and The New York Times had reported on different aspects of Trump’s schedule. I scoured the articles for details about what time he wakes up and goes to bed, what time he starts work, and how he spends the time when he’s not in meetings – then tried to copy everything for five workdays.
Now that it’s all over, I’m left wondering how Trump has so much energy – both physically, because he reportedly only sleeps four hours a night, and mentally, because he reportedly watches at least four hours of cable news every day.
Here’s how my week went:
Trump’s daily schedule breaks down into a few different components.
- Sleep: Trump reportedly rises at 5:30 a.m. after sleeping about four to five hours, meaning he goes to bed after midnight.
- Starting the workday: He’s said to take his first meeting of the day at 11 a.m.
- “Executive time”: Trump reportedly starts his day with executive time, which includes watching cable news (either “Fox and Friends” or MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”), making phone calls, and tweeting.
- Watching the news: After dinner at 6:30 p.m., Trump may watch another few hours of cable news, meaning he consumes at least four hours a day.
It didn’t seem like such a taxing routine. But it was.
I woke up like a champ to a 5:30 a.m. alarm and promptly set myself up with my laptop on the couch. Unlike the president, I don’t have cable TV, so I’d planned to watch the news online. CBS has a livestream, so that was my first stop.
About an hour later, I woke up again. Apparently I’d fallen asleep again while watching the news. Fail. I brewed a big cup of black tea and returned to my presidential duties.
Though I wasn’t technically due at the office until 11 a.m., I had a call at 10:40, so I scurried in just before.
A recurring theme throughout this experiment was guilt – specifically, about coming in later and leaving earlier than all my coworkers. On the first day of the experiment, I didn’t leave the office until about 6:30 p.m., partly because I still had work to do and partly because most of my teammates were still working.
After dinner with a friend, I returned home and set myself up on the couch for another few hours of news-watching. This time, I tuned into Fox. Somewhere around 11:30 p.m., I drifted off with my computer still on my lap.
I sprung out of bed when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and immediately went to make tea. Falling asleep on the job is for slackers, right?
The dose of caffeine was, it turns out, just the kick in the pants I needed. For the next few hours, I toggled between watching “Fox and Friends,” preparing a to-do list for the workday ahead, and reading The New York Times.
Call me a stereotypical millennial, but I found it difficult to resist multitasking while the news was on. Maybe if Ainsley Earhardt had been talking about me instead of Trump, I would have paid closer attention.
The workday went surprisingly smoothly. I cranked out a few articles, transcribed an interview, and had a phone call with a source.
At 6 p.m. I really did need to leave – not only was I on Trump time, but I had to make a 6:30 p.m. appointment in midtown. Panic struck. I frantically messaged my editor asking if it was OK for me to head out – to which she replied “of course.”
By the time I got home, I was exhausted, so I watched about 30 minutes of Fox and went to sleep, feeling guilty about that, too.
Executive time was somewhat curtailed today.
I had a 9:30 a.m. call with a source, meaning I had to be dressed and breakfasted before then in order to make it to the office by 11. (My commute is about 45 minutes long.) This shouldn’t have been a problem, but I found I’d gotten accustomed to the slower pace and resented having to speed things up.
That afternoon, I met up with my dad for lunch – and felt guilty about ducking out of work for one out of the seven hours I was scheduled to be in the office. I’m curious: Does the president feel this much guilt if he, say, meets up with Ivanka in the middle of the day?
(Side note: My dad was fascinated by the idea that I was following Trump’s daily schedule. He wanted to know if I’d been tweeting anything controversial – I said I didn’t think so.)
That night, I went to dinner with some friends (also fascinated by the Trump experiment, also curious to know what I’d been tweeting). I considered watching Fox when I got home, but opted for sleep instead. Cheating? Yes. But come on, it was the weekend!
The weekend respite from the presidency was just what I needed. On Sunday, I took two naps and watched zero minutes of cable news.
The week before, a friend had asked me what I’d learned watching the news every morning. I’d realised I had no idea. Maybe it was the multitasking, but my early-morning mind seemed to be a sieve.
So on Monday, I tried hard to pay attention to what the Fox and Friends hosts were discussing. But before long, I’d drifted over to The Times, The Wall Street Journal, Twitter, and my work to-do list.
I also spent much of executive time – today and every day prior – reading my coworkers’ articles. This is something I should generally be doing more of, but it’s surprisingly difficult to carve out that time every day, so I usually end up missing a lot. (Sorry, guys.)
That’s why I enjoyed having a “tweeting routine.” Instead of remarking on the state of the government, I tweeted links to coworkers’ stories I thought were stellar – meaning I had to read everything that had been published the day before.
It’s the final countdooooooown. I had less than 24 hours left of being the president. What a relief.
On the train to work, I felt my phone buzz a few times with Slack messages from my editors. I felt part panic and part FOMO – what if I missed the chance to take on an important assignment?! I suppose it’s easier when your home and your office are in the same place (i.e. the White House) – a lot can happen in 45 minutes!
When I finally did arrive at the office, no one was noticeably angry or worried. Phew. I responded to the Slack messages and commenced work as usual.
Once I returned home that evening, I watched Fox until I felt myself nodding off. I went to sleep and set my alarm for 6:30 a.m., newly grateful to be just a regular person.
The most important finding from this one-woman experiment is that not sleeping a lot is hard. Trump might be what scientists call a “short sleeper,” meaning he needs only four to six hours of shut-eye a night. I am definitely not.
I also found, somewhat surprisingly, that I missed exercise. I’ve been going to an early-morning yoga class a few times a week, but I didn’t want to skimp on executive time, so I skipped it. I’m not sure if Trump does yoga, but I’d personally recommend it.
I don’t hold the highest office in the land – or even at my company – so I felt awful about working shorter hours than everyone else. But it didn’t seem to affect my productivity, suggesting that I might have been more focused knowing I had less time to dawdle.
Ultimately, I found it a lot trickier to follow the president’s routine than I’d expected. Between the lack of sleep, the lack of time for exercise, and the constant combination of guilt and panic, I’m exhausted. I guess the president has more energy than I do – which, when you really think about it, is probably a good thing.
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