During a recent business trip, I ended up with a few hours free to escape to the pool with a book. I eventually settled upon Arnold Bennett's productivity short How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, published in 1908. (You can get a free copy for the device of your choice.)
What kind of insights on productivity did this early 20th century thinker have?
His introduction gets us used to the idea that we all have more things in mind to accomplish than we will ever accomplish and advises that we accept this. Accept that you are going to underachieve your goals—a novel concept.
He points out that we spend a lot of our free time (not sleep, work, commute, or even meals) in ways for which we cannot account: spending time with family and friends, enjoying entertainment, etc. Bennett argues that we would be happiest if we spent our time instead seeking to develop our reasoning skills. (Unfortunately, he submits this as an idea that is self-evident; I'd have loved to see the dots connected as to why reason is his greatest good.)
He goes on to clear out for us some time in which to enact his plan for happiness and productivity: the commute to and from work (he assumes we're train riders) and two evenings per week. Don't try to bite off too much or devote all your time to this self-improvement plan.
And what do we do during this set-apart time?
- Morning commute: Practice deliberately concentrating (on anything, really). Build up your focusing skills by continually bringing your mind back to the same topic, despite its wanderings.
- Evening commute: Reflective practice – meditate on the day's happenings and what you can learn from them.
- Evenings set aside: Study a focused topic of interest. He suggests slow, reflective reading of texts in order to gain this knowledge.
For a book written in 1905, the advice is fairly relevant. The recommendations on focused study remind me of the 10,000 hour rule. Reflective practice is a well-known best practice for professional growth. And I hope that those of us who don't take public transportation on our commutes are concentrating on the road!
What's your favorite productivity blast from the past? What do you think of these recommendations from Arnold Bennett?