8 Morning Routines of History's Most Successful People

H.F. Davis/Getty Images
H.F. Davis/Getty Images

Everyone always wants to know how great artists, thinkers, and leaders achieved greatness. What did they do right? And if we follow in their footsteps, can we see similar results? In search of answers, we often turn to the morning routines of history’s most successful people. These morning habits and workout routines may have been just one small facet of their genius, but the ways they started their days were crucial to their creative process nonetheless. Here are eight simple morning routines of some of the world’s greatest minds that are worth a try in 2019.

1. Make a resolution every morning.

Benjamin Franklin strictly adhered to the 13 virtues he laid out for himself, including order, frugality, and justice. He also followed a daily routine with the same rigor and discipline. Each morning, he woke up at 5 a.m. and asked himself, “What good shall I do this day?” In his autobiography, he outlined his morning schedule as such: “Rise, wash and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.” Once he had a game plan and some food in his belly, he got to work doing typical Benjamin Franklin things, like inventing the rocking chair or helping to fight fires.

2. Work from bed.

This may sound counterproductive, but if some of the greatest minds in history had success with this method, then it might have some merit to it. One such proponent of working from bed was the French writer Voltaire. He wrote more than 50 plays in his lifetime, including Candide—and many of them were penned from the comfort of his bed. Laziness wasn't in his nature, though. He often put in 18-hour work days, helped along by the copious amounts of coffee he drank (40 to 50 cups a day, by some estimates). Likewise, British poet Edith Sitwell also frequently worked from bed, and once exclaimed, "All women should have a day a week in bed.” If you need further convincing that it’s possible to be productive while tucked under the covers, look no further than Winston Churchill. Each morning he spent hours in bed, where he ate breakfast, had a cigar, read the newspaper, and worked or dictated to his private secretaries.

3. Treat yourself.

If you want to start off your day on the right foot, do something that brings you joy, boosts your confidence, or helps you relax—even if it does feel like you’re procrastinating. Sigmund Freud famously had a barber come and trim his beard each day, and both Napoleon Bonaparte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were known for their extensive primping sessions. Napoleon often poured lavender water over his body while washing up, and Mozart spent an hour just getting dressed. Of course, grooming habits aren’t the only way to get your day started with a positive attitude, as Adam Toren, the co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com, writes. He suggests carving out time each morning for something you enjoy doing, whether it’s listening to a podcast, jogging, or sipping a cup of coffee.

4. Take a walk …

Charles Darwin typically started his day with a stroll around his thinking path (a gravel track near his home in Kent, England). Darwin mused on the scientific questions of the day during these walks, often with his fox terrier in tow. He may have been onto something, because certain types of exercise—particularly ones that require little thought—stimulate the motor and sensory regions of the brain. In turn, this tends to encourage the flow of new ideas. “Obviously, walking was not responsible for Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, but a good footslog was certainly part of his cognitive labor—and still is for many today,” Damon Young writes in Psychology Today. Georgia O'Keeffe had a similar habit, waking at dawn to take her tea in bed, then heading outside for a walk around her New Mexico neighborhood. She is said to have carried a walking stick with her, which came in handy anytime she needed to shoo away rattlesnakes.

5. … Or do something else physical.

If walks aren’t quite your speed, try jump-starting your day with some other type of exercise. Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier rose at 6 a.m. and did calisthenics for 45 minutes each morning. English author and humorist P.G. Wodehouse had a similar routine, waking up early to complete his morning calisthenics on the porch. However, he also followed it up with a pipe and drank two martinis before lunch and another two before dinner, so he might not be the best person to be taking health advice from. If you don’t like traditional exercises such as running or swimming, don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment with different activities. President Herbert Hoover and his physician invented a strenuous sport they dubbed Hooverball, which the POTUS played at 7 a.m. on the south lawn of the White House.

6. Get your hands dirty.

In 1850, would-be Moby-Dick author Herman Melville bought a 160-acre farm and farmhouse in western Massachusetts and named it Arrowhead. He personally tended to the farm and enjoyed rising at 8 a.m. to feed his horses and cow (“It’s a pleasant sight to see a cow move her jaws,” he wrote). Only then did he make breakfast for himself and begin writing. If you don’t have a full-blown farm, a small vegetable or flower garden will suffice. L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, woke at 8 a.m., ate breakfast, then headed straight to his garden to care for his prize-winning chrysanthemums. He named his home and garden Ozcot.

7. Meditate.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Enlightenment-era philosopher Immanuel Kant made silent contemplation one of his first orders of business each day. He woke up at 5 a.m., drank a cup or two of weak tea, and smoked a pipe of tobacco, all while using that quiet time to meditate, according to biographer Manfred Kuehn. We now know that meditation offers several scientific benefits, including anxiety reduction. If you start fretting about everything on your to-do list as soon as you open your eyes each morning, the Kant approach might be a good way to practice mindfulness.

8. Stimulate your mind.

Jane Austen practiced piano first thing in the morning before other members of her family woke up. English-American poet W. H. Auden started off his day with a crossword puzzle. And countless political leaders, from John Quincy Adams to Theodore Roosevelt, made reading a priority in the morning. (Roosevelt reportedly read entire books before breakfast.) Regardless of the materials they were consuming, they understood well that reading is brain fuel—and knowledge is power.

10 Thoughtful Gifts for DIY Enthusiasts

Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

It can be tough to find the perfect gift for the people who make everything themselves. Why not give them the tools and supplies they need to create works of art with their own personal touch? Check out these gift ideas for every DIY enthusiast on your list.

1. Prismacolor Premier Hand Lettering Advanced Set; $15

DIY Prismacolor Hand Lettering Set on Amazon
Amazon

With this set of high-quality pens and pencils, your artistically minded giftees will have the tools to add a personal flourish to letters, signs, greeting cards, and more. The kit includes two graphite pencils, seven illustration markers, two dual-ended art markers for bold lettering, an instruction guide, and—perhaps most importantly—an eraser.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Beanie knitting kit; $55

A knitting kit
We are the Knitters

Have a friend who loves knitting, but hates buying supplies? Surprise them with this knitting kit that comes complete with knitting needles, a unique pattern, and your choice of yarn. You can purchase beginner, easy, intermediate, or advanced knitting kits to create everything from hats and sweaters to blankets and wall art.

Buy It: We Are Knitters

3. Olfa Rotary Essentials Kit; $40

Olfa Rotary Essentials Kit on Amazon
Amazon

Perfect for paper crafters and scrapbookers, this kit includes two rotary cutters (in 45-millimeter and 18-millimeter sizes) and a self-healing mat. These tough tools will cut paper as well as leather, cloth, vinyl, film, photos, wallpaper, and more.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Miniature library; $20

Mini books
Uncommon Goods

Recreate your bookshelf in miniature form with this adorable kit from Uncommon Goods. The set comes with 20 illustrated miniature books that you can actually read (the selection includes titles like Thumbelina and The Snow Queen), plus 10 blank books you can write and illustrate yourself. Best yet, the set comes with a miniature bookcase, so you don’t have to worry about where to store your tiny library.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

5. Impressart Metal Stamping Kit; $113

ImpressArt Metal Stamping Kit on Amazon
Amazon

This slightly intimidating kit contains everything a crafter needs to stamp impressions into metal jewelry or objects. Along with the 1-pound hammer and small steel anvil, the Stamp Straight Tape helps you make impressions in a straight line and keep letters evenly spaced. The stamps themselves feature the letters of the alphabet (upper and lower case kits are available) and special characters.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Make Your Own Hot Sauce Kit; $35

Make Your Own Hot Sauce Kit from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Your bestie will be weaned off Sriracha when he concocts his own sauce with dried guajillo, chipotle, and arbol peppers. The kit contains the essentials (like gloves and bottling materials), plus all the ingredients needed for six custom-made bottles of the hot stuff.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

7. Solar Photography Kit; $15

Solar Photography Kit and photo examples from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Popularized in the 1840s by Anna Atkins, the first female photographer, solar photographs (also known as cyanotypes thanks to their blue color) use sunlight to develop images on chemically treated paper. Just lay a photo negative or object on the paper, place it in the sun for a while, and voilà. This kit includes six sheets of photosensitive paper, a light-proof storage envelope, and instructions. Fabric kits are also available.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

8. Southern Bourbon Stout Beer Brewing Kit; $20-$45

Southern Bourbon Stout beer brewing kit from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Why fight the drunken hordes at your local craft brewery when you, or your gift recipient, can brew your beer in the comfort of your home? This artisanal kit includes the hardware—a fermentor jug, racking cane, funnel, and more—and malt extract, specialty grains, fresh hops, and yeast to make one gallon of homemade brew. This particular formula relies on oak chips soaked in bourbon (booze not included) to add woodsy vanilla notes to your beer.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

9. Cavallini Flora and Fauna Rubber Stamp Set; $25

Cavallini flora and fauna rubber stamp set from Amazon
Amazon

Create woodland scenes on mail art, gift cards, holiday decor, and more with these rubber stamps on wood blocks. Vintage designs include an owl, songbird, deer, dogwood flower, and other forest friends. The stamps come in an attractive tin with a high-quality black ink pad.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Molecular Gastronomy Kit; $50-$65

Gastronomy kit for kitchen
Uncommon Goods

This kit encourages people to play with their food. Get this for the friend who loves to experiment in the kitchen and wouldn’t mind turning honey into jelly-like cubes or strawberries into delicate foam. The set comes with four different food additives (20 sachets), three pipettes, and a variety of other kitchen ingredients. For $16 more, you can purchase a molecular gastronomy book that can help guide you through recipes.

Buy It: Uncommon Goods

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

5 Clever Ways to Reuse Prescription Bottles

Zadas_Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Zadas_Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Old prescription bottles have a way of accumulating in every drawer and cabinet of a home. During your next cleaning spree, don’t be so quick to toss them in the recycling bin (or the trash can). Those perfectly-good containers have many potential uses beyond their original purpose. From thrifty organizers to gardening projects, here are some clever ways to upcycle empty pill bottles.

1. Organize jewelry.

Tossing your jewelry loose into a box is a recipe for tangled chains and missing valuables. Keep things neat and organized by repurposing your old prescription bottles. If you have enough of them at home, you can designate separate bottles for each type of jewelry you need to store. Now, instead of spending 10 minutes looking for the mate to your favorite earring, you’ll know exactly where you left it.

2. Make travel-size toiletry bottles.

Buying travel-size toiletries is a hassle—and throwing away your full-sized bottles at airport security when you inevitably forget to buy the smaller ones is even more frustrating. Reusing old pill bottles saves you a trip to the drug store. When packing, just squeeze a dollop of your shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, and whatever other liquid products you need into separate containers. You can customize the amount you need for the length of your trip, and then wash and save the bottles when you get home. But the best part is that you won’t need to wait until you get off the plane to moisturize.

3. Sort coins.

You can’t spend coins when they’re loose in your drawers and the pockets of your winter coat. Old prescription bottles are the perfect size for organizing spare change. Keep a few empty bottles out at home so you can empty your purse and pockets after you walk in the door. You can even use different bottles to separate coins by value, which will make your life easier if you ever get around to rolling those coins and taking them to the bank.

4. Grow seedlings.

An old pill bottle makes a great first home for any plants you’re trying to grow from seeds. Just stuff damp cotton balls into the bottom of the canister, add the seeds, and cover them with a layer of soil. You can even attach a magnet to the side of the bottle to make a decorative mini-planter for your fridge. Once the seedling is big enough, transfer it to a larger home and find new seeds for your upcycled plant container.

5. Store spices.

Do you need matching containers for your dried herbs and spices? Before spending extra money, see if you have any prescription bottles in your medicine cabinet at home. The containers fit snugly onto a spice rack and are just wide enough for you to scoop a tablespoon past the opening. Plus, the same amber plastic designed to protect medications from harsh light is just as effective at protecting spices.

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