Recommendation: Bennett’s How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day

All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Surprising that there are old productivity books. I already mentioned Benjamin Franklin’s ideas, and here’s another one (via Digital Minimalism by Newport): Bennett’s «How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day» from 1908.

It’s a nicely done, very short book, that is still applicable today. The author leads the reader through the day and points out areas for personal improvement. I very much liked his description of the daily commute (in 1908!) which is still pretty much the same today. Sure, we don’t really read newspapers, but the easy distraction is the same. And the potential to do something better with that time. Or coming home after work and claiming to be tired, when in fact, we do have more energy than we think:

But you say: «It’s all very well for you to talk. A man is tired. A man must see his friends. He can’t always be on the stretch.» Just so. But when you arrange to go to the theatre (especially with a pretty woman) what happens? You rush to the suburbs; you spare no toil to make yourself glorious in fine raiment; you rush back to town in another train; you keep yourself on the stretch for four hours, if not five; you take her home; you take yourself home. You don’t spend three-quarters of an hour in «thinking about» going to bed. You go. Friends and fatigue have equally been forgotten, and the evening has seemed so exquisitely long (or perhaps too short)!
Bennett (1908) «How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day»

He also points out not to overdo it, as enthusiasm when you start can lead to failure, which is difficult to overcome. So using half an hour before work on six days a week and 1.5 hours in the evening on three days per week is enough for the beginning:

More time might assuredly be given to the cultivation of one’s self. And in proportion as the time was longer the results would be greater. But I prefer to begin with what looks like a trifling effort. It is not really a trifling effort, as those will discover who have yet to essay it. To «clear» even seven hours and a half from the jungle is passably difficult. For some sacrifice has to be made. One may have spent one’s time badly, but one did spend it; one did do something with it, however ill-advised that something may have been. To do something else means a change of habits.
And habits are the very dickens to change! Further, any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts. If you imagine that you will be able to devote seven hours and a half a week to serious, continuous effort, and still live your old life, you are mistaken. I repeat that some sacrifice, and an immense deal of volition, will be necessary. And it is because I know the difficulty, it is because I know the almost disastrous effect of failure in such an enterprise, that I earnestly advise a very humble beginning. You must safeguard your self-respect. Self-respect is at the root of all purposefulness, and a failure in an enterprise deliberately planned deals a desperate wound at one’s self-respect. Hence I iterate and reiterate: Start quietly, unostentatiously.
Bennett (1908) «How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day»

Overall, it’s a very human nature conscious look on productivity, e.g.:

Before coming to the method of using the indicated hours, I have one final suggestion to make. That is, as regards the evenings, to allow much more than an hour and a half in which to do the work of an hour and a half. Remember the chance of accidents. Remember human nature. And give yourself, say, from 9 to 11.30 for your task of ninety minutes.
Bennett (1908) «How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day»

and seeing that the mind is capable of to avoid excuses:

You look after your body, inside and out; you run grave danger in hacking hairs off your skin; you employ a whole army of individuals, from the milkman to the pig-killer, to enable you to bribe your stomach into decent behaviour. Why not devote a little attention to the far more delicate machinery of the mind, especially as you will require no extraneous aid? It is for this portion of the art and craft of living that I have reserved the time from the moment of quitting your door to the moment of arriving at your office. «What? I am to cultivate my mind in the street, on the platform, in the train, and in the crowded street again?» Precisely. Nothing simpler! No tools required! Not even a book. Nevertheless, the affair is not easy. 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. Ere you have reached the station you will have brought it back about forty times. Do not despair. Continue. Keep it up. You will succeed. You cannot by any chance fail if you persevere. It is idle to pretend that your mind is incapable of concentration. Do you not remember that morning when you received a disquieting letter which demanded a very carefully-worded answer? How you kept your mind steadily on the subject of the answer, without a second’s intermission, until you reached your office; whereupon you instantly sat down and wrote the answer? That was a case in which you were roused by circumstances to such a degree of vitality that you were able to dominate your mind like a tyrant. You would have no trifling. You insisted that its work should be done, and its work was done.
Bennett (1908) «How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day»

And sure, some of his remarks … looking at where the world is today, yeah, if you thought things were bad 100 years ago …

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.
Bennett (1908) «How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day»

But yeah, nicely written book, esp. his recommendations (focus on a topic, think as well as read) and his warnings, e.g., not to become a prig:

A prig is a pompous fool who has gone out for a ceremonial walk, and without knowing it has lost an important part of his attire, namely, his sense of humour.
Bennett (1908) «How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day»

Or to keep too slavishly to your schedule. Oh, and yeah, the day starts with a cup of tea:

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.
Bennett (1908) «How to live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day»

Very interesting book and available for free at (although I read the version from Project Gutenberg, if you use, search for «24» instead of «twenty-four»). You find e.g., this version:

(BTW, has lots of other «conduct of life» books: )

Highly recommended.