How to gain back 13.6 years of your life, in an instant

Gain it back

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Assuming you live to be 70 (which is almost near-certain considering today’s life expectancies), you’ll spend an impressive 34 hours a week watching TV, which will amount to 13.6 years throughout your life.

Relaxation is important, of course; we need relaxation to allow us to recover from the stress we put on our minds and bodies at other points in our lives. But I personally feel guilty laying on my couch, vegging out and watching an hour or two of television. It seems like a complete waste of time. It’s not an easy habit to break: there’s a ton of great and captivating stuff on TV, but at the end of the day, I don’t think TV serves a purpose in my life. As the overused and corny cliché goes, you only live once. The answer I’ve found was simply to cut the cord.

What to replace it with

A few years ago when I stopped watching TV, I was left with a giant TV-sized hole in my life, but as time went on and I weened myself off of the TV-teet (man, sorry about that analogy), I filled that hole with much better and more productive things. Now I have more time for..

  • Meditation. I wrote an article on the benefits of meditation last week. It helps me relax, defragment, focus, and even saves me time.
  • Writing. I probably wouldn’t be writing this post right now if I still watched TV. I don’t want to pretend like I was addicted to television, but TV presented an attractive enough alternative that I would have chosen it over writing any day of the week.
  • Listening to audiobooks or podcasts. I love audiobooks and podcasts, and carry a few of each around with me on my iPhone all of the time. (You can download both from the iTunes store; most podcasts are completely free, and audiobooks cost about the same as a physical book.) Often I’ll throw on a few chapters of a book and clean my apartment, top to bottom; my body cleans my apartment while my mind is absorbed in the book.
  • Reading. I don’t have a ton of time to read, but I would have none if I still watched TV. Last year, even though I had job and school commitments, and took the time to learn about Buddhism, meditate, write, exercise and get a good amount of sleep every night, I still read 21 books. I wouldn’t have read a single one if I had some precious TV to watch.

How much unnecessary TV do you watch a day? How many other unproductive time wasters soak up your time and energy and leave you from doing cooler things?

Time is a terrible thing to waste. It’s priceless, and it never grows back.

Broken TV image source.

  • Shawn

    I have a comment about this. I actually enjoy watching TV… probably more-so in the winter because it’s so cold outside. Now, I will say I’m not a fan of reality TV, which to me is basically putting a camera on uninteresting people and not telling a story… but anyway. A lot of really good TV shows are just as good as reading a good novel (in my opinion). In fact, a recent trend is that some novels and series of novels are being turned into TV shows, and they are being done really well.

    I’m the type of person that I love a good story, in any medium whether it be a book, a movie, a TV show, an audiobook, some guy on the street telling me a story…. whatever. This brings up a great quote from John Lennon that I really love (I forget the exact wording):

    “Time wasted that is enjoyed is not wasted at all”

    • Chris

      Thanks for the comment my friend!

      I think it really comes down to what your priorities are, which should feed into what makes you and other people happy. I agree that the main difference between a novel and a TV show is form in a lot of cases, but I have never really been into either. I’ve always been into squeezing as much productivity out of my time as possible (I’ll be the first to admit, often at the expense of personality and fun), but I think in general this allows me more time and resources to make myself and other people happy.

      Maybe the answer in the end is about prioritizing meaning over distraction.

  • Hi Chris,

    I just wanted to get your feedback on a weird habit I developed as a teenager: studying/completing schoolwork for hours on end with the TV on in the background. Remember back when cable channels would play a “marathon” of one show all day long? That’s what I’m talking about. Now, in the age of the internet, Netflix functions perfectly for this purpose.

    I’ve always been a high-achieving student, and this habit has paid off with a lifelong 4.00 GPA, full-tuition scholarships, and a number of academic awards. It makes me feel more productive than working in silence or with music playing. I need to pick a show that’s pretty formulaic and not too engaging, because it needs to serve as background activity. There still needs to be just enough action — preferably consolidated towards the end of an hour-long episode — to provide me with a little stimulation at a natural interval for a mental break.

    For me, there’s something stabilizing and productivity-inducing about the structure and flow of one episode with its own predictable narrative arc followed by another, then another, for as long as you need to get all your work done. There’s a rhythm to it that, for whatever reason, gets me in the groove and I get a lot done! I’m starting grad school next month and while I’d love to be a more serious studier, I kind of have an “if it ain’t broke” mentality about my nasty little TV habit.

    I know this is pretty bizarre and I wouldn’t recommend that other people acquire this habit (there are surely better ways to buckle down and do your work!) but, strangely, it works wonders for me. Any thoughts?

    Thanks for your great blog and congrats on your big year!

    Best,

    Heidi

    • Tim Little

      Heidi,

      Look into some of the research about Attention Deficit Disorder (for an extreme of this) but you might find, like me, that if you ‘distract’ a portion of your ‘cognitive load’ you find that the remaining ‘brain CPU’ is more functional. I tend to be able to focus better, when I have the TV, some reading, AND the radio going, and have tested my ability to retain and (correctly) reuse new knowledge gained in this way, better than new knowledge gained in a vacuum (no distractions at the time of study).

      I am not alone on this, and there has been heaps of research… as I understand it; its just the degree to which you need to distract your cognitive load, to make the remaining as effective as possible – some people: none. Some like me; high level of distraction makes the remaining more effective and higher quality. Its not bizarre, its just poorly understood between those who do, and those who don’t. :)

      • Fascinating!! Thanks for explaining this, Tim! The term “cognitive load” is a perfect descriptor, because it literally feels like I’m unloading some of my excess brainpower onto the TV which frees up the rest to concentrate and be productive. I’ve never explicitly measured my abilities with/without the presence of “distractions,” but I know my results would be the same as yours! It’s good to know that other people experience this, and that there’s research to help better understand it :)

  • Hi Chris,

    I just wanted to get your feedback on a weird habit I developed as a teenager: studying/completing schoolwork for hours on end with the TV on in the background. Remember back when cable channels would play a “marathon” of one show all day long? That’s what I’m talking about. Now, in the age of the internet, Netflix functions perfectly for this purpose.

    I’ve always been a high-achieving student, and this habit has paid off with a lifelong 4.00 GPA, full-tuition scholarships, and a number of academic awards. It makes me feel more productive than working in silence or with music playing. I need to pick a show that’s pretty formulaic and not too engaging, because it needs to serve as background activity. There still needs to be just enough action — preferably consolidated towards the end of an hour-long episode — to provide me with a little stimulation at a natural interval for a mental break.

    For me, there’s something stabilizing and productivity-inducing about the structure and flow of one episode with its own predictable narrative arc followed by another, then another, for as long as you need to get all your work done. There’s a rhythm to it that, for whatever reason, gets me in the groove and I get a lot done! I’m starting grad school next month and while I’d love to be a more serious studier, I kind of have an “if it ain’t broke” mentality about my nasty little TV habit.

    I know this is pretty bizarre and I wouldn’t recommend that other people acquire this habit (there are surely better ways to buckle down and do your work!) but, strangely, it works wonders for me. Any thoughts?

    Thanks for your great blog and congrats on your big year!

    Best,

    Heidi

    • Tim Little

      Heidi,

      Look into some of the research about Attention Deficit Disorder (for an extreme of this) but you might find, like me, that if you ‘distract’ a portion of your ‘cognitive load’ you find that the remaining ‘brain CPU’ is more functional. I tend to be able to focus better, when I have the TV, some reading, AND the radio going, and have tested my ability to retain and (correctly) reuse new knowledge gained in this way, better than new knowledge gained in a vacuum (no distractions at the time of study).

      I am not alone on this, and there has been heaps of research… as I understand it; its just the degree to which you need to distract your cognitive load, to make the remaining as effective as possible – some people: none. Some like me; high level of distraction makes the remaining more effective and higher quality. Its not bizarre, its just poorly understood between those who do, and those who don’t. :)

      • Fascinating!! Thanks for explaining this, Tim! The term “cognitive load” is a perfect descriptor, because it literally feels like I’m unloading some of my excess brainpower onto the TV which frees up the rest to concentrate and be productive. I’ve never explicitly measured my abilities with/without the presence of “distractions,” but I know my results would be the same as yours! It’s good to know that other people experience this, and that there’s research to help better understand it :)

  • Thom H Gibson

    This is great. Me and my wife never ended up getting cable when we got married, which saved us at least $75 a month. We do have Netflix and have done our fair share of binge watching, but not being able to just turn the TV and unless we intentionally plan on watching something I believe has limited our TV watching. Plus, right now we’ve watched all the shows we want so when we think about watching Netflix, it’s like ‘eh, there isn’t anything else on there that we want to watch.’

  • Thom H Gibson

    This is great. Me and my wife never ended up getting cable when we got married, which saved us at least $75 a month. We do have Netflix and have done our fair share of binge watching, but not being able to just turn the TV and unless we intentionally plan on watching something I believe has limited our TV watching. Plus, right now we’ve watched all the shows we want so when we think about watching Netflix, it’s like ‘eh, there isn’t anything else on there that we want to watch.’

  • Jaymen

    Ever since ive been unemployed i spend most of my days on facebook either gaming watching movies on netflix or youtube i hate my life i have no control over it iv tryed limiting my time on the internet but i get withdraws if i havent done either activities what can i do i need help

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