A big, big thanks to Ryan Waggoner for recommending this excellent, short book.
Here's what Ryan has to say about it:
The title would have you believe it’s about time management, and it is, partly. But it’s also about living deliberately, and about why you should manage your time in the first place. It’s a very quick read, no more than an hour or so, but the principles in the book are incredibly valuable. - http://ryanwaggoner.com/2010/09/how-to-live-on-24-hours-a-day/
I'm a fan of Ryan's work and writing on productivity and habits, so I went and checked the book out. First, yup, it's easy to read in one sitting. Second, yes, there's a lot of good insights into why you should take control over your time.
Now, I'm a person does try to live my time, so you'd think I already have plenty of reasons. And I do. But the author of How to Live 24 Hours Per Day does a really good job of getting you into thinking about things the right way. Also, the book has some really funny English humor in there.
Here's some excerpts:
The supply of time is truly a daily miracle, an affair genuinely astonishing when one examines it. You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions. A highly singular commodity, showered upon you in a manner as singular as the commodity itself!
For remark! No one can take it from you. It is unstealable. And no one receives either more or less than you receive.
Talk about an ideal democracy! 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 a 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. Mo 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." It is more certain than consols, and payment of income is not affected by Sundays. Moreover, you cannot draw on the future. Impossible to get into debt! You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste to-morrow; it is kept for you. You cannot waste the next hour; it is kept for you.
I said the affair was a miracle. Is it not?
The book takes some of this tone in the beginning - simple enough ideas, but pleasant to read. It gets a bit more technical later. Actually, I did enjoy the beginning sections that had writing like this. His general point is along the lines that anyone, no matter who they are, has the same amount of time each day, and can't save it or spend it in advance. Pleasant and easy to read. It gets a little more technical later.
"But," someone may remark, with the English disregard of everything except the point, "what is he driving at with his twenty-four hours a day? I have no difficulty in living on twenty-four hours a day. I do all that I want to do, and still find time to go in for newspaper competitions. Surely it is a simple affair, knowing that one has only twenty-four hours a day, to content one's self with twenty-four hours a day!"
To you, my dear sir, I present my excuses and apologies. You are precisely the man that I have been wishing to meet for about forty years. Will you kindly send me your name and address, and state your charge for telling me how you do it? Instead of me talking to you, you ought to be talking to me. Please come forward. That you exist, I am convinced, and that I have not yet encountered you is my loss. Meanwhile, until you appear, I will continue to chat with my companions in distress--that innumerable band of souls who are haunted, more or less painfully, by the feeling that the years slip by, and slip by, and slip by, and that they have not yet been able to get their lives into proper working order.
That's his sense of humor there. That's towards the end of the first section.
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 not prepared for discouragements and disillusions; if you will not be content with a small result for a big effort, then do not begin. Lie down again and resume the uneasy doze which you call your existence.
Yup. Common mistake people make (that I've made a lot) - trying to jump right into a rigid schedule and make it all work. It rarely works. In "The Evolution of my Time/Habit/Life Tracking" I showed how I started small and built up. You've got to start with manageable habits if you want to succeed at this.
"Well," you say, "assume that I am braced for the battle. Assume that I have carefully weighed and comprehended your ponderous remarks; how do I begin?" Dear sir, you simply begin. 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."
As I have previously said, the chief beauty about the constant supply of time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoilt, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your career. Which fact is very gratifying and reassuring. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose. Therefore no object is served in waiting till next week, or even until to-morrow. You may fancy that the water will be warmer next week. It won't. It will be colder.
"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." ... Therefore no object is served in waiting till next week, or even until to-morrow. You may fancy that the water will be warmer next week. It won't. It will be colder."
I love that quote so much. "You may fancy the water will be warmer next week. It won't. It will be colder." Great stuff.
Now the great and profound mistake which my typical man makes in regard to his day is a mistake of general attitude, a mistake which vitiates and weakens two-thirds of his energies and interests. In the majority of instances he does not precisely feel a passion for his business; at best he does not dislike it. He begins his business functions with reluctance, as late as he can, and he ends them with joy, as early as he can. And his engines while he is engaged in his business are seldom at their full "h.p." (I know that I shall be accused by angry readers of traducing the city worker; but I am pretty thoroughly acquainted with the City, and I stick to what I say.)
Yet in spite of all this he persists in looking upon those hours from ten to six as "the day," to which the ten hours preceding them and the six hours following them are nothing but a prologue and epilogue. Such an attitude, unconscious though it be, of course kills his interest in the odd sixteen hours, with the result that, even if he does not waste them, he does not count them; he regards them simply as margin.
Wonderful observation there. Most people see their eight hours of work as "they day" and also dislike their work. The other 16 hours are wrapped around "the day" which the person doesn't really enjoy, and get wasted and spent poorly.
He wrote quite a bit on this note. I picked one paragraph I thought captured the spirit well, but I'd recommend you read the whole book. It's short, it won't take more than one sitting, and it's enjoyable.
You get into the morning train with your newspaper, and you calmly and majestically give yourself up to your newspaper. You do not hurry. You know you have at least half an hour of security in front of you. As your glance lingers idly at the advertisements of shipping and of songs on the outer pages, your air is the air of a leisured man, wealthy in time, of a man from some planet where there are a hundred and twenty-four hours a day instead of twenty-four. I am an impassioned reader of newspapers. I read five English and two French dailies, and the news-agents alone know how many weeklies, regularly. I am obliged to mention this personal fact lest I should be accused of a prejudice against newspapers when I say that I object to the reading of newspapers in the morning train. Newspapers are produced with rapidity, to be read with rapidity. There is no place in my daily programme for newspapers. I read them as I may in odd moments. But I do read them. The idea of devoting to them thirty or forty consecutive minutes of wonderful solitude (for nowhere can one more perfectly immerse one's self in one's self than in a compartment full of silent, withdrawn, smoking males) is to me repugnant. I cannot possibly allow you to scatter priceless pearls of time with such Oriental lavishness. You are not the Shah of time. Let me respectfully remind you that you have no more time than I have. No newspaper reading in trains! I have already "put by" about three-quarters of an hour for use.
"Newspapers are produced with rapidity, to be read with rapidity. There is no place in my daily programme for newspapers. I read them as I may in odd moments. But I do read them. The idea of devoting to them thirty or forty consecutive minutes of wonderful solitude (for nowhere can one more perfectly immerse one's self in one's self than in a compartment full of silent, withdrawn, smoking males) is to me repugnant. I cannot possibly allow you to scatter priceless pearls of time with such Oriental lavishness. You are not the Shah of time. Let me respectfully remind you that you have no more time than I have. No newspaper reading in trains!"
Great insight, really wonderful insight. Don't block out time for things you can do casually in bits and pieces. If you have 40 minutes, block it out for something good. Read the newspaper (or your RSS reader, or Hacker News, or your favorite blog) when you've only got 10 minutes before a phonecall you have to make, or otherwise only have a tiny bit of time.
This was one of the key insights in the book for me. When you have large blocks of time, devote them to something you really want to do that takes some significant focused effort. Read the newspaper or surf the internet when you only have a few minutes here or there.
During the journey home you have been gradually working up the tired feeling. The tired feeling hangs heavy over the mighty suburbs of London like a virtuous and melancholy cloud, particularly in winter. You don't eat immediately on your arrival home. But in about an hour or so you feel as if you could sit up and take a little nourishment. And you do. Then you smoke, seriously; you see friends; you potter; you play cards; you flirt with a book; you note that old age is creeping on; you take a stroll; you caress the piano.... By Jove! a quarter past eleven. You then devote quite forty minutes to thinking about going to bed; and it is conceivable that you are acquainted with a genuinely good whisky. At last you go to bed, exhausted by the day's work. Six hours, probably more, have gone since you left the office--gone like a dream, gone like magic, unaccountably gone!
That is a fair sample case. But you say: "It's all very well for you to talk. A man *is* tired. A man must see his friends. He can't always be on the stretch." Just so. But when you arrange to go to the theatre (especially with a pretty woman) what happens? You rush to the suburbs; you spare no toil to make yourself glorious in fine raiment; you rush back to town in another train; you keep yourself on the stretch for four hours, if not five; you take her home; you take yourself home. You don't spend three-quarters of an hour in "thinking about" going to bed. You go. Friends and fatigue have equally been forgotten, and the evening has seemed so exquisitely long (or perhaps too short)! And do you remember that time when you were persuaded to sing in the chorus of the amateur operatic society, and slaved two hours every other night for three months? 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?
What I suggest is that at six o'clock you look facts in the face and admit that you are not tired (because you are not, you know), and that you arrange your evening so that it is not cut in the middle by a meal. By so doing you will have a clear expanse of at least three hours. 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.
Amazing excerpt above. If you're skimming, go read the whole thing.
"At last you go to bed, exhausted by the day's work. Six hours, probably more, have gone since you left the office--gone like a dream, gone like magic, unaccountably gone!"
"That is a fair sample case. But you say: "It's all very well for you to talk. A man *is* tired. A man must see his friends. He can't always be on the stretch." Just so. But when you arrange to go to the theatre (especially with a pretty woman) what happens? You rush to the suburbs; you spare no toil to make yourself glorious in fine raiment; you rush back to town in another train; you keep yourself on the stretch for four hours, if not five; you take her home; you take yourself home. You don't spend three-quarters of an hour in "thinking about" going to bed. You go. Friends and fatigue have equally been forgotten, and the evening has seemed so exquisitely long (or perhaps too short)!"
He's talking about how six hours melts into nothing when you aimlessly wander around, but when you've got a purpose, you can do lots of living in a short period of time. I also like this quote from the above:
"What I suggest is that at six o'clock you look facts in the face and admit that you are not tired (because you are not, you know), and that you arrange your evening so that it is not cut in the middle by a meal. By so doing you will have a clear expanse of at least three hours."
(because you are not, you know) -> Hah, I love it.
But remember, at the start, those ninety nocturnal minutes thrice a week must be the most important minutes in the ten thousand and eighty. They must be sacred, quite as sacred as a dramatic rehearsal or a tennis match. Instead of saying, "Sorry I can't see you, old chap, but I have to run off to the tennis club," you must say, "...but I have to work." This, I admit, is intensely difficult to say. Tennis is so much more urgent than the immortal soul.
"This, I admit, is intensely difficult to say. Tennis is so much more urgent than the immortal soul."
That's the line I remember most from the book. How people can put off procrastination and excuse themselves to go play tennis, but not to develop themselves on the topics they think most important. That one really struck me.
More time might assuredly be given to the cultivation of one's self. And in proportion as the time was longer the results would be greater. But I prefer to begin with what looks like a trifling effort.
It is not really a trifling effort, as those will discover who have yet to essay it. To "clear" even seven hours and a half from the jungle is passably difficult. For some sacrifice has to be made. One may have spent one's 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.
And habits are the very dickens to change! Further, any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts. 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. And it is because I know the difficulty, it is because I know the almost disastrous effect of failure in such an enterprise, that I earnestly advise a very humble beginning. You must safeguard your self-respect. 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 reiterate: Start quietly, unostentatiously.
"To "clear" even seven hours and a half from the jungle is passably difficult. For some sacrifice has to be made. One may have spent one's 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."
"And habits are the very dickens to change! Further, any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts. 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."
Such an obvious observation, but something I'd never put quite that way before. You are doing something with your time. If you wish to do something else, some of the time you were spending on something else needs to be not spent there. Very important to think about.
And without the power to concentrate--that is to say, without the power to dictate to the brain its task and to ensure obedience--true life is impossible. Mind control is the first element of a full existence.
"Mind control is the first element of a full existence." Concentration lets you lead a full life.
When you leave your house, concentrate your mind on a subject (no matter what, to begin with). You will not have gone ten yards before your mind has skipped away under your very eyes and is larking round the corner with another subject.
Bring it back by the scruff of the neck. Ere you have reached the station you will have brought it back about forty times. Do not despair. Continue. Keep it up. You will succeed. You cannot by any chance fail if you persevere. It is idle to pretend that your mind is incapable of concentration. Do you not remember that morning when you received a disquieting letter which demanded a very carefully-worded answer? How you kept your mind steadily on the subject of the answer, without a second's intermission, until you reached your office; whereupon you instantly sat down and wrote the answer? That was a case in which *you* were roused by circumstances to such a degree of vitality that you were able to dominate your mind like a tyrant. You would have no trifling. You insisted that its work should be done, and its work was done.
That part is about training yourself to concentrate gradually. He suggests you can do it by trying to fix your mind on any particular topic, and keep bringing yourself back around to it when your mind wanders. I haven't tried this yet - I should, it sounds like an interesting exercise.
I do not care what you concentrate on, so long as you concentrate. It is the mere disciplining of the thinking machine that counts. But still, you may as well kill two birds with one stone, and concentrate on something useful. I suggest--it is only a suggestion--a little chapter of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.
Good stuff. I strongly recommend Marcus Aurelius, it's great stuff. Haven't read any Epictetus - I'll have to look it up.
Yes, my friend, it is useless for you to try to disguise the fact. I can hear your brain like a telephone at my ear. You are saying to yourself: "This fellow was doing pretty well up to his seventh chapter. He had begun to interest me faintly. But what he says about thinking in trains, and concentration, and so on, is not for me. It may be well enough for some folks, but it isn't in my line."
It is for you, I passionately repeat; it is for you. Indeed, you are the very man I am aiming at.
Throw away the suggestion, and you throw away the most precious suggestion that was ever offered to you. It is not my suggestion. It is the suggestion of the most sensible, practical, hard-headed men who have walked the earth. I only give it you at second-hand. Try it. Get your mind in hand. And see how the process cures half the evils of life--especially worry, that miserable, avoidable, shameful disease--worry!
And yet you are in search of happiness, are you not? Have you discovered it?
The chances are that you have not. 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.
"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."
Do not fear that I mean to thrust certain principles upon your attention. I care not (in this place) what your principles are. Your principles may induce you to believe in the righteousness of burglary. I don't mind. All I urge is that a life in which conduct does not fairly well accord with principles is a silly life; and that conduct can only be made to accord with principles by means of daily examination, reflection, and resolution. What leads to the permanent sorrowfulness of burglars is that their principles are contrary to burglary. If they genuinely believed in the moral excellence of burglary, penal servitude would simply mean so many happy years for them; all martyrs are happy years for them; all martyrs are happy, because their conduct and their principles agree.
This was an interesting thought to me. "All martyrs are happy years for them; all martyrs are happy, because their conduct and their principles agree." It suggests you can evaluate your conduct by whether you enjoy suffering for it. The burglary example is an interesting way of putting it. Fascinating idea.
The second suggestion is to think as well as to read. I know people who read and read, and for all the good it does them they might just as well cut bread-and-butter. They take to reading as better men take to drink. They fly through the shires of literature on a motor-car, their sole object being motion. They will tell you how many books they have read in a year.
Think as well as read.
I cannot terminate these hints, often, I fear, too didactic and abrupt, upon the full use of one's time to the great end of living (as distinguished from vegetating) without briefly referring to certain dangers which lie in wait for the sincere aspirant towards life. The first is the terrible danger of becoming that most odious and least supportable of persons--a prig. Now a prig is a pert fellow who gives himself airs of superior wisdom. A prig is a pompous fool who has gone out for a ceremonial walk, and without knowing it has lost an important part of his attire, namely, his sense of humour. A prig is a tedious individual who, having made a discovery, is so impressed by his discovery that he is capable of being gravely displeased because the entire world is not also impressed by it.
This struck home - upon making the transition to a better sort of life, don't keep trying to force the rest of the world to come along. Put your ideas out there casually for people who are interested, but don't get upset at others who are not there yet.
Hence, when one sets forth on the enterprise of using all one's time, it is just as well to remember that one's own time, and not other people's time, is the material with which one has to deal; that the earth rolled on pretty comfortably before one began to balance a budget of the hours, and that it will continue to roll on pretty comfortably whether or not one succeeds in one's new role of chancellor of the exchequer of time. It is as well not to chatter too much about what one is doing, and not to betray a too-pained sadness at the spectacle of a whole world deliberately wasting so many hours out of every day, and therefore never really living. It will be found, ultimately, that in taking care of one's self one has quite all one can do.
"It is as well not to chatter too much about what one is doing, and not to betray a too-pained sadness at the spectacle of a whole world deliberately wasting so many hours out of every day, and therefore never really living. It will be found, ultimately, that in taking care of one's self one has quite all one can do." That also struck home.
The last, and chiefest danger which I would indicate, is one to which I have already referred--the risk of a failure at the commencement of the enterprise.
I must insist on it.
A failure at the commencement may easily kill outright the newborn impulse towards a complete vitality, and therefore every precaution should be observed to avoid it. The impulse must not be over-taxed. Let the pace of the first lap be even absurdly slow, but let it be as regular as possible.
And, having once decided to achieve a certain task, achieve it at all costs of tedium and distaste. The gain in self-confidence of having accomplished a tiresome labour is immense.
Firmly agree with this too. Don't start too big - start small and build up.
A full version is available here:
Also, I'd like to firmly recommend Ryan Waggoner's site:
He writes on similar topics as I do, and covers lots of good ground. I'd recommend you add him to your RSS reader if you like what we're covering here, and check in to see what he's up to periodically. I've gotten lots of good insights from him.
I head of Arnold Benett's book before and kind of planned to read it 'some day' (bad planning), so thanks for the link. I'll read it today, before I end up shelving that for another week again.
The quotes you posted were really interesting, and you said what you think is especially important, and what you resonate the most with... but I missed some sort of analysis, or elaboration of your part. Picking out good parts of a book and posting them is quite nice, but having something to say about it (and sharing it) is even better... at least in my opinion.
It's terribly easy to waste a day. It's the evening, and I haven't really done anything useful. I thought of planning the day when I got up, but in the end didn't. I think books such as that one are really good in that they remind people their treacherous tendencies that take over when one doesn't pay attention carefully enough. Old habits and all that. It would probably be a good idea to have something that forcefully reminds one of the whole business every day when one gets up, at least when one is still establishing new habits.
Something I thought about in that respect was that it would be useful to write some sort of 'life manifest.' Discussing how one wants ones' life to be, what one wants to do in life, and very importantly: why - because when one doubts and falters, one could read that and be reminded of why one tries, and why one should keep going. You wrote something similar in that you had some post some time ago as to how many books you want to publish until then-and-then, and how much money you want to own at this or that point... which is a really good thing since it encourages and sets goals. There are so many methods and ways helping one to keep going... one just has to find and employ them. I'm afraid, the employing part is difficult. Reading a book like that brings one 'back to earth' I suppose, if one really cares. And if one doesn't care, well, then things are pretty hopeless anyway.
Hi Sebastian- I found your website today, and have really enjoyed your thoughts. This post is my favorite, as I've been having "my day is too short" feelings recently.
I can understand why SZ suggested more analysis and less quotation, but the more I read, the more I wanted to read the full book. The lengthier citation was good in this case. This book is now next on my list!
Thanks for this recommendation, great and important read. It's amazing how little the art of living well has changed in the last 100 years.
I'd like to contribute my favorite quote from my Kindle clippings:
The proper, wise balancing of one's whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an ususual hour.
From the end of his preface to the new addition, he's concluding a discussion on one of my favorite subjects these days, overcoming your human frailties. This is such a perfect example. Not that we have servants making out tea these days, but if we did, I guarantee you that the lazy part of my brain (Bruce) would love that kind of excuse for inaction. I love the urgency of the sentence. It's these little daily battles, understandings of and preparations for the ways that we are likely to fall, that really set us up to succeed.
Tangentially, reading this really made me want to study some poetry. But I'm totally overwhelmed at where to start! I suppose the place is to set aside an hour for it every week, Google "Poetry," and go from there. :)
I started reading "Hagakure," which was written by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo from 1709 to 1716. I don't agree with everything in the book - some of the things Yamamoto-sama says sound crazy to my modern sensibilities, but there's some powerful quotes in here about bushido. Here's some I liked, with some thoughts of my own -
We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaming one's aim is a dog's death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he pains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.
The first book of philosophy on bushido I read was the Budoshoshinshu. It had a significant impact on my thinking. One of the largest tenets of bushido is keeping awareness of your death in mind when you live. I try to do this, because it gives you a sense of urgency and importance.
A lot of times the principle is misunderstood - the principle is actually make preparations as if you'll live forever, but live this day that you'd be proud if it was your last. Bushido is not about being reckless. It's about keeping awareness of the end with you, and in doing so, living much more.
It's almost paradoxical - the man who is aware of his death, who relinquishes his claim on life, he lives much more fully. The man who is ignorant of his death does not live as much. Death is not something to be afraid of - it's something to be aware of. Being aware of it makes you more alive, and more effective, and more purposeful.
This also happened with Cortes and the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs..
I think there are certain things to consider. After a lot of back and forth, I believe it is better to view your situation in specific as opposed to abstract terms. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer per se.
I will consider "ships" as backup plans/side projects/additional revenue streams. Here is what you need to think about:
1. Financial situation: