Tick tock, tick tock, the clock goes on. Second…by…second. One no faster than the last; no shorter than the next. Yet these seconds, when they add up, seem to vanish when we account for them. It’s time to get the kids already? Your birthday is this weekend?! Where did the time go? It ticked away, second…by…second.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. It may seem like it because the items that burglarize our seconds never end. Phones, TVs, news, notifications, bings, bops, and blips are all over the pla – sorry, my phone buzzed.
What’s worse? It’s not getting easier.
The problems may be new(er), but the remedy is not: Arnold Bennett’s 1908 classic, How to Live on 24-Hours a Day. This short book is a tour de force of philosophical advice and practical ideas for time management.
The first step to living fully and comfortably within the allotted hours of one’s day is the realization that though it is possible, it is not easy. It requires an endless amount of effort and continuous sacrifice. Everything will be fighting against you, but you must not give in. Your happiness depends on it.
A note: If you’re reading this and thinking at any time, there’s no way I could do any of this. I don’t have the time between the kids, sports, work, my marriage, and everything else I have going on. That’s great! This book addressed those who felt like each day was ending with no control over what happened. If you’re not in that scenario, not all of these ideas will apply, but some will.
Why care about this?
The importance of finding and using time deliberately is that we all have things we want to do (or to have gotten done) that we simply haven’t yet: going back to school, learning to write, studying history, improving our skills for a better job, and so on. “You are constantly haunted by a suppressed dissatisfaction with your own arrangement of your daily life,” Bennett writes, “and 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.’”
You will never have “more time.” As Bennett writes, “We shall never have more time. We have, and have always had, all the time there is.” Instead of trying to find “more time,” you need to make more time.
Here are the main ideas in Bennett’s book.
Don’t center your day around your job (if you dislike it)
The person who works 10 to 6 every day, 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.
Instead of 10 to 6 being “the day,” think of 10 to 6 as being a day within a day. The first day starts at 10 am and ends at 6 pm. The second day starts at 6 pm and ends at 10 am.
For the sake of our humanity, let’s reserve 8 hours for nocturnal rest: 11 pm to 7 am. Now, what will you do during the new hours of that second day, from 6 pm to 11 pm and from 7 am to 9 am?
First, let’s find 30 minutes in the morning between 7:00 and 7:30 to strengthen the mind deliberately. During these minutes, practice concentrating on something. Whenever your mind wanders from what it should be focused on, drag it back with all your might. You can focus on whatever you want: a quote from your favorite book, a song lyric, the beauty of painting, whatever. The what doesn’t matter so much as the act.
Whatever you do, do not use these perfectly good minutes of solitude to read “that which was meant to be read with rapidity.” Bennett here is referring to newspapers. I’m referring to Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or other social platforms. (And maybe even the news.) Don’t waste 30 minutes of your fresh mind on ephemeral content.
Bennett explains that practicing intense focus will make discipline easier in all aspects. If you can control your mind, you can control your mood, attitude, behavior, and more.
So far, we have found two and a half hours every week (30 mins a day X 5 days per week) that didn’t exist before. Let’s now turn to our evenings.
Most people come home from work, sit on the couch for an hour, watch the news, and start making dinner. After dinner, they either go back to tv or maybe start reading a book. Bennett advises that instead of having dinner interrupt the middle of your evening, have it as soon as you get home. Then, reserve an hour and a half three days a week to better oneself. In doing so, you still have two weeknights and all of Saturday and Sunday to do whatever you want.
Now, what will you do with your four and a half evening hours each week? Most people wrongly assume reading or studying literature is the only option. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You could study music, learn how to play an instrument, advance your knowledge in the field of mathematics, become an armchair physicist, write a book, become an expert on Renaissance paintings, learn how to paint, study for a certificate of some sort, learn how to program, commit to reading a large volume of text…shall I continue?
Everything is on the table with one requirement: You must be keenly interested in that thing. Don’t study philosophy because you like the idea of becoming a philosopher. Do it because you’re interested in philosophy and want to learn more about it.
Whatever it is, do it deliberately. That’s the point of all this.
If you want to learn something academic but don’t want to attend an actual school, do what Jack London did. Before he started writing, he got a copy of the syllabi from the University of California and read all the books from English and Philosophy courses.
For your evening study, don’t let anything influence your decision about what to pursue other than your interests. Bennett writes:
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.
Maintain flexibility. Following the program is important, but it’s not a religion. You’re the master. Maintain flexibility. However, you have to take it seriously enough for it to work and not just be a cruel joke. There is a right amount of rigidity and flexibility one must achieve.
Don’t rush. One may take the dog out at eight and be thinking the whole time that he has to start reading at nine and, therefore, never enjoy the moment of the walk.