Article and Discussion: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

Here’s the article, posted recently on The Art of Manliness, which is one of my favorite websites.

This is basically a reprint of an old book from 1910 that discusses the role of time in living a fulfilling life. (It’s also an interesting window on the culture of England 100 years ago.) It’s a good read. In the comments, readers mentioned that the book is also available on Kindle and other places. Don’t let the term “book” discourage you. It can be read in one sitting, provided you don’t have too many distractions.

I often feel that I don’t have enough “time” to do all the things I’d like to do. Probably it would be more accurate to say that I don’t have enough energy, “spoons,” or brain space to get all of those things done. The author talks about the importance of small successes. When starting a new routine, you should make the change small enough that it seems almost too easy to accomplish rather than setting yourself up with a challenge. Success becomes a habit, but failure can become a habit too. Keep the tiny victories coming and grow them over time.

Right now, my focus is on turning my living space into something that is more suitable for divine company. I have a lot of work to do. I know that a mad dash cleaning spree will temporarily get me there, but it will also make me sick of cleaning, and I won’t want to do it again until the next time it looks like a wreck.

Years ago I discovered the FlyLady website. I tried it for awhile and it did work. Then I fell off the wagon. Later I tried again, but decided that the constant email spam wasn’t what I wanted. Still, I’m circling back around to the ideas they taught.

The most helpful part I extracted was the idea of spending fifteen minutes a day in a particular zone, or part of the house. I started this by myself and marked it on the calendar on my phone. A few days in, my husband spontaneously decided he would spend fifteen minutes on the laundry room, which is his domain. From there, we assigned the living room to our daughter, which had her toys spread all around, and family cleaning time was born. Even my daughter can survive fifteen minutes of cleaning.

What I’m getting at is that fifteen minutes seems like a really short time. In fact, the timer tends to go off right when I’m in the middle of something. That’s a good thing. I stop before I get tired of it. The method of planning such small successes reminds me of the kind of therapy they do for allergies. The idea is to expose yourself to a tiny amount of the allergen, so tiny that it doesn’t set off a reaction. Over time you build up a tolerance to the substance. (I don’t recommend trying this on your own for actual allergies. Get a doctor’s advice!) My tune is starting to change from dreading the task to being proud of how much I get done in such a short time. The negative reaction doesn’t have time to set in.

I plan to retrain myself to see cleaning as a simple way to improve my environment, rather than as an infinite and thankless chore. I’m going to do that by building on one small success after another.

Naturally you can apply this to whatever new habit you wish to form. Make a change that is small enough that the inner resistance doesn’t have a chance to get in the way. Don’t plan for what you can do on an average day. If half of your days are below average, your plans will run into trouble very quickly. Instead think, “Even if I have the flu, I can at least do this much.” Then keep doing it. That way, not even the flu can interfere with getting your new habit off the ground.

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