How To Gain An Extra Hour Or Two Each Day

Post written by Sherri Kruger. Follow me on Twitter.

This post is part of the “31 Days of Organizing for a Better 2010″ series at Organizing Your Way. Today, Mandi and I share our thoughts on limiting screen time.

We’re all busy right? We all have too much stuff to do and not nearly enough time to do it.

But wait. Aren’t we the same people who after a long day at work plop down in front of the TV because we need to unwind and just chill out for a bit?

The problem with chilling out “for a bit” is that “for a bit” usually turns into an hour, maybe two sometimes four or five.

I was a victim of this totally unproductive time suck. In fact, it wasn’t until our 70 pound yellow lab knocked the TV from the stand that we did away with TV all together.

I should add that it wasn’t entirely her fault. She managed to topple the TV with a little help from my husband who was the one holding the laser pointer and who shone the tiny red dot down the hall, through the living room but neglected to shut it off in time for the dear “little” Maddie to put on the breaks and avoid hip checking the TV stand … but that’s another story :).

So that was it, the TV landed face down on the living room floor. Maddie escaped unharmed but the TV was not so lucky. We were at a loss.

In hind sight it was the best thing that could have happened. We easily gained 4-5 hours each night during which time we were able to actually be productive. Imagine! We were able to take stock of what we wanted to do, what needed to get done and get working on it. We were also able to slow down and just enjoy each others company – just be quiet without the distraction.

It’s been 5 years since that day and we have gone through various phases of watching and not watching TV.  When do I feel the best and most productive? When the TV is off. If you haven’t tried it yet I would recommend you at least give it a shot. Maybe not turning it off completely but at least reduce the amount you watch each day.

Before you go at this cold turkey there are a few things you should know:

1. You will be bored. An evening is pretty easy to get through when you sit in front of the TV. It makes all the decisions for you. It shows you a particular show when it says it’s going to, it interrupts you with ads every 10-15 minutes and when the shows you want to watch are spaced out far enough it even fills in the time with something else. When you first turn off the TV it’s tough to fill an entire evening. It’s boring. There’s nothing to do. Now what?

Suggestion: Make a list of things you want to accomplish. Maybe it’s little things around the house, maybe it’s a big project you’ve been putting off for when you have the time. Spend one of your TV free nights just brainstorming what you can do to fill the time. Try:

  • reading
  • playing boardgames, or learn a new card game
  • plan your summer vacation
  • talk with your spouse
  • simplify and organize your home
  • build something
  • take up a new hobby

2. You may suffer from withdrawal. This may sound strange but it’s true. For us we had been watching TV for so long that the characters in the shows were like members of the family. We get addicted to series and the cliffhangers that end each episode keep you coming back for more.

Suggestion: Fill your time with productive activities or at least make the time count. You don’t always have to be doing something active try going to bed earlier, meditating or soaking in a hot bath. All of these things will help you feel rejuvenated and a little less wired.

3. You will be a tad out of touch. A particular TV show may be all you have in common with someone else. It gives you something to talk about around the proverbial water cooler. When you cut out TV or even reduce it you suddenly don’t have that bit of small talk to fall back on. When you’re in a group of 5-10 people and they are all talking about a particular show you can feel uncomfortable.

Suggestion: Think of other things to talk about apart from what happened on this or that show last night. You can stay up to date on current affairs without tuning in nightly by finding recent stories online. Talk about the weather, rumblings in the company, sports or hobbies you may have started since cutting out TV. Get to know people. Also, remember all that you got accomplished the night before when you may have otherwise been watching TV, that should make you feel a bit better.

4. You don’t have to make it an all or nothing effort. It’s tough to make a lifestyle change as drastic as cutting out TV, all in one go. The first couple of weeks can be quite frustrating until you find a benefit and a rhythm in life without TV.

Suggestion: Start small and make the change gradually. Maybe start with limiting the time you will sit in front of the TV to an hour each night. Limit yourself to watching only your favorite shows, no re-runs. You can even start with one or two nights a week when the TV is off completely. PVRs and TiVos are pretty common pieces of equipment in homes these days so use them. Record the shows you want to watch and watch them when it suits you.

5. You should know why you’re doing it. Like anything if you don’t have the right motivation this TV-less habit won’t last. Doing something because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing is not the right motivation.

Suggestion: Get a clear understanding as to why you are choosing to do this. Some reasons I choose to go without TV are:

  • to get more stuff done that I actually need to get done
  • spend more quality time with my kids and my husband instead of staring blankly at the TV
  • teach my kids that they don’t need TV to be entertained they make up their own fun
  • I have time to dream a little about the future
  • I have a lot more time to learn new things which is a passion of mine
  • I get outside more

Giving up TV is not for everyone but it works really well for us. If you’re up for a bit of an experiment I think you may be pleasantly surprised at what you gain by reducing your screen time. You’re young, you’re healthy reconsider giving up these years by being glued to the TV. Too soon you’ll be old, you may even lose your health – save the TV watching for then.

What do you think? Will you give this a try? Have you done this? If so, what advice would you give to those considering the switch?

34 Responses to “How To Gain An Extra Hour Or Two Each Day”

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  1. Meeks says:

    We have had a TV detox before, and we are currently on one. I think the thing that I noticed the first time we did our “TV detox” was that I had developed a habit of relying on the TV to give me a bit of uninterupted time away from the kids. It was an instant time out for me when I needed it. What was also interesting is that the children’s relationship with each other improved when the TV was off, and there was more co-operative, creative play. My biggest worry was dinner prep time. I was worried about how I would manage with kids around my legs. But the kids would just potter and play upstairs in the dining room and lounge (across from our open plan kitchen) while I cooked and it wasn’t a big deal. If they started getting bored, I would just set an activity, like making the dining room table or couches into a hut so it would buy me a bit more time before dinner was ready.

  2. don says:

    The recent ratings show that more and more people are not watching TV anymore. My readers have told me that they rarely if ever watch TV unless it is a very special event. The latest NBC fiasco is proof of the ratings plunge. And this is all very good for the planet. Enough mindless crap to feed on so we can be stimulated to buy useless stuff like houses, cars, other materialistic things that don’t matter. And on top of that, to connect with the Banks when you can’t afford these things, you can become a slave to debt too. No thanks, bu bye.

    editor “news that matters”

  3. We have a television, but we do not have an antennae, cable or satellite. We have Netflix. For a small monthly amount (much smaller than cable or satellite), we can get exactly what we want to see without commercials. Not having access to regular television really limits how much and what we watch. Our son is only 7-months-old, but we’re prepared for the struggle ahead as he wants to watch what his friends watch, etc. In the end, however, we know it’s what’s best for us and our family and no one ever actually keeled over from not watching television! :)

  4. @ Meeks – What are the kids going to do? That’s what I was thinking as well. But they do make up their own fun. I’m glad you noticed more co-operation and creative play between your kids.I notice the same thing with mine.

    @ don – Good point about TV reducing desires for material things. I remember watching home renovation shows and always coming away feeling my kitchen was inadequate and *needed* to be upgraded. Now not so much. I make do with what I have, it’s not pretty but it’s functional and we saved a good amount of money!

    @ Toni – Netflix is a great alternative as well. When it comes to the kids not watching what their friends watch that’s a tough one. The way I think we’ll approach that (when the time comes) is to give them a set amount of time each day to watch TV and they can choose what they watch. But it certainly won’t be hours and hours in front of the TV.

  5. Willow says:

    I unplugged the TV at my house in 1996, and haven’t looked back, at least not until recently…..

    This past fall I spent some time thinking maybe I should get a TV, just to watch things like the History and Discovery channels, etc. After discovering It would cost $60 per month plus taxes, I quickly deduced that would be the better part of $800 per year. I already pay close to that for basic phone and 1.5 mb internet, with no caller ID or any other special features. That made the decision easy. Still not gonna do TV!

    I always think of the “overhead” costs when deciding about things. Mom always talked about one of the most important keys for a successful business was to keep a “low overhead”, and that the same thing went for households. That has been a guiding principle for me my entire life.

  6. I love being without TV! – I’ve done it now for about a decade. I read more, go to bed more easily and earlier, and I save so much time and money.

    But the hardest part for me was being out of touch with my girlfriends regarding our favorite shows…

    So I just have one word for you guys on that front:

    Changed my life! – I never have to subscribe to TV again and I can just watch a few clips to stay in touch or a rare “must-see” episode on – without the danger of getting sucked back into the tube again!

    Check it out, and I’m sure you’ll all turn off your sets soon enough :)

    Christa Meola

  7. Roblynn says:

    I have to agree that the social thing is the hardest part of living without a t.v. for kids. We raised our children without t.v. and to this day most of them hate t.v. When they were young, people would just be amazed that they did not have t.v. In fact we also raised them with a strict vegetarian, no sugar diet, and home schooled them, but none of that amazed people like not having a t.v. Most people when they would hear that we did not have a t.v. would start making excuses about why they needed one, and invite our kids over to watch t.v. with them when they wanted. It is interesting to see other people’s reactions when you tell them you don’t have t.v.

  8. This is great! We still watch T.V. in our house, but my television time has dropped dramatically in the last 5 months or so. Since I’ve started my blog, I’m too darn busy to waste time on meaningless T.V. shows…I have cyber-friends to make, posts to write and great blogs like this one to read!

  9. Satakieli says:

    When I was a student (and before I was married and with a kid) I had to sell my TV when I ran out of money. I didn’t watch TV again for about 3 years and it was wonderful.

    I don’t watch it much to this day and people often ask me how I find the time to do so many things, especially craft projects. It’s because I don’t spend the 4+ hours that most people spend in front of the TV every night! I watch the one or two shows that I actively enjoy and that’s it.

  10. Okay so this isn’t a pro-tv comment, I promise. I watch very little tv. But I do have two shows I really, really love to watch. In all honesty, those 2 hours a week I devote to my two favorite shows are no less honorable than the countless hours a week I spend playing scrabble with my husband or reading smutty vampire romances. Time sucks are time sucks. TV isn’t the most immoral of time sucks—-even exercise can be a time suck if you neglect your family by working out at the gym 5 hours a day. Anything can be made into an idol that steals or time—I always hate seeing TV be the one time suck that gets such a bad wrap. More people these days are addicted to blogs, facebook, texting and smartphones than they are television!

    The moral of the story? Find your time-suck and pay careful attention to WHATEVER it is…tv or not

  11. puerhan says:

    I have lived without TV for years now. Actually I was brought up without one and only had one in the house when someone else wanted it, so it wasn’t ever a hard adjustment. However… the internet and computer based projects can chew through hours on end all too easily also!

  12. Kifayat says:

    I hope one day I will finally detox myself from watching TV! I know it is doable as evidenced by previous people who have left comments. There have been times when I have “yoyo” diets away from some soaps and kid myself by reading the reviews on the internet so that I don’t miss it on the actual screen.

    Now that I have a child, I now see the need to find a way to kick the habit so that I don’t pass it down. Sometimes when I am busy in the kitchen or doing some chores, I keep the TV on for my daughter to watch her channels and sometimes she keeps quiet and sometimes she doesnt.

    Would someone be able to suggest an alternative? Especially when I want to get things done.

  13. We’ve been without cable (even no basic “free” channels) for a year now. We’ve gone several years awhile back without it too. (We do have Netfllx though.) I’m neither for or against television. I think it can be a great tool for learning and connection and fun …or it can be a time suck we don’t enjoy but rely on.

    I think the most important thing to ask yourself is WHY you use it (or overuse it)? Plopping down at the end of the day for a couple hours is a legitimate reason if you’re exhausted and worn out but have a hard time relaxing. Most of us are overstimulated and overworked and can’t sit calmly without the visual/audible stimulation that TV gives us. Our lives are highly stimulated, thus our relaxation time is more stimulating to match our bodies new needs. This isn’t a bad thing, unless you begin to feel it is. Sometimes it’s just the only way our bodies know how to veg out.

    In those cases, going cold turkey on TV won’t help you unless you find something else to help you unwind…or find ways to feel less wound-up to begin with. And generally when you’re feeling more relaxed and centered throughout the day, the urge to watch TV diminishes, making getting rid of it completely unnecessarily (unless, like us, you couldn’t justify paying for something you no longer watched!).

    Our general family rule is not to take things away but add in so many better, more exciting, fun things that the other things lose their luster. Cuz really, if your life is both fun and passionate, who wants to sit and watch TV?

  14. Cyndi says:

    We found that we had the best of intentions to not watch TV but found that we subbed TV for the PC :(

    Will try again :D

  15. Thank you for all your comments so far! It’s interesting that no one who has given up TV or reduced viewing time greatly has regretted it.

    The Normal Middle makes a great point though a time-suck is a time-suck and it’s not necessarily just TV. Similar to Cyndi, I spend a lot more time on the computer, now that I don’t watch TV. But it is still considerably less time than I would spend in front of the TV and it’s a lot more productive. I read A LOT I keep up with advances in my field of study and from some of the feedback I’m getting I’m also helping others. These are all very positive in my opinion and things I may not have accomplished had I still been glued to the TV.

    @Kifayat – I don’t see anything wrong with putting on a movie or letting your daughter watch TV while you’re preparing dinner. Alternate activities really depend on her age but you could let her flip through some books, play with play-doh, color, “finger paint” with pudding on the dinner table, play with blocks or lego. Try setting her up in the kitchen either on the floor, at the dinner table or in her high-chair so she doesn’t feel so alone. If she’s anything like my kids her curiosity gets the better of her and she won’t be interested in what you have set up for her if she can’t see what YOU’RE doing :) Hope this helps!

  16. Having not watched TV for years now I simply can’t imagine spending what precious little time I have wasted in front of that black box. My advice; fill your life with so much creative goodness that you are “inspired” to spend your time thoughtfully and productively. My desire to become a better photographer and writer (also to knit, read and garden in the summer) has supplanted any desire I may have had to watch a particular show or be in touch with the TV world.

    Just this past week I wrote about how our TV migrated around our house to places of less importance and finally left for good last fall.

  17. Andrew Mayer says:

    I’m one of those who still has the set, but no cable.

    After a few months you start to lose the taste for “programming” and go from what I call being a passive to an active viewer.

    I love films, and will even watch shows on Hulu. But everything I watch is a choice I made that went beyond simply flipping the channel and seeing “what’s on”.

    A friend brought over an HD antenna the other day, and while the images are nicer, I really can no longer take the onslaught of commercials. I think this is what makes television uniquely negative.

    The goal of almost every commercial is to get you to purchase things you don’t need by creating a sense of “something missing” in your life. It doesn’t take long for that to eat away at your confidence.

    The other thing is that Television advertises itself relentlessly, always hoping to get you to stay for one more show.

  18. Greg says:

    Here in Australia, there is so much reality tv crap it makes not watching TV a hard decision, well for me at least.

    Find a hobby, grow a vege garden or play some games with your kids. This sort of stuff makes it harder to plonk yourself on the couch for a few hours.

    btw – laughed at the lab story, I can visualize it . Our lab is always knocking stuff over with her big butt.

  19. @ renee – I’m glad you’re able to focus on becoming better at what you truly enjoy doing (writing and photography). Much more productive. :)

    @ Andrew – I know what you mean about getting you to stay for just one more show. That’s exactly how “for a while” turns into 4-5 hours. Ugh!

    @Greg – Here in Canada it’s the same thing really a lot of reality shows. Some I could tolerate others … not so much. Incidentally, our lab is from Australia. We brought her and her sister back to Canada with us when we moved back home. ;) They are lovely animals though!

  20. Linda Davis says:

    I love ALL of your tips especially Tip 5. I completely agree that in order to turn beliefs into self-help motivation, you should know what you value in life. Explore the meanings of your desires because it will help you uncover what you truly value in life.

  21. Vince says:

    My wife and I have been without TV for over 6 years now and don’t miss it a bit. In addition to the added time, it also saves money! Digital cable / satellite isn’t cheap. Even though we don’t have TV, we do have a ridiculous 50″ plasma & DVD player. With a subscription to Netflix, it’s really all we need. When we sit down to watch something, it’s typically a movie and the experience is wonderful. No commercials, high quality picture/sound, we’ve set aside the evening to watch it, etc.

    I do agree that staying up-to-date with what’s happening in the world is a little tougher but that’s what magazines, newpapers, and Google News is for.

    And for the shows that we really love (24, Lost, Dexter, Top Gear) they are all available online. With a computer hooked up to the TV now, we can still watch them. But it forces us to prioritize the shows that we want to watch and not get sucked in to just watching whatever is on that night.

    I love having the extra time to spend with my wife and 7 month old baby.

  22. Aslaug says:

    I found my life changed drastically after getting Tivo. After I left the States I quickly bought a DVR (not as cool as Tivo but gets the job done). I only record things I intend to watch and never watch the show/movie while it’s playing on TV. This way I don’t waste time waiting for something to start, watching commercials (just skip over them) or watching something I never intended to watch in the first place. Saves plenty of time, without completely getting rid of TV watching (which I happen to like doing when it’s a good show).

  23. KimV says:

    When I was a teenager, my friends and I decided to stop watching TV for a while. We had other things to do. I picked it back up some when I got to college. The only real drawback was that I am still behind on TV pop culture. TV is a big part of how our those in our culture relate to each other even if we hardly notice. It can be alienating to realize that most of the country shares experiences to which I was oblivious. It’s not really a big deal, just not an issue I anticipated at the time.

    As an adult, I’ve relied on TV to fill an empty house with noise, but hated the feeling of wasting my life away when I get attached. I’ve also noticed how food commercials really make me want to eat more. After the 15th pizza commercial it’s almost impossible for me not to want some. I gave up cable because I didn’t want to pay for life-sucking temptation. I have an antenna and only turn on the TV for shows I particularly enjoy or for public television. I’ve learned a great appreciation for the commercial-free, high-def, well told stories of wide variety on PBS. The cinematography of the nature shows is unbelievable and the wide variety of other programming tickles my novelty bone. That’s what I use when I have an empty living room I want to fill these days.

  24. Sherri,

    For people who don’t want to go cold-turkey, why not consider getting rid of cable for something more on-demand and commercial free, like an apple TV. I totally agree with what you’ve said in this article – My wife and I are trying work our way towards a TV-less existence, but we still love watching movies and our favorite shows. The worst thing about cable is that there’s always SOMETHING to watch – you sit down, pick up the flickr and channel surf your way to something mediocre that’s “good enough”. If you change your habits by eliminating the “always on” part and start buying and downloading just your favorite shows (commercial free) in a series, you can target your time better and make your TV watching measurable and limited. I know this is a half-way compromise, but the shift in habit can make a big difference and help you limit the amount of time you spend on the couch.

  25. Theona says:

    This is so interesting! After buying a new flatscreen tv for “greater viewing pleasure”, we decided to reduce the tv time after hearing kids should only watch max. 2 hours tv a day! We’ve reduced tv time heaps, we may not be at the recommended amount for our kids yet, but we certainly have found extra time to do the things that tv took our time away from doing. The biggest irony is having to buy that bloody tv and finding quality time not using it!!!

  26. Ellie says:

    We ditched our cable for good last Sept, and we don’t miss it at all. We couldn’t stand all the commercials. We couldn’t even watch football or NASCAR with our kids anymore because FOX would show violent commercials for the prime time shows. It was offensive!

    Now we have a new hobby of watching vintage TV shows with the kids. I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, The Waltons – all the great shows we knew as kids. They are wonderful and the kids love them! Most nights we make a production of sitting down together and watching a show – sometimes with pizza or popcorn. The kids don’t just watch TV non-stop now, but in half-hour chunks once or twice a day.

    With the rest of the down time they have made up lots of great creative games for themselves, or spend lots of time reading. It’s really worked out well for us.

    Other family members think we are weird and actually doing the kids a disservice – it’s so heartening to see so many other people here that have shunned mindless TV.

  27. Ian says:

    As it turns out, getting cable was the key to reducing our tv watching! We only subscribed because getting a tv-telephone-broadband bundle was the cheapest way to get phone and internet. But once we had it, we were able to persuade the kids that they would be able to watch the programmes they *needed* to see (ie so they wouldn’t be social outcasts) by getting them on catch-up tv at the weekend. So we all agreed that Monday – Thursday would be tv-free. That’s been running for a couple of years now. The girls don’t watch any more tv on Saturdays and Sundays than they did before, and for more than half the week, the tv doesn’t go on at all.
    Works for us…

  28. Jesse Bishop says:

    This is a great idea! I have friends who don’t have a TV (or even a computer! Imagine!) and they’re always really happy and seem to be plenty occupied with other things. I’m going to definitely try cutting out TV this year. At least reducing my usage for now…

  29. I just want to agree with some of the people here who say that when you get rid of cable and just watch things on demand, it radically shifts the way that you watch TV. If I sit down to watch TV now, I have to think about it – it’s on purpose. I have to choose what to watch.

    And as far as being out of the loop, something that I have done to stay in the loop (like with American Idol) is to download the show, and watch it at 1.5x to 2x speed… that way you still get the content, but you can watch an hour show in about 20 minutes, because you skip (a) commercials and (b) the “and the winner is… …. …. ….” pauses (which is a vast portion of most reality TV shows).

    Great post, Sherri!

  30. KS says:

    I’m struck by the fact that your lab knocked over the TV. My friend’s 2-year-old daughter was killed 2 years ago when she pulled their TV over on herself. After this tragedy, I’ve become so much more aware of similar stories. In fact, a family friend’s nephew pulled the TV over on himself trying to put in a video game. Fortunately, he survived, but has very serious head injuries. If you decide to keep your TV, please make sure it is anchored to the wall. There are simple kits available for this purpose.


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  2. [...] particular TV show may be all you have in common with someone else. It gives you something to talk about around the proverbial water cooler. When you cut out TV or even reduce it you suddenly don’t have that bit of small talk to fall back on. … What was also interesting is that the children’s relationship with each other improved when the TV was off, and there was more co-operative, creative play. My biggest worry was dinner prep time. I was worried about how I would … [...]

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