A billionaire by action, not by luck
He was knighted by the Queen of England, he kitesurfed with a naked model on his back, he owns his own island in the British Virgin Isles, he’s broken 7 world records, and he drinks 20 cups of tea per day. Who is he?
Well, he’s the founder of the Virgin Group, the father company of over 400 companies worldwide as well as the unofficially titled Most Interesting Man In The World. Sir Richard Branson, a serial entrepreneur who has accrued a personal fortune of greater than $5 billion, lives life to the extremes in every way possible; especially so in his daily routine.
A legacy of extremes
Since his early childhood, Branson had an extreme learning disability that impaired his reading, writing, and motor skills to the point of being told he may never become literate. In high school, he became the varsity captain for football, cricket, and rugby in order to make up for his lacking academic performance.
At the age of 16, Branson dropped out of high school to start his own magazine publication, Student, which ended up being his first successful business. When his first round of magazines was published, his headmaster sent him a parting letter stating,
“Congratulations, Branson. I predict that you will either go to prison or become a millionaire.”
“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them … from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it,” said Branson.
In his more recent years, Branson has been focusing on the Virgin United brand which is a non-profit foundation that helps causes like environmental protection, animal rights, human rights, healthcare, LGBTQ causes, and the entrepreneurial efforts of those in underdeveloped countries. Before this, his efforts in creating the Virgin Airlines were so successful that Alaska Airlines sought to buy them in 2014 for $4 billion.
Get up at 5 am, no excuses
A significant part of Branson’s success has been how he follows the same essential routine every day, without exception. “No matter where I am, I rise early — usually around 5:00 a.m. I find the natural light to be wonderfully motivating. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about the day ahead with the sun streaming through the windows,” he says.
There’s something about waking up early that has come to define the modern version of success. Other incredibly successful individuals like Tim Cook, Sallie Krawcheck, Oprah Winfrey, and Michelle Obama all religiously wake up before 6 am, so clearly, the time you start your day must have positive effects on your overall life.
Why does it work?
Over the last few decades, there have been many studies concerned with why waking up early changes your life for the better. Most found that people who woke up before 6 am all felt a greater sense of confidence and felt more productive, as compared to those who woke up after 7 or 8 am.
Before you set an insane goal to wake up at 4 am every day, make sure your goal is reasonable and gradual. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it or use an online calculator to find out when to go to bed in order to naturally wake up at a particular time. Another way to help you succeed is to put your alarm far away, so you don’t hit your snooze button in your sleep (like I do).
Exercise early to lose more fat
The first thing he does in the morning is work out. In his blog, he says, “I get out of bed and do some exercise – play a game of tennis, go for a walk or a run, jump on my bike, or if there’s enough wind, go for a kitesurf.” He has even claimed that working our every morning allows him to “achieve twice as much.”
These aren’t just any exercise routines, though, as they are all activities Branson has a passion for. He loves kite surfing so much that he broke a world record for the most people on a single surfboard while kitesurfing. He also stays active with his family, especially now that he has grandchildren.
Why does it work?
Exercising in the morning has more tangible benefits than exercising at any other time of day. This is in part because fat oxidation occurs faster when you exercise before eating breakfast. It sets the day up for success by allowing you to complete a goal first thing in the morning, it increases dopamine levels while decreasing cortisol levels, and you end up sleeping better (and waking up feeling more rested).
Sounds amazing, right? Well, in order to make it happen, take the advice of Mellody Hobson, a big-time president of an investing company, who uses bath time as motivation. She wakes up between 4 am and 5 am, works out, has two hard boiled eggs and some coffee, and then takes a nice, warm (or cold!) bath to start her day by 8 am.
Spend quality time with family to become a better person
As a child from a very close-knit family, Richard Branson never second-guessed that he and his future family would be as close as can be, which is why he makes them a priority every day. He takes the time to have breakfast with them every morning, enjoying their company and talking to them about their dreams. This ritual helps everyone stay on track.
“Business and awards do not mean that much. There is nothing more important than the health of you and your loved ones. Life is certainly too short not to appreciate people who have been significant in it,” Branson says in his blog.
Why does it work?
Most people nowadays view spending time with family as either a luxury or a chore when, in fact, family time is just as important for quality of life as exercise is. For children in the family, quality time builds self-confidence and promotes trust. For the elderly, it improves their memory, focus, appetite, mood, and confidence to help them live longer.
For everyone involved, it helps build bonds, lower the negative impact of stressful situations, nurtures positive behavior, creates lifelong memories, and helps to improve the healthiness of both meals and behaviors. These can all be achieved with frequent meals together, getting coffee, talking on the phone, or weekend visits.
Stay relevant and informed on news and social media
“I’m constantly connected and engaged. And I like it that way. Being a modern business leader is all about having your finger on the pulse and knowing what you’re talking about. I’m always checking in with our Virgin teams. This means having an ear on the ground in all corners of the globe,” says Branson in his blog.
The CEO chooses strategic times throughout the day to check his social media to keep himself from the mindless scrolling, and to avoid letting it distract him from his responsibilities. By monitoring the news in the morning, he gets inspired by all the people who speak up about what they believe in and what they want out of life.
Why does it work?
We usually associate limited screen time to punishing (or even protecting) children, but recent research has shown that it’s also healthier for adults to limit their screen time. Eye strain, sleep deprivation, focus/distraction, and relationship quality are all affected by the constant and unmonitored use of technology.
However, knowing what is happening in the world not only helps you stay relevant, it also assists in helping you empathize while improving your memory cognition and social skills. In order to stay productive while checking social media and news outlets, it’s best to devote scheduled times throughout the day to check them.
Write blogs with your heart on your sleeve
“In between emails and calls, I catch up on the news – which normally leads me to write blogs. I find myself speaking out more and more about the things I cannot accept – like the failed war on drugs, mistreatment of refugees, prejudice against the LGBT community, or the fact that the death penalty still exists despite being proven not to deter crime,” he says.
“But my blog is not always filled with calls to action. No two days are the same: one day I’ll be writing about conservation, the next I’ll be sharing family photos from Necker Island, and then the following day I’ll be offering business tips to help young entrepreneurs find their stride.”
Why does it work?
Blogging, for many, is a way to keep a journal that is much less personal. If this is comfortable for you, it is the perfect method of letting your deepest, most intimate feelings be known to the world via a trending topic, news piece, or relevant story.
Keeping a blog can also be helpful for your career and can even bring in a few extra bucks as a substantial side hustle, even if your blog isn’t tailored to a career or business topic. Many mothers nowadays keep mom-blogs, while many college students document their careers or lifestyle tips as a sort of online resume.
Take 15 minute “you time” breaks
“It’s important to build some ‘you time’ into your daily routine, even if it’s just 15 minutes of doing something that you love. I really enjoy kitesurfing when the wind allows, playing a game of tennis, jumping on my bike or simply going for a walk,” Branson says.
While “you time” can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people, for Branson, it means both mental and physical distraction from his daily responsibilities. Many successful people take this time to escape their own minds, which are often hyper-focused on work, daily stressors, or complicated problems that need fixing.
Why does it work?
“I don’t have time to meditate,” says Lawrence Biscontini’s client. “But you do have time to tell me how awful you feel, listen to my advice, and then argue against it.” Lawrence is a fitness coach, but a large part of his training is focused on teaching his clients how to own their “you time.”
While meditation can take many forms, no matter which style you choose it can help reduce pain, enhance your immune system, reduce depression and other mental illnesses, increase blood flow, and improve your overall quality of life. So, whether its moving or sitting still, meditation or “you time” has tangible benefits that help lead to success.
Break records wherever possible
What better way is there to feel like you’re on top of the world than to, well, be on top of the world? No, we aren’t necessarily talking about Mt. Everest; we are talking about breaking records wherever possible. Not only is this a great way to market yourself and your company, but it gives you a confidence boost by allowing you to see how far you can push the world’s boundaries.
“Nobody breaks records – or builds successful businesses – without being dedicated. Practice makes perfect, whether you are pitching your idea, growing your website or learning to juggle (another skill entrepreneurs need!),” says Branson. So, before you try to break any records, make sure you’re dedicated to the cause.
Why does it work?
We don’t expect you to go around breaking world records left and right like Richard Branson, but we do expect you to break your own personal records. Do you think you’ve already achieved your fastest running time? Do you think you’ve already hit your limit on books read in a year?
Well, we disagree. In fact, we think you can do a lot better. So, set some crazy goals in some crazy (yet, also reasonable) time frames. Studies show that breaking your own personal records can vastly improve your outlook on life, your confidence in yourself (especially in social situations), and your quality of life.
Drink 20 cups of tea for energy
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your taste in beverages), the English tradition of drinking tea is kept alive and well by people like Richard Branson. Each day, he drinks enough English Breakfast tea to hydrate himself fully and to keep him energized enough to, well, break all those records. Keeping up with his daily routine can take a toll, but the tea comes in to save the day!
“To keep me energized, I drink lots of tea. I’m talking 20 cups a day – don’t tell my doctor!” Richard Branson says in his blog. “I’m not sure how I’d survive without English Breakfast tea. Even in the Caribbean, I must drink 20 cups a day.” If he’s drinking this many cups (assuming they’re 8 oz.), he’s also probably extremely hydrated.
Why does it work?
According to studies, people who drink tea regularly have a significantly lower risk of stroke, cancer, and heart disease, as well as improved brain performance. Since there are so many different types of tea mixtures, the benefits of drinking tea can be enormously complex and wide-ranging, or very simple.
For example, ginger and turmeric tea has similar benefits to your gut health as mint tea does, but both help in different ways. Staying hydrated, however, is just as crucial to your overall health as any healthy drink is. The key, according to doctors, is a balanced diet that includes beneficially hydrating beverages.
Write everything in a notebook
“I go through dozens of notebooks every year and write down everything that occurs to me each day,” Branson writes in his blog. “An idea not written down is an idea lost. When inspiration calls, you’ve got to capture it. I can’t tell you where I’d be if I hadn’t had a pen on hand to write down my ideas (or more importantly, other people’s) as soon as they came to me.”
“Some of Virgin’s most successful companies have been born from random moments – -if we hadn’t opened our notebooks, they would never have happened.” Many of the world’s most successful business leaders have carried around notebooks like this religiously, so we think this just might work as well as Branson says it does.
Why does it work?
Many colleges and high schools nowadays are requiring students to take notes by hand instead of on a laptop. This may seem barbaric and old school to many, but research shows that writing things down actually helps improve memory cognition, results in broader learning, helps people make better decisions, solve problems more efficiently, and work better in groups.
Keeping a small notebook on hand at all times can clearly be more beneficial than simply helping you remember fun facts about your partner or making good grocery lists — just don’t go into it with the expectation that everything you write down will be a multi-million-dollar idea.
Share stories and birth ideas before bed
“The dinner table is a wonderful setting for conversation and laughter. I cannot tell you how many ideas have been dreamed up around the dinner table on Necker Island; some which are now driving the Virgin brand forward,” says Branson.
“Whenever I’m traveling, I like to invite local thought-leaders and change-makers to dinner, so that I can learn more about the social and cultural landscape of the countries in which Virgin is operating. It is incredibly important for me as a business leader to have my finger on the pulse and know what I am talking about.” Branson makes family dinners happen each night, even if it’s not his blood-related family.
Why does it work?
We’ve all been there — after an exhausting day, we climb into bed hoping to fall into the sweet, sweet slumber that we’ve been dreaming of all day, only to find that our minds are still racing. Instead of journaling it out or scrolling mindlessly on your social media account, many studies show that talking about your day and sharing ideas in the evening helps you sleep better.
But the best part about sharing your ideas with those you love? Well, the unconditional love, support, and (sometimes brutally) honest feedback you receive. This evening conversation is perhaps the most important one of the day because of the therapeutic characteristics this activity gives.
Get to bed by 11 pm to do everything again, but better
“After dinner, I like to retreat to a quiet space with a cup of tea and do a quick email and social media sweep. Finishing the day reading your feedback on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram makes me feel very humbled. But I make sure to switch off from the digital world for a while before going to sleep, so my brain can unwind.”
“If I have some time to spare, I’ll read for a bit or perhaps watch a documentary, to help me relax and put me in a great frame of mind to get a good night’s sleep. Then it’s in bed and lights out, hopefully by 11 pm. I typically need five to six hours of sleep to get the most out of my days.”
Why does it work?
We get it — you’re a night owl. But, that doesn’t make you exempt from the fantastic benefits of waking up early, and even night owls need to sleep at least 6-8 hours each night. So, finding the right balance between going to bed at 8:30 pm (like me) and 3 am (like my partner) is probably your best bet.
But, if you insist on denying the scientifically-proven benefits of waking up early, then find the best schedule that works for you. If you just so happen to be the most productive between 2 am and 6 am, then change your sleeping habits accordingly to ensure you still get the recommended amount of sleep per night.
Start it all over again
Surprise, surprise! This isn’t just a one-time thing for Sir Richard Branson — he does this every single day (except the few times when he can’t, where he is understandably upset that he can’t). In his blog, he writes, “While I’m known for being predictably unpredictable – I’m always up for an adventure and love a calculated risk…”
“I do, however, have a morning and nightly routine. I find structure to start and finish the day helps me to focus and achieve the things I need to.” As he has gotten older, he has found that the benefits of keeping a routine far outweigh any pleasure or gratification of uncalculated spontaneity.
Why does it work?
Those without a routine in their day-to-day life often suffer from extreme stress, poor sleep, unhealthy eating habits, poor physical condition, and ineffective usage of time. But, with a routine, you can achieve better stress levels, more restful sleep, a better-quality life, and a better attitude overall.
But, where do you start? Well, a weekly task list helps quite a bit. By assigning a few tasks per day to complete, you can reward yourself with the ability to check things off your to-do list. You will also find more time to relax — and relax better — knowing that you completed your necessary tasks for the day.
Wait, there are more benefits to a routine?
Yes, there are. Routines can help you keep track of when you are most productive throughout the day in order to maximize your efficiency and productivity. You can also take note of your bad habits and keep track of how you handle replacing them with better, healthier habits.
It also helps you minimize procrastination and makes you less likely to change plans around since your plans seem more permanent when they are written down. Psychologically, it also helps you appear to be more in control of your life to your peers if you are always on time, always writing things down, and always sticking to your schedule.
How to get started
The first step to creating a Richard Branson-esque lifestyle is to buy a planner, a notebook and a pen. Then, get someone to give you a swift kick in the butt! Find the right planner for your needs, whether it’s drawing out your own day with a bullet journal, scheduling each 30-minute increment of your day with a lifestyle planner, or organizing your life into an infinite number of lists with a list planner.
Of course, you can’t risk losing out on a million-dollar idea, so your pocket notebook can help you keep track of any brilliant, silly, weird, dumb, or intriguing ideas you have. And, with a nice pen or pencil, you’ll be searching for thoughts and ideas to write down just so you can feel that beautiful glide of ink on paper.
Find an accountability partner
Everyone needs a little shove once in a while, which is why Branson almost always leans on his business partners, lifetime friends, or family to help him stay motivated. These valuable people understand his goals and motivations, so if they see him wavering or falling behind, they help him gain back his momentum.
By having someone to keep you accountable, you are more likely to stick with your new lifestyle, so you don’t feel you are disappointing them. They can also be your sounding board with your ideas, as well as the support you need when you’re trying to break a personal (or world) record.