How to live on 24 hours a day
While the idea of personal finance has been hanging around for ages, there appears to be an escalation of interest of late (at least on these here interwebs) in how to master it. Just look at this directory of PF blogs (1359 and counting!).
The advice abounds. How to smartly live on less. How to budget. How to boost your income with a side hustle. How to become financially independent. How to retire early so you can travel the country in an RV.
Maybe the increasing interest is a generational thing–you know–kids today. Maybe The Great Recession was a wake-up call. Whatever the reason, it’s a building phenomenon.
I get it–money is an important resource. And heaven knows, it is mismanaged by many many people. We need all the help we can get. Heck, I too have written about the importance of getting your finances in shape.
Yet, with all this talk of how to manage your money, there may be an even more important resource you are squandering. Once this resource is spent, it can never be recovered. What is this other valuable resource? Time.
How does the saying go? Time is money. But even more important may be the reverse: money is time. It’s one thing to learn how to live on $7,000 per year, but how many of us consider how to thrive on an income of 24 hours a day?
This, in fact, is the subject of a great little book I read recently by Arnold Bennett. It was written in 1910, but the themes are just as applicable today. It’s aptly called How to Live on 24 Hours a Day. It just might change the way you look at your life. Here is my take on this great little gem of wisdom.
The Daily Miracle
Bennett begins by describing the daily miracle we all experience when we wake up to a new day:
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. A highly singular commodity, showered upon you in a manner as singular as the commodity itself!
I like that. He immediately hooks me with a money analogy. My purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours. It makes me think of a bulging leather sack brimming with fat gold coins (you know, Robin Hood style). Think of the things I can buy with that sum! It’s a feeling of possibility and abundance.
He goes on to argue that time is an “ideal democracy” since no one can take it from you, and no one receives more or less than you. We’re all equal when it comes to time. We are all re-born each day with the same 24-hour budget. No one gets a better deal and no one is deprived.
In the realm of time there is no aristocracy of wealth, and no aristocracy of intellect.
Or, in other words, trust fund babies and rocket scientists get the same time allowance as you and I. How fair is that?
It’s a breath of fresh air in this contentious world where we frame the discussions in terms of the ninety-nine vs the 1 percent, wage gaps, and (un)equal opportunity.
No one was born into a wealth of time. Or, rather, we all were born into the same limited inheritance: twenty-four hours per day. Nothing more, nothing less.
But what if you’re Warren Buffet? Or Oprah Winfrey? Or Bill/Melinda Gates? Or Angela Merkel? Or Mark Zuckerberg? Surely these powerful and successful (and rich) people have more time than you! It’s tempting to think so (especially when I compare my meager accomplishments to theirs). But of course, this is not true.
Twenty-four hours is the limited a daily allowance that we must learn to budget for everything we care most about: health, wealth, relationships, personal growth, service, and yes my dear reader, even going to Disneyland.
The supply of time, though gloriously regular, is cruelly restricted.
You can’t defer it. You can’t store it up. There’s no going back. This is why it is so important to learn to channel it and not just let it leak out in a hundred aimless directions. Because think about it. While bad money habits can be overcome with higher income, bad time habits have no recovery mechanism. Wasting time will literally waste away your life. And last time I checked, you only go around once.
Maybe you’re not convinced that your time expenditures are in need of re-examination. Maybe you, in particular, have mastered the clock and are living life to the fullest. Well, good for you. Keep up the good work!
But as Bennett says, there are likely more of us who belong to a different class, one that has a nagging sense that time is getting by us:
That innumerable band of souls who are haunted, more or less painfully, by the feeling that the years slip by, and slip by, and slip by, and that they have not yet been able to get their lives into proper working order.
Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. Or to put it more bluntly, life is short and then you die.
So why does this thought cause many of us such angst? One big reason is probably encapsulated in one word: regret. We don’t want to run out of sand before we have made the most of our lives. After all the effort to meet our basic needs, there is an almost universal desire to reach higher and further.
The clock is ticking. Steve Jobs cut to the chase when he said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”
How many books will go unread? How many places will go unvisited? How many relationships will go unnurtured or unexplored? Those are questions that keep me engaged in the battle with time (and money–because as you recall money is time).
Do you have a list of things to do when you have “more time?” I’m very sorry to be the bearer of bad news. You will never have more time–for you already have all there is. The trouble is how you are approaching it.
The Cause of the Trouble (and the Solution)
The root of the problem is the daily pattern that dominates our western culture. Get up, fight traffic, work for the man, fight traffic, feel exhausted, veg out, go to bed, repeat. Sound familiar? Even if that doesn’t exactly describe you, I’m sure you can relate to the general gist of this routine. How can one make progress on anything meaningful with this kind of daily slog? No wonder you can’t seem to find the time.
So here’s the trick. Bennett points out something very insightful. He challenges you to stop thinking that the work hours from 8 to 5 are “the day” and that the hours before and after are “nothing but a prologue and epilogue.”
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.
Basically, he is inviting you to flip your view of the day and “arrange a day within a day.” This day begins at 5 pm and ends at 8 am.
What does this mental shift change? A lot actually. Now you have 15-16 hours completely up to your discretion.
During those sixteen hours [you] are free; [you] are not a wage-earner; [you] are not preoccupied with monetary cares; [you] are just as good as a man with a private income.
Now the personal finance bloggers ears perk up. “Did someone just say private income? What does he mean, you are just as good as a man with a private income?” Of course, “private income” is just an old school way of saying you have income from assets or investments that cover your expenses. Sound familiar? That’s the holy grail of financial independence!
Eureka! For two-thirds of the day, you are already as good as Mr. Money Mustache!
Facebook and the Immortal Soul
So how do you successfully make this mental flip so that your time before and after your workday are not merely prologues and epilogues? The answer is, in so many words, to snap out of your funk. This is where you decide to make a plan.
Bennett suggests that you set aside ninety minutes every other evening in “some important and consecutive cultivation of the mind.” My regular readers will know that I would argue mornings are better and I would include mind, body, and wealth building in your curriculum. But regardless, the message is the same: Carve out time regularly and consistently in your life to invest in yourself. Don’t let your humdrum work life sap your energy for things that really matter. Time is ticking.
Bennett reminds us that we will have to say ‘no’ to the urgent but unimportant. He chides his readers about wasting time playing tennis (such were the frivolities in 1910). Today it’s much more insidious. It’s watching the next episode in your Netflix queue or checking your endless Facebook timeline. Overcoming these time sinks is admittedly difficult to do. They are a siren song. Billions of dollars are spent to discover and exploit your mental vulnerabilities. But in the end, it comes down to choices. And these kinds of choices are hard. Because, you know, Facebook is “so much more urgent than the immortal soul.”
A Few Precautions
Bennett forewarns us of the challenge of overcoming our human nature. And by human nature, I mean our tendency to get excited about something, try it for two days, and then to give up.
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.”
Does “New Year’s Resolutions” come to mind here? Start small. Avoid an early failure. Be content with small victories and petty successes. “A glorious failure leads to nothing; a petty success may lead to a success that is not petty.” Reseach today would call this tiny habits.
Remember, you are learning a new way to flourish in your gloriously regular, but cruelly restricted budget of 24 hours. Changing your lifelong habits can be hard. However, it is much easier if you know how habits work. You will lose motivation, so you will need strategies to press forward when willpower is not enough. This isn’t easy.
The fact is that there is no easy way, no royal road. The path to Mecca is extremely hard and stony, and the worst of it is that you never quite get there at all…If you are not prepared for discouragement and disillusionments; if you will not be content with a small result for a big effort, then do not begin.
With all the buzz about budgets, savings rates, and financial independence don’t forget that time is a commodity that can’t be saved or recovered. We are all equal heirs to the twenty-four hours of the “unmanufactured tissue of the universe.” The challenge is to first, reframe how you think about your discretionary time, and second build a habit that helps you live a rich life today and sows the seeds that will provide health, wealth, and wisdom in the future.
How to Live on 24 Hours a Day is a book that still resonates despite being over 100 years old. While the language is a bit formal and the examples are dated (Bennett only refers to men throughout), it’s punch-in-the-face entertaining, and its practical advice will have you thinking.
So, consider if you are ready to make small changes that will result in big differences. Are you ready to get fit? Are you ready to learn money skills? Are you ready to make more of yourself? If so, make a (re)commitment to the FirstHabit.
If not, as Bennett says, “lie down again and resume the uneasy doze which you call your existence.”
What do you think? Have you heard of this book before? How do you use your discretionary time? When you’re not at work, do you feel “as good as the man on a private income?” Do you have a daily practice of self-improvement? What has worked? What hasn’t? Join the conversation below.