How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

November 14, 2013

The dawn of a new day

The dawn of a new day

I wish I could take credit for the title of today’s post, but it’s the creation of Arnold Bennett, who wrote a self-help book with this title in 1910.  (The book is available for free download from Project Gutenberg.)

If you have been following my blog, you know that I sometimes lament the lack of time to do all the reading, painting, writing, photography, traveling, etc. that I’d like to.  Well, Bennett has the answer.  The secret is to have something — some meaningful project that cultivates the mind in some way– to look forward to and then take 1-1/2 hours every other evening to work on this endeavor:

“. . . when you have something definite to look forward to at eventide, something that is to employ all your energy — the thought of that something gives a glow and a more intense vitality to the whole day.”

Committing yourself to this project requires an attitude adjustment.  Instead of marginalizing the hours before and after your work day (your outside job), you make your private hours beginning at the end of your work day (say 6 p.m.) to the start of your next work day (say 8 or 9 a.m.) the primary part of your life that you give your fullest energy to.  Then make those 1-1/2 hours every other evening sacred.  Half of those hours should be devoted to careful reflection, serious thinking about what you are learning and doing.  The pace will be slow.  But the accretion of this dedicated time will add up to something important — your growth as an individual.

Bennett has other ideas for finding even more time, for example, using 30 minutes of your commute to focus and think about a single topic.  Quite serendipitously, I just read about this same thing — the benefits of focused reflection and attention — in Brainard Carey’s book, Making It in the Art World where he says:  “Small steps get you very far.  This is the beginning of a big step because if you can get used to managing thirty minutes of your time, five days a week, you can begin to manage other portions of your time as well.”

Bennett warns that failure happens when you try to do too much:  “Most people who are ruined are ruined by attempting too much.”  I have these tendencies myself!

I think Bennett is right in pointing out that there is enough time if we first decide what is most important and then give sustained daily (or every-other-day) effort — in seemingly small increments — to that one thing.  For those of us who are “constantly haunted by a suppressed dissatisfaction with your own arrangement of your daily life,” he says, “the primal cause of that inconvenient dissatisfaction is the feeling that you are every day leaving undone something which you would like to do. . . ”

I have already been taking this piecemeal, but sustained, approach to watercolor painting.  I am slowly learning by trial and error and building a body of work.  It’s validating to hear that this way of working has a history and other champions.  It seems to be working for me.

12 Responses to “How to Live on 24 Hours a Day”

  1. Lynne Says:

    Isn’t it interesting that people have been having these thoughts and concerns since at least 1910 when Bennett wrote his book? All too often we think our problems and discontents are symptomatic of the modern condition when, in fact, they might simply exemplify the human condition. In any case, Bennett and Carey have some interesting and helpful advice. Thanks for sharing it!


  2. Rosemary – nice post. Thank you. Although I have worked long days for many years, most days there are still generally more hours “off the clock” than work hours. Subtract sleep, on which I place a high health/recharge premium, and there are still plenty of hours to fulfill. Your post makes this point nicely – “live on 24 hours a day.”

  3. camilla wells paynter Says:

    Building off of Lynne’s comment, I suspect that the “modern condition” began with the industrial revolution, so in 1910, Bennett was already finding an educated class dissatisfied with being cogs in someone else’s machine. Interesting!

    This is so very timely for me, too, Rosemary. Uncannily so. I have been living Bennett’s statement lately, again: “constantly haunted by a suppressed dissatisfaction with your own arrangement of your daily life…the primal cause of that inconvenient dissatisfaction is the feeling that you are every day leaving undone something which you would like to do. . . “ Too tired to paint in the evenings, but doing it anyway and feeling that my paintings suffer for this, as if I’m just trying to crank something out because I feel obligated, and then painting begins to feel like the rest of my day….So this week I decided: one small panel a week is enough. Then I can disperse the 8 hours it might take to do it over the whole week–the sacred hour and a half. (Make no mistake, I have more “sacred” time than that, but quite a chunk is spent exercising and cooking. The trick is to fit in painting, when I could easily spend the equivalent of a full-time job doing that.)

    Do you think we will be satisfied with this compromise? Will the psychological stimulus we get from anticipating our brief “main event” be sufficient? For me, there is something about the experience of a completed work. If I get this once a week, will it be enough to ward off the haunting of suppressed dissatisfaction? Right now, I’m counting on it! 🙂

    • Rosemary Says:

      I hear what you are saying about your painting time. My watercolor sketches are small, purposely so, so that I CAN finish a sketch in one painting session. Someday my work might get more detailed, larger, more complex and will require staging over several days. I’m not there yet. This deeper approach would add too much stress right now, given the time increments I have.
      I don’t always meet my goal of painting something on each of my days off work. But this is what I aspire to, and on the days I accomplish this, I do feel satisfied. On the days I don’t, I do feel that I’ve left something important undone. But the alternative would be to rush just to fit it in, and like you, cranking something out just to say I did it is not the point.
      We will probably always be tweaking the compromise. That’s life.

      • camilla wells paynter Says:

        Another gorgeous photo, by the way! Wow! What I’ve been missing!


      • My writing is a spiritual discipline and I first began with the influence of A. R. Ammons (graduated from Wake Forest) and his book of poems 1952-1972. Mine are very, very short (in three lines) and I view these as little dots of paint in a mosaic whose actual pattern I cannot see (lack of distance and perspective). This started after my 2009 retirement (after about 49 years of “labor” for which I got paid). Like your “small, purposely so, so that I CAN finish” wish to “follow” (any via email?)

  4. alice shoemaker Says:

    Thank you for the post about setting aside paint or draw. I have lots of ideas for watercolor things to do but so often find that I must get “everything” done on my ever present “to do” lists. First. Then carry out my half done projects. Only then. I must set up a time schedule if I want to get through the winter season. (in spring I manage to find lots of time in comparison)! And I am retired! I enjoy your blogs and hope you keep THEM up — WHEN TIME ALLOWS–!

    • Pia Says:

      I fall into that trap as well. “I’ll get rid of all the chores, then I’ll have peace of mind to play”. Only then the dog gets sick or I hurt my thumb or other external things. And well, chores have a habit of repeating…. So I’m thinking I need to schedule the chores, not the painting. If I know I have 2×1 fixed hours a week for cleaning, then I don’t have to feel guilty about it the rest of the time perhaps?

  5. Elisa Says:

    To me, the time allowing my brain free reign for creativity, might mean that I do not ‘produce’ at all. Such an idea of production is of the false work ethic and not of creativity, in fact it seems to be the opposite of creativity to me. I used to try to cubbyhole and to organize specific creative items but my brain or muse doesn’t want to do what it SHOULD do. It does (or does not do) whatever in each moment. I am glad to hear that putting structure into what you do and how you do things seems to suit you.

    I CAN say that structuring the shoulds in my life does allow more time that the creative can be expressed without its being put off.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Good points about too much emphasis on production. I was intrigued to hear Bennett recommend half of the 1-1/2 hour sacred time be devoted to thinking and pondering and half to “production.”. We need these gaps and free time — more time for puttering.

  6. shoreacres Says:

    I’ve been reading and re-reading this, and finally got over to the original. My goodness, did I laugh. I’ve been fond of arguing with a number of people (myself included) who whine about not having enough time.

    “Foolishness!” sez me. “We have all the time there is, everyone of us.”

    And here I find the good Mr. Bennett saying in his preface, “We never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is.”

    That’s really pretty amazing, as I came up with my wisdom all on my own. There really is nothing new under the sun.


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