I can think of no better way to spend my karma than on encouraging people to read this 19th century self-help book. It's free and online in full.

The guidelines on what makes an appropriate front-page article be damned, or, if necessary, enforced by official censorship.

Thanks to User:sfb for the quote that led me here, although the decision to post is entirely my own.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2274/2274-h/2274-h.htm

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It's way too rambly, so I wrote a condensed version; I tried not to change the content except to make it a bit more gender-neutral. If you enjoy his style, read the full version; if you thought "stop showing off and get to the damn point already", this is for you. It's a little over 1000 words.

Corrections for things I've misunderstood, failed to express, or been unfair to are most welcome.

How to live on 24 hours a day, by Arnold Bennett Condensed by MixedNuts

Preface

Please read this preface at the end, though it's at the beginning.

Many people have written long reviews of this book, mostly positive. Main criticisms:

  • tone. It's a feature.
  • I said people are lukewarm about their jobs. I concede some are passionate. They're rare, but sorry. Advice to them: If you're too tired after work, do what I recommend before working. Get up earlier. Go to bed earlier, or get less sleep; a doctor said adults sleep too much.

I

There's literature on how to manage with little money, not with little time. But "time is money", and even scarcer: you can get more money. No matter how short time is, you can never get any more, so forget "When I have more time" and learn to use it.

II

Have enough time already? Congrats; stop reading. For the rest of us:

You probably feel a constant desire to do better. As you suspect, it will never be fulfilled. You should still strive. Want to go to Mecca? Even if you never reach it, it's better to be journeying than to stay home with a desire you don't act on. Most of us haven't done anything about this; our excuse is lack of time.

What we want is to do more than we have to. We have to provide for ourselves and our families; this is hard. Yet when we succeed, and even when we fail, we still crave more.

One way we get more is by reading; fine, but neither sufficient nor necessary.

III

So, we need to manage time better. This is extremely hard. You will never be done; you will sacrifice a lot; you will get discouragingly tiny results. Not so depressing; overcoming is what you want, what makes you human.

When you decide you should begin, just begin; no particular trick to it. No matter how much past time you've wasted, future time is unspoilt; just start not-wasting it now.

Don't try for perfection; if you push yourself too hard, you will break down. Start so small and with so much safety margin you're sure not to fail; you might not recover from an early failure.

Your day is not full. You spend seven hours working, seven hours sleeping, and I'll give you another two hours. This leaves eight hours a day. You under-use these.

IV

Case study: a male Londoner. He works from 10 AM to 6 PM, and commute is 50 minutes.

He wants to get work over with; he makes it as short as he can, and doesn't work at full power. Yet to him work hours are "the day" - he forgets to count the other sixteen.

This is completely backwards! He should regard these hours as a sixteen-hour day, which he can use for himself as he has no job. He will not be tired at work because of this; minds don't tire, they only need change and sleep.

He wastes very little time between getting up and leaving the house. But as he walks to the station and waits for the train, he is idle.

V

He reads a newspaper in the train. Don't: a thirty-minute chunk of silence and solitude is precious. Newspapers should be read quickly in moments that would otherwise be wasted.

I'll skip his work hours. Note that he has a lunch hour he might waste.

After work, he tells himself and his wife he's tired. He sits for an hour, eats, smokes, sees friends, reads, goes for a walk, plays the piano, drinks - but all of this idly, letting his mind wander. He goes to bed at midnight, having wasted six hours.

You're not tired after work. You can and do push yourself for particular events. Every other weekday evening, spend an hour and a half doing something important. You'll soon want more. Make that a priority; take the social cost.

VI

If you are young and energetic, push yourself full time. But on average, six days a week of striving are enough. If you want more, sure, but going back is okay.

30 minutes, six mornings a week, and 90 minutes, three evenings a week are seven and a half hours per week. This seems little, but will add zest to your whole life. It's not as easy as it sounds; habit change is always hard.

Remember, start small. Allocate much more time than 90 minutes to leave yourself margin.

VII

Practice focusing. When you leave the house, concentrate on a subject, any subject. Your mind will wander; bring it back on topic. Do this for at least half an hour a day.

Since you're concentrating, you might as well think about something interesting; I suggest Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.

VIII

Use your ability to focus for reflection. Luminosity makes you happy.

Think before you act. E.g., if your food is over-cooked, you might get angry at the waiter; think, realize this won't help, and be polite to them instead.

Books may help - I recommend Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Pascal, La Bruyere, and Emerson. They can't replace reflection.

Reflect during your evening commute. People tend to be in the right mood at that time.

IX

If you like art at all, learn about it, e.g. musical theory. You will enjoy art at a deeper level. See Krehbiel's How to Listen to Music, Clermont Witt's How to Look at Pictures, Russell Sturgis How to Judge Architecture.

X

Think about the history of things. Stolen watch? Think about the genetics and environments that made the thief. Watching the sea? Think about geology. This gives weight to everything.

XI

(Good) novels are easy to read, thus don't count as serious reading. Poetry and philosophy do.

If you dislike poetry, read Hazlitt's essay on the nature of poetry, and E.B. Browning's Aurora Leigh.

Read slowly, take time to think.

XII

Don't get smug. Keep your sense of humor. Don't resent the unimpressed.

Optimize your time, not others'.

Find out how strictly you should stick to your programme. This is hard.

Don't rush. If you find yourself constantly afraid of being late for what you have to do next, stop and revise your programme, or deliberately waste five minutes between two activities.

Again, start small. Deliver no matter what - success feeds on success.

Let your tastes choose what you'll cultivate.

Wow! Are you usually this good at summarizing? What else have you summarized? It would have taken me hours to do this. Are there techniques I can learn?

Aw, shucks.

This did take me hours, but I would have had to do the same culling for ideas if just reading - the writing bit didn't take that long.

But I cheated. When you summarize, you leave out some info - e.g. leave a conclusion but remove the arguments, reduce a list of examples to one. You give about equal space to equally important points. You gloss over bits of context. You group several related ideas into one.

Here I explicitly avoided doing any of that; I just removed the parts that made me think "We get it, you're snarky, now shut the hell up about Mecca and get to the point!". I summarized the part about elasticity, but that's it. Summaries are about length; this was about density.

I can't think of a public summary I have written. I've summarized books and excerpts thereof for school, that kind of thing. My school prepared us for a summarizing exam (this exists). School told me at was good at it, so I probably am. AFAICT, I'm good at summarizing ideas and books, bad with movies, and terrible with my own ideas.

Tips (insert disclaimers):

  • See above for what summaries do.
  • Omit needless words. Useful in general, and easiest to apply. Twitter's great for practice.
  • When you find an idea, rephrase it. This ensures you understand.
  • Try to group fragments into vaguer main ideas. Others rate them for importance and keep the best; I can't.
  • There's generally one idea per paragraph. Calibrate your idea-finder.
  • Nuke local repetition (possibly local nuance), keep spaced repetition.
  • Focus on causality relationships, especially with events or fiction. This is why I'm better at books than movies; scenes that affect atmosphere but not plot are less salient to me in books.
  • Be laxer with examples.

The crucial part is the idea-finder, but I didn't learn and can't teach it. Summarizing for school (about a page into 150 words) taught me to omit needless words, but little else as the original texts tend to be garbage. To fake it, find keywords (philosophy jargon) and feed them as atomic tokens rather than rephrasable concepts to the idea-finder. This may help as practice, no idea.

They say "writing is rewriting", but I have to rewrite on the fly or get anchored. YMMV.

The crucial part is the idea-finder, but I didn't learn and can't teach it.

I have access to a pile of books to teach this to kids, and have used them. It's the number one skill that children doing poorly in reading comprehension must be taught. One of my favorite exercises related to this is. "Here's a paragraph. Find the sentence that is not on topic." Usually the sentence does seem tangentially related to the topic, but once you can concisely put in words the purpose every other sentence has been bent toward, it stands out like a sore thumb.

It's not fun, exactly, but studying SAT/ACT reading comprehension problems also helps on this front. There's probably five or more questions on every SAT/ACT that only ask "what is the main idea of this passage?"

MixedNuts's comment reminded me of a good resource for such techniques, and, indeed, for generally improving one's effectiveness at reading: How To Read A Book

I read this summary when first posted, and got nothing at all from it.

I then read the original, got inspired and motivated, came back and read this summary, and found it concise and useful.

I often find reading (even good) summaries feels similar to studying with someone else's notes for a class I didn't attend.

"Optimize your time, not others'."

this is a gem.

I like the 'gem' label. The flip side is, of course, "find others to pull under your sway, optimize the heck out of their time and harness them to implement your will!" - but that isn't so much a 'gem' as it is a thick and dirty wad of cash. :)

He will not be tired at work because of this; minds don't tire, they only need change and sleep. [...]

You're not tired after work. You can and do push yourself for particular events. Every other weekday evening, spend an hour and a half doing something important. You'll soon want more. Make that a priority; take the social cost. [...]

If you are young and energetic, push yourself full time. But on average, six days a week of striving are enough. If you want more, sure, but going back is okay.

While it's probably true that the average person could push themselves to do more, personal experience suggests that taking advice like this literally will quickly lead to burnout.

I can think of no better way to spend my karma than on encouraging people to read this 19th century self-help book. It's free and online in full.

The guidelines on what makes an appropriate front-page article be damned, or, if necessary, enforced by official censorship.

Why spend the majority of the words of your post expressing antagonism with the judgement of your audience? It doesn't seem to be an effective educational tool.

Signalling that he recognises this is not a typical top-level post; signalling that this book is important, countersignalling disapproval of norms to set this post apart.

He's right though, it is a pretty good book. Westernised meditation, even a little 'map is not the territory':

You accomplished nothing good by getting cross; you merely lost your dignity, looked a fool in the eyes of sensible men, and soured the waiter, while producing no effect whatever on the steak.

Signalling that he recognises this is not a typical top-level post; signalling that this book is important, countersignalling disapproval of norms to set this post apart.

My reply signals that his attempt failed in at least one case.

It would have been far more useful to see two paragraphs giving an indication as to what makes the book so great. The quote you provide here would have been great. If that were included it would have made it worth a top level post - in the discussion section.

Antagonism? I don't see that as antagonistic, except perhaps to the one who enforces the rules. It's probably even less antagonistic towards "the judgment of your audience" than most LW posts: after all, in education, the customer is always wrong.

And even if he had done other things, such as you suggest below, he would have 'failed' with other people. Such is life.

Thinly disguised Buddhist propaganda. Wholeheartedly endorse. But the original Buddhist texts, for instance the Visuddhimagga, are more complete and direct, though harder to read.

Edit: Actually, using the skills here to bootstrap to something like Buddhism+CBT+rationality+etc is probably the better bet.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, a way to change your thinking that is one of the few psychotherapies with some evidence of actually working. Apply with caution, though.

Other possible meanings of CBT include Computer-Based Training, Cock and Ball Torture, Compulsory Basic Training, and Complete Binary Tree.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was not the first thing I thought of when I saw the term, so thanks.

Thinly disguised Buddhist propaganda. Wholeheartedly endorse.

Upvoted.

Quite remarkable how a book from 1910 seems so 'modern'. And somewhat sobering that these days many people work so much more than the 8 hours a day...

I am repeating myself by saying that audiobooks are a great way to still be able to 'read' a lot even when you hardly have the time/rest to sit down and immerse yourself into some book.

Well then you're in luck, because this very book is available as an audiobook. http://librivox.org/how-to-live-on-twenty-four-hours-a-day-by-arnold-bennett/

To be fair, it's also quite short-- I got through it in probably fifteen minutes. Ironic, when you consider some of his suggestions, but I got the impression those were more oriented towards "serious" reading.

Thanks! I already eye-read the little book though.

I actually wasn't too impressed with the contents; but I guess it's good to read these kind of self-improvement books now and then - they hardly say anything new (from Dale Carnegie to Anthony Robbins), but they do give somewhat of a motivational boost.

This is a reminder to users that the meta thread exists and sometimes makes a nice place for meta discussion. http://lesswrong.com/lw/1w4/fall_2010_meta_thread/

Reading chapter 2, "The desire to exceed one's programme", gave me shivers. Thank you.

Are this author's suggestions at all reasonable for parents? (Personally, I'm childfree - which is part of why this consideration hadn't occurred to me till very late in the discussion - but it doesn't seem to be in anyone else's comments either.)

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Can you explain why you like it, to persuade me to read it? Otherwise - too long, didn't read.