I had three wrapped presents from my husband this year. This is fairly typical. However, one of them was labeled as “To: Rochelle From: The Winner of the 2013 Husband of the Year Competition.”See? Not even kidding.
Anyway, inside that gift was a Kindle Paperwhite. This didn’t surprise me. Neither my husband nor I are particularly good at gift giving. We ask for things, and the other person buys them. I asked for a Paperwhite.
Also, I had an Amazon Kindle charger in my stocking. So that might have been a hint.
But I digress. I spent the time in my post-Christmas food coma downloading free ebooks to read. I got the classics – Jane Austen, Les Mis, the Bible – but I also found a short ebook called “How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day” by Arnold Bennett. It’s only 64 pages long, and I read it in an hour and a half or so over two days.
Unsurprisingly, I’m interested in time management and how not to waste it. I thought the book would be a good, short, practical guide on making sure that happened. I was mostly right.
I also couldn’t have been more wrong.
I didn’t know it when I downloaded it, although by the end, I had my suspicions, but the book was published in 1910. In 1910, men worked at offices and took trains and lived a very modern lifestyle compared to fifty, or even thirty years before that.
A lot has changed in the past 103 years, though. To begin with, Bennett assumes that someone else is cooking dinner. It’s such an underlying assumption of his that he doesn’t even bother to mention the servant doing the work. The book is also geared toward a man in an office working a 10 to 6 workday, who commutes by walking to and from a train. That might still be true in London; I don’t actually know.
Some great points he makes include the nature of time:
- We can only waste the present moment, because it’s the only moment we have.
- We tend to waste it anyway.
- The richness of a bank account does nothing to affect the richness of life. Anyone who makes it alive from midnight to midnight has done so with precisely the same amount of hours.
- Very few of those hours are actually spent earning a living.
- The rest should be spent having a life.
Overall, however, his logic is fundamentally flawed, especially in a twenty-first-century setting. For example:
- Dabbling on the piano and playing bridge with friends are given as examples of time-wasters that should be minimized. I learned the hard way that a productive life without a social life doesn’t have a very high ROI. Also I think playing piano is very productive, but that might just be me.
- His “big secret” is to find out what you like and learn the mechanics behind it. If you enjoy going to orchestras, learn about harmonies and movements and what nocturnes are supposed to do, even if you can’t play piano. If you enjoy Roman History, read about it. In 2013, I can accomplish in 30 minutes via Wikipedia the same thing he suggested devoting 2.5 hours a day (three days a week) to.
Every example he gives on how to live a rich life is fundamentally selfish: spend time reflecting about the self, read books that tell you more about things you’re interested in, attend to the things you’re interested in with an active presence, rather than just passively taking them in. It’s not that those are bad ideas. It’s just that I don’t see how a fulfilling 24-hour day can be completed in solitude. And that’s coming from a huge introvert.
It sucked to learn, because I learned it the hard way, but I do need people. And when I’m around them, when I’m focusing my energies on them instead of myself, maybe I lose track of time, but I never consider it poorly spent.
If I were to give advice on how to live on twenty-four hours a day, it would probably be something like this:
- Know that you have twenty-four hours every day. Learn which hours are taken. Something like this can help with that. When I fill it out, I have as little as five free hours per day, after work, driving, sleeping, and meal preparation. On the other hand, that’s 300 unscheduled minutes every single weekday.
- Figure out what’s important to you. Writing the breakout novel? That will take time. Spending time with friends? Takes time. Learning to be a gourmet chef? Also takes time. Decide what you find important.
- Schedule time to be off task. Either as a “I’m going to play piano for 60 minutes, and then I can stare slack-jawed at the Internet for 20 minutes” reward, or, like Bennett suggests in his book, allow yourself 2.5 hours to do a 1.5-hour task.
- Never let a schedule get in the way of spontaneity. Some of the best evenings I’ve had were unplanned game nights with my husband, or having people over for dinner who end up not leaving until 11.
- Never let spontaneity get in the way of getting things done. Yes, go do that thing you know you’ll regret not doing. And spend the next day paying for it. That night when my friends left at 11? I had freelance work to do. I did twice the work the next night and caught back up again.
- If something isn’t working, try something else.
At the end of the day, we’re all already living on twenty-four hours a day. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to know how we spent them.