Successful people around the world have their morning routines down to a fine art. So just how does dentist to the stars Dr. Michael Apa start his day? Savoir Flair gets a peek into his morning rituals, from how he handles jet-setting around the world to managing the stress that comes with success.
I get up at 5 a.m. every morning. I’m a big believer in sleep, but I didn’t used to be. When I was younger, I was like, “I can survive on three hours a night.” I thought, “I’m more successful than other people because I put in seven more hours a day, seven days a week,” so I’d cut out the sleep. But the truth is that you have to be super sharp to operate. I don’t mean just to physically operate; I mean to function when you have so much going on. To make big decisions, you have to be clear. I used to go to bed at 5 a.m. when I was much, much younger! But now I go to bed really early at 10 p.m., so I’m asleep by 11 and I get six hours of sleep – which is good.
I get up instantly in the mornings, but the problem I have is going to sleep. I say this honestly, as sometimes it’s a case of having a lot on my mind, but it’s often because I’m so excited to start the next day as there’s usually a lot of good stuff going on. The problem is I can’t remember the last time I haven’t had to set my alarm, which becomes a real bummer after a while. It’s not the waking up that I mind, but it’s the anxiety I have at night. If you go through a stretch where you can’t sleep, it’s really bad. At around 9 p.m. you start panicking; “Am I going to sleep? Am I not? Am I tired? Am I just going to stare at the ceiling until 1 a.m.?” It ruins your day.
Luckily, my wife isn’t someone who gets bothered if I can’t sleep. If I’m tossing and turning, she’ll just say put the TV on and she’ll sleep right through. Before I was married, I had a full-on disco in my house. I had speakers in every room and I’d blast out loud house music at 5 a.m. My alarm triggered the music to go on and the shades to go up, and it was like a party! But now it’s much more calm. I just wake up and watch the news on CNN and hear all the wonderful things about Trump… My music time is on the way to work. I put headphones in and really concentrate and focus on my day.
The first thing I do in the morning is pick up my phone. I have a system and I go through my WhatsApp first, because that’s where everyone in Dubai messages me. I work in two different time zones, so my early morning is their afternoon, and they know I wake up then. I digest that, then I go through my e-mails, then social media – fast. Just to see performance and what’s going on.
The gym opens at 5:30 a.m., so I’ll get up and out of bed at around 5:20. If I’m in Dubai, it takes me five minutes to drive from where I stay (Jumeirah Al Naseem) to the gym in the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. In New York, I walk to Equinox or I train with Christine de Almeida at Julien Farel.
If I get home from the gym at 6:30 a.m., I make coffee, shower, and I’m out the door by 7:15 – so you can imagine what my grooming routine is like! I shave with a beard trimmer and wash my face with Clearasil. I’ve used it since I was 15 and I can’t use anything else. I slick my hair back with two scoops of stuff and comb it. I’ll rub it out as the day goes on – usually when something stresses me out!
I have my own products that I use every morning, and normally there’s something undergoing testing like a new formula of toothpaste or mouth rinse, so it gives me an extra desire to do something to my teeth, which is a good thing! I brush with my electric toothbrush, floss, rinse, apply my gum gel, and that’s about it.
I don’t eat breakfast early. When I’m in New York, my assistant gets me oatmeal at around 10 a.m. and, in Dubai, I sometimes order a fruit plate if I’m starving after the gym, but normally I just have coffee. Lots of coffee! My mornings are low on health elements, apart from working out and eating moderately well. I’m not one of those “clean” people in terms of being conscious of what’s bad for me.
The problem is that I’m working 24/7 because of the different time zones. Last night, for example, I finished work, I had to go meet some people to help with an issue, and I got into the hotel at 10 p.m. At around 11:30, I had e-mails coming in with bank questions for the new office, so as soon as that was done I put my phones on airplane mode. Then, my hotel calls me on my room phone at 12:15 a.m. because a hospital in New York was contacted by someone of huge importance in this region, wanting me to fly to Saudi. So when I finally turned my phones on I was bombarded with e-mails from all over the world! Now I’m up at 12:30 a.m. on the phone trying to work out when I can fly to Saudi Arabia, liaising with Saudi, New York, and Dubai, and conference calling at 1 a.m.
That part gets a little frustrating, but that’s what you get when you want to be successful. You never switch off. You panic that everything’s going to fall apart without you, which is definitely a control problem that I hope will get better with time!
I have pretty bad OCD. It’s normally controlled, but there are times – especially when I’m tired – when it really takes over, and it’s bad. I remember last weekend, the first actual weekend I’ve had in ages, I was in the Hamptons and should have been completely relaxed. I’m so used to waking up early that I was up at 5, even though my alarm didn’t go off. I didn’t want to wake my wife, so I thought I’d go get coffee, drive my car, and enjoy myself.
It should have been a pleasant thing, but there I am standing in front of my closet – this happens sometimes – and I am picking between a pair of gray cashmere sweatpants and a white cashmere sweater. My clothes are from Brunello Cucinelli, and they’re all half a shade off white or gray, so they’re basically all the same thing. You should be able to just pick something and go. I put on a pair of pants and a shirt, I walk downstairs, and I am about to go out but then think, “No, I want the other gray and the other white,” so I go up and change. I do this about seven times – to the point where I have a mini panic attack. I keep looking at myself in the mirror thinking, “Mike, just put the pants on and go. This is ridiculous!”
The trick is surrounding yourself with people that can truly help you succeed, rather than drain you.
Once I’m finally done getting dressed, I go to the garage where I have two of my pleasure cars. Then it’s a case of which one I want to drive. I open the first garage door, start the first car, then think, “No – I want the other one.” So I close that garage, open the other one, start that car, but then I’m staring at the other one again. So I get back into the first one, go halfway down the street, think about the other car, turn around in someone’s driveway, and come back.
My wife is awake by this point as she can hear the garage doors going up and down, and she comes down and is like, “What the hell are you doing?!” I just look at her like a little kid and say, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m having a panic attack.” Then I change cars again and leave. This happens sometimes when I’m getting ready in the morning and I’m choosing my suit and tie. I have gray suits, and I have blue suits – they all pretty much look the same. But sometimes I’ll get into a thing where I just can’t do it.
It’s like an out-of-body experience; you realize you’re going through it and you can look at yourself and say, “You are ridiculous,” but nothing really helps other than just physically making yourself put one foot in front of the next until you’re out the door. That’s why, in my life, everything is a routine – so I don’t have to make those decisions. I’m incredibly regimented; from the airline I fly to the driver that picks me up. I have such a routine that, if someone ever wanted to kill me, it wouldn’t be hard to find me as they’d know where I am at every point along the way!
I order my Starbucks at the exact same time, every morning, for pick up. I live on the West Side Highway in New York, and my office is on the East Side, but I only go to one Starbucks that’s in the middle of the city because I like the people that make the coffee there. It means I hit the most traffic, but I have to do it. Then I get 40 seconds of driving through the park to see some nature before I get to the office, and the craziness starts. But that’s my routine and, if anything deviates from that, my day is ruined. It’s pretty sad, but it’s true. It’s a way of controlling the OCD.
I have a personal assistant in Dubai and one in New York, and I have two different staffs. Right now I’m building a new office in New York, I’m working on a new apartment, I’m trying to get licensed in London, and I’m launching in lots of new stores, so I have to keep track of everything. I never do that at night. When I’m home from work, that’s it – I shut off and watch stupid sitcoms like Seinfeld to completely block my mind because my day is so intense.
My teams are pretty good about doing their part and keeping me informed on what I need to know. As a business owner, you have to learn how to get what you need from people, so I’ve molded my assistants to know exactly when they need to tell me something or need me for a decision. I’ve done that with everyone in my life. The trick is surrounding yourself with people that can truly help you succeed, rather than drain you. You have to have a very clear message; you can’t be all over the place. I’m lucky that I have a very good support system.
Everything in my room is incredibly neat. It’s the OCD thing; everything has to be arranged just right. When I sold my first apartment in New York before moving in with my wife, the buyer asked if anyone had been living there. I’d been there for three years, but it was that pristine. When I moved into my current home, which is a building by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, there were young kids, and three dogs (a greyhound and two little fat corgis who are just disasters). So it made it incredibly hard to be that OCD. It’s actually really helped me.
I always joke that, if my wife ever makes coffee in the morning, it’s like she’s made it for 400 people. There’s sugar and dirty spoons everywhere, the milk carton is dripping, and there are coffee rings all over the counter tops. When I make coffee, I have a system. It takes me exactly six minutes to make two cappuccinos just how we like them. It’s like I hit a timer in my head – it’s an efficient process, and when I’m done it looks like nothing’s happened. Everything’s perfectly clean. There are no spills! My wife has gotten so used to me and it doesn’t phase her. That’s just my thing. I must sound like a total nutball!
I have this fear that I’ll end up like Howard Hughes as I isolate myself so much. The other day, I was driving and realized that I don’t walk in New York anymore. God forbid I do, because now I get crazed as there are so many people around. I’m in my isolated little box. My driver pulls up right outside the office, I step out, I run in, I run out, I go home. My life is very predictable. Of course, when you’re younger and you can’t afford to do those things, you get up, you go on the subway, you’re mixed in with the world, but now I’m not. I can honestly say that’s not a good thing, but that’s what helps me stay focused.