The kindle version is free, and it’s also a public domain book – so you can pick up a copy almost anywhere online. For example, you can go to Project Gutenburg and download a PDF or other file format of your choice. Or, you can even go to ArtofManliness.com and read the entire thing there.
I happened to snag the audio version from Amazon’s Free Whispersync, which offers a free audio book each month. How to Live on 24 Hours a Day was available as February’s free audio book, but I didn’t bother listening to it until recently. The Sign of the Four is available for March – so don’t miss out!
About the Book
How to Live on 24 Hours a Day was written by Arnold Bennett as part of a much larger book How To Live. In the book he gives advice on how to live – not just how to exist.
The book was written back in 1910, so a lot of the references throughout the book are outdated. However, I almost want to write a parody of the How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (and apply it to more modern technologies like Facebook) because the concepts he discusses are universal.
A good majority of this essay discusses how white-collar workers can make use of the time they have to improve themselves, stealing moments while commuting to and from work or after dinner to focus on great literature, the arts, and self-discipline.
How to Live in 24 Hours a Day packs a lot of advice in a short amount of space – the entire essay can be read in about 30 minutes to an hour depending on how fast you read.
A Breakdown of the Advice
How to Live in 24 Hours a day is broken into short sections about 1 to 2 pages long, each focusing on a slightly different aspect of managing time and the predicament many individuals fall into when they work a typical 10 to 6 (or 9 to 5 in my case) shift.
The rest of this section is pretty much a spoiler.
I figure if you don’t have time to read this essay in about an hour, then you probably won’t read it at all. Chances are, you might not even read the rest of the post (it is pretty long!), so if you like, feel free to jump down to my summary at the bottom.
If you’d like to skim the basic concepts, here they are:
The Daily Miracle
While money is a commodity, time is a miracle. Given enough time, you can make more money; but, no matter how much money you have, you can’t buy any more time. You have as much time set aside today as you did tomorrow, as do your neighbors, your friends, and your pets. You can waste as much time as you like, and you’ll still have it every single day.
But, do you use your time wisely? Do you muddle through or day or truly live on the 24 hours a day you’re given?
Don’t promise yourself that you’ll do something “when you have a little more time.” You’ll never have any more time than you’ve always had – realizing how much time you truly have is the first step to maximizing your use of that time.
The Desire to Exceed One’s Programme
If you are content with your life and get done all that you want to do, then you might as well stop reading and continue doing what you like. This section is for those who want to do more with their lives, acknowledge they aren’t living up to their potential, and need some help to improve their use of time.
To start making an improvement, it’s important to know what we want in life and how to go about getting it. For example, if you wish to travel to Mecca, then tally forth! You might not get there, but you won’t experience the same frustrating dissatisfaction as the man who never leaves London.
Until you make the effort to satisfy your wish and desires, then you’ll always have an uneasy feeling of waiting for something that hasn’t started.
Precautions Before Beginning
Surprisingly enough, managing your time is not a simple matter of writing out a carefully planned time table. There’s no way you can possibly factor in everything you need to do every single day.
The beauty about time is that you can’t waste it in advance. Each hour is tucked away and saved for you to use at the appropriate time. So, essentially you could turn over a new leaf every hour if you want. There’s no need to wait until tomorrow or next week or next month. Just jump right in to making the changes you want to make as there’s no time like the present.
However, be careful not to undertake too much at once. Start little by little, and allow for accidents and human nature.
The Cause of the Troubles
Arnold Bennett describes the average man as someone who works from 10 to 6 and commutes an hour to get there and back. He (or she) generally dislikes what he does, starting his work with reluctance and ending it with joy. In between that time he is rarely, if ever, fully engaged in what he is doing. Unfortunately, this is what most people consider the “average day.” The hours up to and after that point are nothing but a prologue and epilogue.
This pattern of thinking leads individuals to want to “get through” and “have done with” their existence, which then leads to dissatisfaction with life. To counter this, Bennett suggests finding a “day within a day” like a Chinese box. It consists of the remaining 16 hours that doesn’t consist of work and to use that time to cultivate the soul. With 8 to 10 of those hours are devoted to sleep, that still leaves 8 hours to work with – the same amount of time dedicated to the average work day.
Maybe people are mistaken that the average work day leaves the individual exhausted, making it difficult to be dedicated fully to the remaining time in the day. However, Bennett asserts the mind doesn’t tire if fully invested in what it is doing. Furthermore, there are plenty of minutes throughout the day that are lost doing nothing at all – waiting for a train, for example.
Tennis and the Immortal Soul
Bennett goes on to describe how the average man has half an hour on the train that he dedicates solely to reading the newspaper. If this were a more modern setting, the average person has 30 minutes of driving to work which he or she can listen to an iPod or if taking the bus, checking Facebook on a smart phone.
While Bennett isn’t against reading the newspaper, he is against devoting a solid 30 to 45 minutes to solely reading the the paper – especially since it can be read in spare moments throughout the day or even while eating lunch.
After work, you undoubtedly think you are tired from all that work. You build up tired thoughts on your way home, and by the time you get there, all you want to do is relax. By the time you’re done eating, browsing a book, and visiting with friends, hours are gone before you know it.
Bennett points out that you are not usually as tired as you think you are. If you had an exciting date, for example, you’d rush home and make yourself look as good as possible and make it to the theater without feeling the least bit tired. It gives you a “glow” for the rest of your day, something to look forward to at the finish.
So, to maximize the time you have, start eating dinner right when you get home; this leaves the entire evening to do whatever you like. Of that time, set aside an hour and a half every other evening to “cultivate” the mind. There will still be plenty of time to put toward tennis or visiting friends or playing games.
Remember Human Nature
After you realize how to start living each day, it’s time to recognize the need to relax regularly. While consistent idleness leads to boredom and frustration, a regular rest after a hard week’s worth of work let’s you appreciate the time you have even more.
As you strive to improve yourself, it’s important to start small and gradually work your way to bigger things. Don’t do more than you’re ready for, and allow for mistakes in human nature. So until you’re ready for more, make the most of the 7 1/2 hours you set aside for your chosen task.
Controlling the Mind
Controlling your thoughts gives you greater control over your ability to concentrate on your goals. If you’re willing to spend so much time dressing and exercising your body, then why not spend the same amount of time to working the mind?
Pick a subject to focus your thoughts on – your mind may wander multiple times, but practice controlling your thoughts until you can focus solely on whatever subject you choose. It keeps you sharp.
Focusing your thoughts and controlling your mind gives you greater control over worry and anxiety.
The Reflective Mood
Now that you’ve learned to control your mind, it’s time to focus on yourself. Understand who you are and of what you are capable. Understand what gives you the greatest happiness and how you can find it if you don’t have it.
Bennett believes so long as your principals coincide with your actions, you’ll always be happy. It doesn’t matter what you believe in, so long as you believe in something strongly. If you truly believe burglary is a just principal, then you’ll have no problem sitting in jail as you’ll be a martyr for your cause.
Analyze your actions each day and reflect on whether they are in line with your principals. If you believe in working hard to support your family, then your job becomes less of a problem and more of a privilege.
Interest in the Arts
Many people waste their time in the evening hours because they believe there is no alternative other than studying literature, which they happen to not like. However, you can’t improve and cultivate your mind without the printed word. Just because you don’t happen to like historical works doesn’t mean you can’t study other informative topics like sailing or bridge-building.
If you like listening to music but don’t know anything about music, then finding books on the subject can help you gain further appreciation and satisfaction for the music you already love. After 48 weeks of just 3 hours a week studying all you can about music, then you’ll quickly become an expert on the topic.
Nothing in Life is Humdrum
As you start to gain a greater understanding of the world around you, then you also start to understand the people in the world around you.
For example, if someone were to steal your watch (while still an unpleasant thing), you might realize that the person who stole it might have grown up in a poor circumstance and needed the money more than you do. And though you might miss your old watch, you might enjoy purchasing a newer and better watch to take its place.
You start to see things in terms of cause and effect, and it makes you appreciate what you already have – “nothing is humdrum.”
Bennett excludes reading novels as part of the time devoted to cultivating the mind. They’re not considered “serious” enough to demand your time. Good novels don’t demand to be read – they push you forward anyway – and bad novels don’t deserve to be read. Cultivating the mind requires effort, strain, and the best books shouldn’t be an effort to read.
While you should still read novels, you should save your 90 minutes in the evenings for the highest form of literature, imaginative poetry, because it requires the greatest strain while offering the greatest rewards.
Pick an author or a topic and become a specialist.
Dangers to Avoid
This final section made me laugh a little inside. Bennett warns against becoming a prig with all your new-found knowledge. Once you learn something new and impressive, don’t feel the urge to broadcast it to the world.
Second, don’t let your 90 minute program run away with you – it’s a matter of self improvement, not a religious act.
Third, don’t rush yourself. Don’t focus so much on what you have to do next that you forget what you’re doing right now.
Fourth, be consistent. The more you pursue your program, the easier it is to turn it into a habit.
Fifth, once you’ve dedicated yourself to a task, do everything you can to achieve it. There’s a great sense of accomplishment for finishing your project, even if it becomes tedious at times.
Last, let your taste and inclination be your guide. Learn about what you love.
I found Arnold Bennett’s writing style dry and difficult to get through – even the narrator had a monotone voice which made me more likely to sleep than to apply the advice given in the book.
However, if you can get past the slightly boring approach to writing, the actual concepts in the book are fun to think about. I didn’t think about how much time I put in each day to just sitting and browsing the Internet or watching Netflix. If I truly wanted to improve myself, then I could better use that time to pursue music or learn a new hobby.
This is a book that may be more useful to quote or skim than to actually read the entire thing through. It’s short enough that I don’t feel bad recommending it. However, it isn’t exactly fun or entertaining enough to justify the hour it takes to read and think through.
If I were to truly apply the principals learned in the book,
then I would have better used that same time doing something else.
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