2023-01-10

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett

Impressions

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day is the most timeless, practical guide to time management. It gives both philosophical ideas and practical steps to help you take control of the hours you typically waste to do something that betters yourself with them.

This book, written in 1908, is the complete opposite of anything close to “self-help” books published today. You won’t read anything in here about cold showers, waking up at 4:30am, or going for a 5 mile run every morning.

The advice is simple. The words are witty and refreshing. I highly recommend.

Notes

  • The first step in arranging one’s life that they may live fully and comfortably within one’s daily budget of twenty-four hours is the calm realization of the extreme difficulty of the task, of the sacrifices, and the endless effort which it demands. I cannot too strongly insist on this.
  • How to begin: just begin. If someone trying to get into a cold both were to ask you, “Sir, how do I start to get in?” You would reply, “Well just get in!”
  • You say your day is already full to overflowing. How? You actually spend in earning your livelihood–how much? Seven hours, on the average? An in actual sleep, seven? I will add two hours, and be generous. And I will defy you to account to me on the spur of the moment for the other eight hours.
  • The person who works 10 to 6 everyday, and who doesn’t have a real passion for their job, make the first mistake by assuming 10 to 6 is “their day” and that the ten hours prior and the six hours following are nothing but a prologue. This attitude kills any interest with doing something with those 16 hours. Even if said person does not intentionally waste them, the point is he does not count them; he regards them simply as margin.
    • Doing this is a grave mistake because it makes the centrality of one’s day just something “to get through” or “have done with.” “If a man makes two-thirds of his day subservient to one-third, for which admittedly he has no absolutely feverish zest, how can he hope to live fully and completely? He cannot.”
    • What this person must do, then, is arrange a day within a day. This second day starts at 6pm and ends at 10am. It is a day of sixteen hours. And during this 16 hours, he has nothing to do but cultivate his body and his soul and his fellow men.
    • “What? You say that full energy given to those sixteen hours will lessen the value of the business eight? Not so. On the contrary, it will assuredly increase the value of the business eight. One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change–not rest, except in sleep.”
  • Don’t dedicate the extreme hours of solitude to reading tiny thoughts and other things that are meant to be read with speed. Reading newspaper on the train is wasting a good 30 minutes of quiet time.
  • “Can you deny that when you have something definite to look forward to at eventide, something that is to employ all your energy–the thought of that something gives a glow and a more intense vitality to the whole day?”
  • One might say they are exhausted from their day’s work because they give so much effort and can’t commit to the evening hours of study. To that, Bennett says great! This book, this advice is not for those who are already living a good life–whom work hard at their jobs because they’re good at them and love them. It’s for the worker who shuffles through the day rising in the morning and just waiting until he can go to sleep again. There are probably some things the hard worker who loves their job can take from the book, like the morning and evening practices of focus and reflection, but they are already not wasting 8 hours/day, so Bennett says let them carry on as they are.

Practical advice

  • Face the facts and tell yourself at 6 that you are not tired–because you’re not. And don’t let dinner interrupt the middle of the evening.
  • Work 7 days a week, at first. It is he who has only worked tirelessly for a time who truly appreciates a full day of rest. Especially if you’re young in age. Use that energy. But in the average case, only do 6. And if you so choose to do 7, look at it as an extra source of time, so that anytime you wish you can go back to six without feeling like you’re giving something up.
  • So far, we have half an hour in the mornings six days a week and an hour and a half three days a week. With that seven and a half hours put to good use, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. “My contention is that the full use of those seven-and-a-half hours will quicken the whole life of the week, add zest to it, and increase the interest which you feel in event the most banal occupations.”
  • During the evenings, give yourself more than an hour and a half to do that which takes an hour and a half. Remember human nature. Remember accidents. Remember distraction.
  • From the moment you leave your home to the moment you arrive at work is reserved for strengthening the mind. What you ought to do, then, is to concentrate your mind on something–it can be anything, but Bennett suggests maybe a paragraph from Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus–and when your brain gets off topic, use brute force to think about it again. Doing this trains your mind everyday for long bouts of focus on something.
  • Then, reflect. Reflect on your principles, your happiness, and your life. Man know thyself. If you are searching for happiness and you haven’t found it, and yet still don’t reflect, on the “deliberate consideration of your reason, principles, and conduct, you admit also that while striving for a certain thing you are regularly leaving undone the one act which is necessary to the attainment of that thing.”
    • Do so on your journey home. This is a good time to transition from the day to the evening hours and your tired spirit will be in a good position to do so.
  • At night, you can study music, art, literature,
  • If you choose to study literature at night, here are some tips:
    • Define the direction and scope of your efforts. Choose a limited time period, or a limited subject, or a single author. Define yourself as a specialist for there is much pleasure in being one.
    • Think, as well as read. Devote 45 minutes of reflection for each 90 minute period of reading. Doing so will slow your progress on the book. That’s okay. Don’t worry about that.

Warnings

  • If you imagine that you will be able to achieve your ideal by ingeniously planning out a time-table with a pen on a piece of paper, you had better give up hope at once. If you are no prepared for discouragements and disillusions; if you will not be content with a small result for a big effort, then do not begin.
  • Beware of undertaking too much at the start. Be content with quite a little. Allow for accidents. Allow for human nature, especially your own. “Self respect is at the root of all purposefulness, and a failure in an enterprise deliberately planned deals a desperate wound at one’s self-respect. Hence I iterate and I reiterate: Start quickly, unostentatiously.”
    • “When you have consciously given seven hours and a half a week to the cultivation of your vitality for three months–then you may begin to sing louder and tell yourself what wondrous things you are capable of doing.”
  • “If you imagine that you will be able to devote seven hours and a half a week to serious, continuous effort, and still live your old life, you are mistaken. I repeat that some sacrifice, and an immense deal of volition, will be necessary.”
  • Don’t be a prig.
    • “A prig is a pert fellow who gives himself airs of superior wisdom. He’s a pompous fool who…has lost an important part of his attire, namely, his sense of humor.”
  • Following the program is important, but it’s not a religion. You’re the master. Maintain flexibility. But you also have to take it seriously enough for it to work and not just be a cruel joke or something you hope to do. There is a right amount of rigidness and flexibility one must achieve.
  • Don’t rush. One may take the dog out at 8 and be thinking the whole time that he has to start reading at 9 and therefore never enjoy the moment of the walk.
  • In choosing the occupations of the evening hours, commit to that which you have a supreme interest and let nothing else influence or dictate that which you choose to study. Being a walking encyclopedia of philosophy is all well and good, but not so if you have a disdain for philosophy and would rather study the stars.
  • Finally, but most importantly, don’t fail. The only way you can fail is by taking on too much. Get your ego under control and commit that which you can reasonably do and no more. If you take on too much, you have a greater chance of failing and if you fail, you’ll quit and never try again.

Quotes

  • Now that I have succeeded (if succeeded I have) in persuading you to admit to yourself that you are constantly haunted by a suppressed dissatisfaction with your own arrangement of your daily life; and that the primal cause of that inconvenient dissatisfaction is the feeling that you are every day leaving undone something which you would like to do, and which, indeed, you are always hoping to do when you have “more time.”
  • “I do not suggest that you should employ three hours every night of your life in using up your mental energy. But I do suggest that you might, for a commencement, employ an hour and a half every other evening in some important and consecutive cultivation of the mind.”
  • “The man who begins to go to bed forty minutes before he opens his bedroom door is bored; that is to say, he is not living.”
  • “Happiness does not spring from the procuring of physical or mental pleasure, but from the development of reason and the adjustment of conduct to principles.”
  • “When one has thoroughly got imbued into one’s head the leading truth that nothing happens without a cuase, one grows not only large-minded, but large-hearted.”
    • “One loses, in the study of cause and effect, that absurd air which so many people have of being always shocked and pained by the curiousness of life.”
    • Nothing is humdrum. There is a cause and effect to everything.
    • He’s saying here, essentially, that if you don’t like literature or art, then study why things are the way that they are–the cause and effect relationship between stuff in the world.
  • “The whole field of daily habit and scene is waiting to satisfy that curiosity which means life, and the satisfaction of which means an understanding heart.”
  • “The best novels involve the least strain.”
  • “The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.”
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