Arnold Bennett's 'How To Live On Twenty-Four Hours A Day'


You have to live on twenty-four hours of daily time. Out of it you have to spin health, pleasure, money, content, respect, and the evolution of your immortal soul. Arnold Bennett’s ‘How To Live On Twenty-Four Hours A Day’ is a practical, funny and inspiring exploration of how to do it effectively – a brief, brilliant read for career-changers and the happy-at-work alike.

‘How To Live On 24 Hours A Day’ is not the book you think it is.

Far from a practical guide to squeezing out the maximum output from each day, it’s a philosophical, deeply humorous call to action: to take responsibility for how you spend your days, stop lamenting the lack of time available to you, and make of each moment what you will:

"Which of us lives on twenty-four hours a day? And when I say "lives," I do not mean exists, nor "muddles through. Which of us has not been saying to himself all his life: ‘I shall alter that when I have a little more time’? We never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is.”

Written in 1908, it’s a searingly perceptive and no-nonsense account of how we commonly use time as an excuse for failing to live life to the full – and it’s just as accurate today as it was at the turn of the 20th Century:

“A man may desire to go to Mecca. He may perish ingloriously on the coast of the Red Sea… but he will not be tormented in the same way as the man who, desiring to reach Mecca, never leaves Brixton. Most of us have not left Brixton. We have not even taken a cab to Ludgate Circus and inquired from Cook’s the price of a conducted tour. And our excuse to ourselves is that there are only twenty-four hours in the day.”

How To Live doesn’t offer tips and techniques for time management, productivity or successful multi-tasking. Bennett doesn’t try to make you better at managing the precious 24 hours you’ve been given. What he does instead is highlight the fundamental ideas behind time management – the internal battles, questions, and liberating concepts that help us all to reclaim our status as agents of our own destinies.

It’s a short read at 32 pages, but it packs a punch, eliciting both peals of laughter and moments of sacred recognition. Bennett covers a vast array of subjects in this brief gem: why humanity is so obssessed with time, and why we never feel like we have enough; how taking control of your own mind is the key to taking back your time; the fact that 'nothing is humdrum'; and dangers to avoid (over-scheduling, futuregazing, and mocking other people for their time-wasting behaviours)

Top Takeaways

There is no better time than now: Stop telling yourself you’ll do something once you’re ready, more qualified, or better equipped. Starting is a skill in itself – and one that no other factors will affect deeply enough to validate your waiting. Just do it.

“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…. You may fancy the the water will be warmer next week. It won’t. It will be colder.”

At the end of a workday, you have more energy than you want to admit: How is it that when you come home at the end of a day in the office, you slump down, seemingly exhausted, and tell yourself you should rest because you’ve had such a long day, and yet when you have a party to attend on a Friday night you seem to have all the energy in the world?

"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)..."

Stop feeling hard done by: End the glorification of busy. The people who say they are the busiest are usually the least so. We all have the same amount of time to play with. And ultimately, you are the only person who gets to choose how you spend yours. That’s a pretty magical gift:

“The supply of time is truly a daily miracle…. 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… And no one receives either more or less than you receive.”

Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew: If you want to start doing something new, give yourself space to do it slowly, badly, uncomfortably. The most important thing is that you do it consistently:

“Let the pace of the first lap be even absurdly slow, but let it be as regular as possible”