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 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.
A fun little book, easily read in a few hours. In some ways, this book isn’t very different from self-help and time-management books today. It offers practical advice on how to get more out of your time each day and your life overall. Divide your day up into sub-days (getting ready for and commuting to work, work, commuting home from work, dinner, free time between dinner and bedtime, getting ready to go to bed and sleep). Use periods of unoccupied time (e.g., riding the train to work) to do something more useful than passing time by reading a newspaper or completing a crossword puzzle. Develop a schedule that blocks a fixed amount of time for focused, serious activity. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start small, and build up to higher goals and more demanding activities.
In other ways, it is strikingly different from self-help and time-management books today. The recommended activities for getting the most out of life and every twenty-four hours. Read Marcus Aurelius. Read Epictetus. Read poetry. Learn how to appreciate classical music and the opera. This from a book that was a popular sensation! Henry Ford bought copies for all his managers. The president of the American Motor Corporation bought copies for all his workers.
Compared to its modern equivalents, How to Live in Twenty-Four Hours is shockingly free of references to cherry-picked research studies buttressing each recommendation. No citations to studies from the International Journal of Achievement, Happiness, and Life Satisfaction (ISI Impact Factor: 0.27) scientifically “proving” that reading Marcus Aurelius for an hour-and-a-half three times per week will raise your income by $526.35 and your happiness index by 0.238 points. Nor does it feel the need to justify each recommendation with a reference to some heretofore largely unknown non-Western spiritual leader. No citing of the great Inuit spiritual leader Angakok as the source for the idea of setting aside six-and-a-half hours per week for focused study. Nor does the author extol the role of his shaman-guided Ayahuasca-induced psychedelic trip while visiting with the Urarina tribe of the Peruvian Amazon for his revolutionary insights into the value of time.
In a word, it is refreshing.
A few of my favorite quotes from How to Live in Twenty-Four Hours.
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, “I’ve had enough of this.”
This general attitude is utterly illogical and unhealthy, since it formally gives the central prominence to a patch of time and a bunch of activities which the man’s one idea is to “get through” and have “done with.” If a man makes two-thirds of his existence subservient to one-third, for which admittedly he has no absolutely feverish zest, how can he hope to live fully and completely? He cannot.
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….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….But in the average case I should say: Confine your formal programme (super-programme, I mean) to six days a week….My contention is that the full use of those seven-and-a-half hours will quicken the whole life of the week, add zest to it, and increase the interest which you feel in even the most banal occupations.
The Importance of Concentration
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….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….By the regular practice of concentration (as to which there is no secret— save the secret of perseverance) you can tyrannise over your mind (which is not the highest part of you) every hour of the day, and in no matter what place….I do not care what you concentrate on, so long as you concentrate. It is the mere disciplining of the thinking machine that counts.
I am entirely convinced that what is more than anything else lacking in the life of the average well-intentioned man of to-day is the reflective mood. We do not reflect. I mean that we do not reflect upon genuinely important things; upon the problem of our happiness, upon the main direction in which we are going, upon what life is giving to us, upon the share which reason has (or has not) in determining our actions, and upon the relation between our principles and our conduct….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.