How to Live on Twenty Four Hours a Day

This slim volume leapt out at me as I was scouring the library shelves for Schopenhauer, and I trust I do no harm in sampling some of Bennett’s words despite Virginia Woolf’s takedown of him in her 1923 essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”. Published in 1910, it was a quick read back during the walk home from the library, and a few more minutes at home. Essentially Bennett wants you to maximize your day, rescuing those 16 “lost” hours that aren’t involved with work, to train your brain to concentrate, to reflect on yourself and to learn about a topic that interests you. He chides us that no one gets tired from their office jobs, so buck up and use 90 minutes after work 3x a week to focus on study. The morning commute should be when you’re concentrating your mind– read a chapter of Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus the night before, and think it through on the morning commute. Strangely mentions Elizabeth Barrett Browning who I keep tripping over in everyday conversations/reading.

Philosophers have explained space but 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… 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, no aristocracy of intellect… Moreover, you cannot draw on the future. Impossible to get into debt! You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste tomorrow; it is kept for you. You cannot waste the next hour; it is kept for you. (p 23-4)

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 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.” … 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. (p 43-4)

Yes, books are valuable. But no reading of books will take the place of a daily, candid, honest examination of what one has recently done, and what one is about to do- of a steady looking at one’s self in the face (disconcerting though the sight may be). (p 74-5)

[After studying how to listen to music, you] would live at a promenade concert, whereas previously you had merely existed there in a state of beatific coma, like a baby gazing at a bright object. (p 80-1)

I have two general suggestions [about literature to read]. The first is to define the direction and scope of your efforts. Choose a limited period, or a limited subject, or a single author…. confine yourself to your choice. There is much pleasure to be derived from being a specialist. The second 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. Unless you give at least 45 minutes to careful, fatiguing reflection (it is an awful bore at first) upon what you are reading, your 90 minutes of a night are chiefly wasted. This means that your pace will be slow. Never mind. (p 95-6)