How to Live on 24 Hours A Day – Book Notes and Summary

One-sentence summary: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day offers a timeless program for carving out time for self-improvement despite full-time employment and a thriving social life.

Rating: 10/10

Author:  Arnold Bennett

Date Completed: January 2019

Tags: Life Strategy, Self-Knowledge, Routine, Habit, Learning, Time Management, Motivation, Frameworks

Hot take: Ignore this tiny book at your own peril. Yes, it’s more than 100 years old. Yes, Arnold Bennett seems like a dick. But holy fucking shit, is this book excellent. Pound for pound, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day is the best self-improvement book I’ve ever read.

Big Ideas 

Time is the ideal democracy.

  • We all recognize that time is the prime asset in life, but we never stop to ponder just how amazing it is.
  • Time is the great equalizer – we’re all given 24 hours per day to allocate, and there are no adjustments to this allotment despite our best efforts.
  • “In the realm of time, there is no aristocracy of wealth, and no aristocracy of intellect. Genius is never rewarded by even an extra hour per day. And there is no punishment. Waste your infinitely precious commodity as much as you will, and the supply will never be withheld from you. No mysterious power will say: ‘This man is a fool, if not a knave. He does not deserve time; he shall be cut off at the meter.’”
  • Even the most wasteful use of the past two hours can’t waste the next two. The worst use of today’s time can’t destroy tomorrow’s allotment (though anyone who’s had a bad hangover may protest on this point).

You already have all the time there is.

  • We all have things we plan to change about our lives “when we get around to it” or “when things aren’t so busy.” But you’ll never have more time than you have right now. Maybe you’ll be less swamped at the office someday soon, or perhaps you’ll have more responsibilities heaped on your plate until you can’t imagine the life you had before you got really busy.
  • “Which of us is not saying to himself – which of us has not been saying to himself all his life: ‘I shall alter that when I have a little more time’? We shall never have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is.”

If you want to get more out of your life, start now.

  • Most people want to create the perfect plan before beginning a new hobby, starting a company, etc. Unfortunately, this is a delusion. All the planning you’re doing makes you feel like you’re beginning without actually doing anything. It’s motion rather than action.
  • The best way to start is to start. When someone asks, “how do I start writing?” I tell them to sit down and write whatever comes to mind. Mark Manson calls these “VCR questions” – someone asking “how do I do [thing that requires no preparation or skill]?” gets the response, “You do the thing.”
  • “There is no magic method of beginning. If a man standing on the edge of a swimming-bath and wanting to jump into the cold water should ask you, ‘How do I begin to jump?’ You would merely reply, ‘Just jump. Take hold of your nerves, and jump.’”
  • “No object is served in waiting till next week, or even tomorrow. You may fancy that the water will be warmer next week. It won’t. It will be colder.”

Start small.

  • Any change in your life – a new subject you want to study, a hobby you want to take up, etc. – should be confined to half an hour each morning and 90 minutes every other evening. You must hold them as sacred – “the most important minutes in the ten thousand and eighty.”
  • If you take Sundays off entirely, that’s only 7.5 hours per week, which doesn’t seem like all that much. Over time, it turns out to be plenty.
  • “Beware of undertaking too much at the start. Be content with quite a little. Allow for accidents. Allow for human nature, especially your own.”
  • The beautiful thing is that this tiny block of time will also begin to change your life in myriad other ways. “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.”
  • “Let us avoid at any cost the risk of an early failure. I will not agree that, in this business at any rate, a glorious failure is better than a petty success. I am all for the petty success. The glorious failure leads to nothing; a petty success may lead to a success that is not petty.”

Spend that time focusing on something that interests you.

  • I’m not talking about celebrity gossip or Candy Crush, but rather a pursuit – intellectual or physical – that might change your life for the better. Bennett suggests reading non-fiction or learning about music, but you know better what you’d like to spend time doing.
  • This probably involves changing your habits. That’s why guarding your time closely and starting small is essential.
  • “One may have spent time badly, but one did spend it: one did do something with it, however ill-advised that something may have been. To do something else means a change of habits.”

Small efforts add up.

  • 7.5 hours is only 4% of your time each week. But over a year, those hours compound. 7.5 hours for 52 weeks is 390 hours in a year. That’s 16 uninterrupted, sleepless days of working only on your pursuit.
    • If you study a language for 7.5 hours per week, you might be conversational and on your way to fluent by the end of a year.
    • If you play guitar for 7.5 hours per week, you would be a markedly better player in a year.
    • If you work on a business idea for 7.5 hours per week, you might have a product ready to launch in a year.
  • Brett McKay talks about this at the Art of Manliness. He suggests building one habit per year. It may not seem like much at the time, but cumulatively, one new, positive practice per year becomes an impressive list after a decade or two.

Bits and pieces

  • When we say we want to rest, we really need to switch gears. “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.” This is a similar idea to what Austin Kleon discusses in Steal Like an Artist.
  • Happiness comes from accomplishing something difficult. “The chances are that you have already come to believe that happiness is unattainable. But men have attained it. And they have attained it by realising that 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.”
  • Don’t rush. If you’re always thinking about the next thing you need to do, you’ll cancel out the good stuff (and good feelings) about the time you’re carving out for self-improvement. If you feel yourself becoming obsessed with whatever’s coming next, take it as a sign to revisit your schedule and do less.

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