I’ve just finished reading How to Live on 24 Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett. I discovered this book through reading Cal Newport’s latest book, Deep Work. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard about this book before as it tackles the topic of time management. I can only presume that the reason it wasn’t on my radar was due to its age: it was published in 1910.
How to Live on 24 Hours a Day is a fascinating read because a lot of what Bennett discusses in it is also true in today’s world.
Time management is, at least in a documented sense, a 106 year old problem.
In one part of the book, Bennett talks about wasted time through the reading of newspapers on the train during the morning commute. Today you could replace “newspapers” with social media. He doesn’t suggest to his readers that they don’t read newspapers – he says he reads “five English and two French dailies” as well as a number of “weeklies”. He encourages – almost demands – the reader to use that time on other things instead. Things that are more meaningful and will have more impact on the reader. Things that will that will allow the reader to get closer to “knowing thyself” or, beyond that, even just spending time thinking and working on controlling their own mind. (He doesn’t entirely get around to suggest when he reads newspapers – I couldn’t find clear evidence of that, anyway. But based on his later arguments, I believe he reads them in the evening hours instead.)
At one point, he breaks down how you can claim time back – by employing “an hour and a half every other evening in some important and consecutive cultivation of the mind.” He goes a step further, saying to only do so “thrice weekly” to start. Bennett encouraged “time chunking” and boundary-setting more than a century ago – and he makes one final suggestion:
“…allow much more than an hour and a half in which to do the work of an hour and a half. Remember the chance of accidents. Remember human nature. And give yourself, say, from 9 to 11:30 for your task of ninety minutes.”
Now this may fly in the face of Parkinson’s Law (which says that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”), but the advice is still sound at the onset. Many people who offer productivity and time management advice still suggest it to this day. The goal is to get down to that ninety minute time block and to make sure you set aside the time to do actual work and not spend time frivolously. I love this quote from the book:
“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.”
(There is a caveat to this, however. If you spend that forty minutes in your evening routine of setting up the next day, then that is time well spent.)
The major activity that Bennett suggests the reader undertake in the evenings is reading – but not novels. Here’s what Bennett says about that:
“The best novels involve the least strain. Now in the cultivation of the mind one of the most important factors is precisely the feeling of strain, of difficulty, of a task which one part of you is anxious to achieve and another part of you is anxious to shirk; and that feeling cannot be got in facing a novel…Therefore, though you should read novels, you should not read them in those ninety minutes.”
How to Live on 24 Hours a Day has some wonderful insights, but for many these will seem familiar. Use your time wisely. Live every moment. Don’t just exist. These were issues that existed over 100 years ago, and they still exist – despite all of our technological advances – today. They may even have worsened for some of us.
Living your life doesn’t have to be difficult. You can start small and build from there. The ideas Bennett presented over 100 years ago can still be used today. So use them. If you can’t block out 90 minutes for specific pursuits (or don’t want to, like me), then theme your days so that you have planned purpose when you get home from work.
As Bennett says,”We never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is.”
Make the most of your time, every single day.