Excerpts from

  "How to Live on 24 Hours a Day"
by Arnold Bennett

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Book Description
This classic personal time-management book originally published in 1908 has inspired generations of men and women to live deliberate lives. Not just another collection of timesaving tips, this book is more of a challenge to leave behind mundane everyday concerns, focus on pursuing one's true desires, and live the fullest possible life. Reflection, concentration, and study techniques make it easier to accomplish more truly rewarding undertakings than anyone ever dreamed possible.

Many books have been written over the years attempting to tell people how to improve their lives. They usually involve living on a certain amount of money per week or month. This book was first published in 1908, and was a major bestseller. It could be considered the first self-help book, and it takes a different approach, looking at time instead of money.

Time is a very funny thing; everyone gets the same amount per day. Rich people do not get more than poor people. It's not possible to go the store and buy time. Out of that 24 hours per day, everyone must carve out a life (marriage, family, work, hobbies, religion, etc).

This book was written in a time and place (England of the early 1900s) where everyone took the train to work. One of the author's suggestions is to use that time concentrating on one thing; it doesn't matter what it is. If your mind starts wandering, hook a leash to it and bring it back. I'm not sure how well this would work today, when everyone drives to work. You say you can't concentrate for very long? Having to give a big presentation at work, or final exams in school, does a wonderful job of focusing the mind.

Then comes the evening, after the reader has gotten home from work. If this book had been written today, the author might say that occasionally vegging out in front of the TV is not a bad thing, but don't be like the average American, who does it for several hours a day, every day.

Take, say, two hours a night, three nights a week, for a total of six hours. Use that time to learn a subject about which the reader is passionate, a hobby or interest. The subject can be literally anything, from A to Z. If a big subject like history is chosen, it's allowable to narrow it down to, for instance, the French Revolution or the Vietnam War. If a subject like classical music is chosen, go to an occasional concert or try your hand at playing an instrument.

Again, if this book was written today, the author might say to use the Internet to research your topic, but stay away from the chat rooms. During your learning time (for lack of a better term), lay off the popular novels. The author has nothing against them, but the idea is to give your brain a workout; novels don't do that.

Most of all, take your time. The worst thing a person can do is burnout.

This book is small, but mighty. It says a lot, and it's the sort of book that can be used by everyone, from one end of society to the other. Not enough time in the day? Not after reading this gem.


I have received a large amount of correspondence concerning this
small work, and many reviews of it--some of them nearly as long
as the book itself--have been printed. But scarcely any of the
comment has been adverse. Some people have objected to a
frivolity of tone; but as the tone is not, in my opinion, at all
frivolous, this objection did not impress me; and had no weightier
reproach been put forward I might almost have been persuaded that
the volume was flawless! A more serious stricture has, however,
been offered--not in the press, but by sundry obviously sincere
correspondents--and I must deal with it. A reference to page 43
will show that I anticipated and feared this disapprobation. The
sentence against which protests have been made is as follows:--
"In the majority of instances he [the typical man] does not
precisely feel a passion for his business; at best he does not dislike
it. He begins his business functions with some 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 am assured, in accents of unmistakable sincerity, that there are
many business men--not merely those in high positions or with fine
prospects, but modest subordinates with no hope of ever being
much better off--who do enjoy their business functions, who do not
shirk them, who do not arrive at the office as late as possible and

depart as early as possible, who, in a word, put the whole of their
force into their day's work and are genuinely fatigued at the end

I am ready to believe it. I do believe it. I know it. I always knew
it. Both in London and in the provinces it has been my lot to spend
long years in subordinate situations of business; and the fact did
not escape me that a certain proportion of my peers showed what
amounted to an honest passion for their duties, and that while
engaged in those duties they were really *living* to the fullest
extent of which they were capable. But I remain convinced that
these fortunate and happy individuals (happier perhaps than they
guessed) did not and do not constitute a majority, or anything like
a majority. I remain convinced that the majority of decent average
conscientious men of business (men with aspirations and ideals) do
not as a rule go home of a night genuinely tired. I remain
convinced that they put not as much but as little of themselves as
they conscientiously can into the earning of a livelihood, and that
their vocation bores rather than interests them.

Nevertheless, I admit that the minority is of sufficient importance
to merit attention, and that I ought not to have ignored it so
completely as I did do. The whole difficulty of the hard-working
minority was put in a single colloquial sentence by one of my
correspondents. He wrote: "I am just as keen as anyone on doing
something to 'exceed my programme,' but allow me to tell you that
when I get home at six thirty p.m. I am not anything like so fresh
as you seem to imagine."

Now I must point out that the case of the minority, who throw
themselves with passion and gusto into their daily business task, is
infinitely less deplorable than the case of the majority, who go
half-heartedly and feebly through their official day. The former are
less in need of advice "how to live." At any rate during their
official day of, say, eight hours they are really alive; their engines
are giving the full indicated "h.p." The other eight working hours
of their day may be badly organised, or even frittered away; but it
is less disastrous to waste eight hours a day than sixteen hours a
day; it is better to have lived a bit than never to have lived at all.
The real tragedy is the tragedy of the man who is braced to effort
neither in the office nor out of it, and to this man this book is
primarily addressed. "But," says the other and more fortunate man,
"although my ordinary programme is bigger than his, I want to
exceed my programme too! I am living a bit; I want to live more.
But I really can't do another day's work on the top of my official

The fact is, I, the author, ought to have foreseen that I should
appeal most strongly to those who already had an interest in
existence. It is always the man who has tasted life who demands
more of it. And it is always the man who never gets out of bed
who is the most difficult to rouse.

Well, you of the minority, let us assume that the intensity of your
daily money-getting will not allow you to carry out quite all the
suggestions in the following pages. Some of the suggestions may
yet stand. I admit that you may not be able to use the time spent
on the journey home at night; but the suggestion for the journey to
the office in the morning is as practicable for you as for anybody.
And that weekly interval of forty hours, from Saturday to Monday,
is yours just as much as the other man's, though a slight
accumulation of fatigue may prevent you from employing the
whole of your "h.p." upon it. There remains, then, the important
portion of the three or more evenings a week. You tell me flatly
that you are too tired to do anything outside your programme at
night. In reply to which I tell you flatly that if your ordinary day's
work is thus exhausting, then the balance of your life is wrong and
must be adjusted. A man's powers ought not to be monopolised by
his ordinary day's work. What, then, is to be done?

The obvious thing to do is to circumvent your ardour for your
ordinary day's work by a ruse. Employ your engines in something
beyond the programme before, and not after, you employ them on
the programme itself. Briefly, get up earlier in the morning. You
say you cannot. You say it is impossible for you to go earlier to
bed of a night--to do so would upset the entire household. I do not
think it is quite impossible to go to bed earlier at night. I think that
if you persist in rising earlier, and the consequence is insufficiency
of sleep, you will soon find a way of going to bed earlier. But my
impression is that the consequences of rising earlier will not be an
insufficiency of sleep. My impression, growing stronger every
year, is that sleep is partly a matter of habit--and of slackness. I am
convinced that most people sleep as long as they do because they
are at a loss for any other diversion. How much sleep do you think
is daily obtained by the powerful healthy man who daily rattles up
your street in charge of Carter Patterson's van? I have consulted a
doctor on this point. He is a doctor who for twenty-four years has
had a large general practice in a large flourishing suburb of
London, inhabited by exactly such people as you and me. He is a
curt man, and his answer was curt:

"Most people sleep themselves stupid."

He went on to give his opinion that nine men out of ten would have
better health and more fun out of life if they spent less time in bed.

Other doctors have confirmed this judgment, which, of course, does
not apply to growing youths.

Rise an hour, an hour and a half, or even two hours earlier; and--if
you must--retire earlier when you can. In the matter of exceeding
programmes, you will accomplish as much in one morning hour as
in two evening hours. "But," you say, "I couldn't begin without
some food, and servants." Surely, my dear sir, in an age when an
excellent spirit-lamp (including a saucepan) can be bought for less
than a shilling, you are not going to allow your highest welfare to
depend upon the precarious immediate co-operation of a fellow
creature! Instruct the fellow creature, whoever she may be, at
night. Tell her to put a tray in a suitable position over night. On
that tray two biscuits, a cup and saucer, a box of matches and a
spirit-lamp; on the lamp, the saucepan; on the saucepan, the lid--
but turned the wrong way up; on the reversed lid, the small teapot,
containing a minute quantity of tea leaves. You will then have to
strike a match--that is all. In three minutes the water boils, and you
pour it into the teapot (which is already warm). In three more minutes
the tea is infused. You can begin your day while drinking it. These
details may seem trivial to the foolish, but to the thoughtful they will
not seem trivial. The proper, wise balancing of one's whole life may
depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.

Arnold Bennett.



"Yes, he's one of those men that don't know how to manage.
Good situation. Regular income. Quite enough for luxuries
as well as needs. Not really extravagant. And yet the fellow's
always in difficulties. Somehow he gets nothing out of his
money. Excellent flat--half empty! Always looks as if he'd had
the brokers in. New suit--old hat! Magnificent necktie--baggy
trousers! Asks you to dinner: cut glass--bad mutton, or Turkish
coffee--cracked cup! He can't understand it. Explanation simply
is that he fritters his income away. Wish I had the half of it! I'd
show him--"

So we have most of us criticised, at one time or another, in our
superior way.

We are nearly all chancellors of the exchequer: it is the pride of
the moment. Newspapers are full of articles explaining how to live
on such-and-such a sum, and these articles provoke a correspondence
whose violence proves the interest they excite. Recently, in a daily
organ, a battle raged round the question whether a woman can exist
nicely in the country on L85 a year. I have seen an essay, "How to
live on eight shillings a week." But I have never seen an essay, "How
to live on twenty-four hours a day." Yet it has been said that time is
money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more
than money. If you have time you can obtain money--usually. But
though you have the wealth of a cloak-room attendant at the Carlton
Hotel, you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the
cat by the fire has.

Philosophers have explained space. They have not explained time. It
is the inexplicable raw material of everything. With it, all is possible;
without it, nothing. 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?

You have to live on this 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. Its right use, its most effective use, is a matter of the highest
urgency and of the most thrilling actuality. All depends on that. Your
happiness--the elusive prize that you are all clutching for, my friends!--
depends on that. Strange that the newspapers, so enterprising and up-to-
date as they are, are not full of "How to live on a given income of time,"
instead of "How to live on a given income of money"! Money is far
commoner than time. When one reflects, one perceives that money is just
about the commonest thing there is. It encumbers the earth in gross heaps.

If one can't contrive to live on a certain income of money, one earns a
little more--or steals it, or advertises for it. One doesn't necessarily
muddle one's life because one can't quite manage on a thousand pounds
a year; one braces the muscles and makes it guineas, and balances the
budget. But if one cannot arrange that an income of twenty-four hours
a day shall exactly cover all proper items of expenditure, one does
muddle one's life definitely. The supply of time, though gloriously
regular, is cruelly restricted.

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 is free from
that uneasy feeling that the "great spending departments" of his daily
life are not managed as they ought to be? Which of us is quite sure
that his fine suit is not surmounted by a shameful hat, or that in attending
to the crockery he has forgotten the quality of the food? 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 never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had,
all the time there is. It is the realisation of this profound and neglected
truth (which, by the way, I have not discovered) that has led me to the
minute practical examination of daily time-expenditure.


"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.

If we analyse that feeling, we shall perceive it to be, primarily, one of
uneasiness, of expectation, of looking forward, of aspiration. It is a source
of constant discomfort, for it behaves like a skeleton at the feast of all our
enjoyments. We go to the theatre and laugh; but between the acts it raises
a skinny finger at us. We rush violently for the last train, and while we are
cooling a long age on the platform waiting for the last train, it promenades
its bones up and down by our side and inquires: "O man, what hast thou
done with thy youth? What art thou doing with thine age?" You may urge
that this feeling of continuous looking forward, of aspiration, is part of life
itself, and inseparable from life itself. True!

But there are degrees. A man may desire to go to Mecca. His conscience
tells him that he ought to go to Mecca. He fares forth, either by the aid of
Cook's, or unassisted; he may probably never reach Mecca; he may drown
before he gets to Port Said; he may perish ingloriously on the coast of the
Red Sea; his desire may remain eternally frustrate. Unfulfilled aspiration
may always trouble him. But he will not be tormented in the same way as
the man who, desiring to reach Mecca, and harried by the desire to reach
Mecca, never leaves Brixton.

It is something to have left 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.

If we further analyse our vague, uneasy aspiration, we shall, I think, see
that it springs from a fixed idea that we ought to do something in addition
to those things which we are loyally and morally obliged to do. We are
obliged, by various codes written and unwritten, to maintain ourselves
and our families (if any) in health and comfort, to pay our debts, to save,
to increase our prosperity by increasing our efficiency. A task sufficiently
difficult! A task which very few of us achieve! A task often beyond our
skill! yet, if we succeed in it, as we sometimes do, we are not satisfied; the
skeleton is still with us.

And even when we realise tat the task is beyond our skill, that our powers
cannot cope with it, we feel that we should be less discontented if we gave
to our powers, already overtaxed, something still further to do.

And such is, indeed, the fact. The wish to accomplish something outside
their formal programme is common to all men who in the course of evolution
have risen past a certain level.

Until an effort is made to satisfy that wish, the sense of uneasy waiting for
something to start which has not started will remain to disturb the peace of
the soul. That wish has been called by many names. It is one form of the
universal desire for knowledge. And it is so strong that men whose whole
lives have been given to the systematic acquirement of knowledge have
been driven by it to overstep the limits of their programme in search of
still more knowledge. Even Herbert Spencer, in my opinion the greatest
mind that ever lived, was often forced by it into agreeable little backwaters
of inquiry.

I imagine that in the majority of people who are conscious of the wish to
live--that is to say, people who have intellectual curiosity--the aspiration
to exceed formal programmes takes a literary shape. They would like to
embark on a course of reading. Decidedly the British people are becoming
more and more literary. But I would point out that literature by no means
comprises the whole field of knowledge, and that the disturbing thirst to
improve one's self--to increase one's knowledge--may well be slaked quite
apart from literature. With the various ways of slaking I shall deal later.
Here I merely point out to those who have no natural sympathy with
literature that literature is not the only well.


Now that I have succeeded (if succeeded I have) in persuading you to admit
to yourself that you are constantly haunted by a suppressed dissatisfaction
with your own arrangement of your daily life; and that 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"; and now that I have drawn
your attention to the glaring, dazzling truth that you never will have "more
time," since you already have all the time there is--you expect me to let you
into some wonderful secret by which you may at any rate approach the ideal
of a perfect arrangement of the day, and by which, therefore, that haunting,
unpleasant, daily disappointment of things left undone will be got rid of!

I have found no such wonderful secret. Nor do I expect to find it, nor do I
expect that anyone else will ever find it. It is undiscovered. When you first
began to gather my drift, perhaps there was a resurrection of hope in your
breast. Perhaps you said to yourself, "This man will show me an easy,
unfatiguing way of doing what I have so long in vain wished to do." Alas,
no! The fact is that there is no easy way, no royal road. The path to Mecca
is extremely hard and stony, and the worst of it is that you never quite get
there after all.

The most important preliminary to the task of arranging one's life so that
one may live fully and comfortably within one's daily budget of twenty-
four hours is the calm realisation of the extreme difficulty of the task, of
the sacrifices and the endless effort which it demands. I cannot too strongly
insist on this.

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.

It is very sad, is it not, very depressing and sombre? And yet I think it
is rather fine, too, this necessity for the tense bracing of the will before
anything worth doing can be done. I rather like it myself. I feel it to be
the chief thing that differentiates me from the cat by the fire.

"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.

But before you begin, let me murmur a few words of warning in your private

Let me principally warn you against your own ardour. Ardour in well-doing
is a misleading and a treacherous thing. It cries out loudly for employment;
you can't satisfy it at first; it wants more and more; it is eager to move
mountains and divert the course of rivers. It isn't content till it perspires.
And then, too often, when it feels the perspiration on its brow, it wearies
all of a sudden and dies, without even putting itself to the trouble of saying,
had enough of this."

Beware of undertaking too much at the start. Be content with quite a little.
Allow for accidents. Allow for human nature, especially your own.

A failure or so, in itself, would not matter, if it did not incur a loss of self-
esteem and of self-confidence. But just as nothing succeeds like success,
so nothing fails like failure. Most people who are ruined are ruined by
attempting too much. Therefore, in setting out on the immense enterprise
of living fully and comfortably within the narrow limits of twenty-four
hours a day, 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. A glorious failure leads to
nothing; a petty success may lead to a success that is not petty.

So let us begin to examine the budget of the day's time. You say your
day is already full to overflowing. How? You actually spend in earning
your livelihood--how much? Seven hours, on the average? And in actual
sleep, seven? I will add two hours, and be generous. And I will defy you
to account to me on the spur of the moment for the other eight hours.

"How to Live on 24 Hours a Day" by Arnold Bennett

Order in Adobe PDF eBook or printed form for $2.95 (+ printing charge)

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