Cut Back Your Television… Like You Should Those Marlboros

Posted: February 5th, 2009

I would be lying if I said television wasn’t a big part of who I am. I would estimate that I spent around five years of my life up to now actually glued to it, too. Yep, part of the original MTV generation. Despite the fact that probably half of those five years were watching reruns, I wouldn’t call that whole period a complete waste of time. I suppose I could have been outside making treehouses but what’s done is done. I’m happy to be a product of the original cable TV.

Now fast forward to today and it’s a completely different story. While I haven’t stopped watching TV 100%, I rarely turn the thing on anymore. The primary reason is my desire to be productive. While I have my freelance job as a programmer, I still have my own side projects and other goals aside from that. Television would cut the time devoted to those to practically zero.

Well, just today I ran into an article by Trent Hamm who gives ten financial reasons to turn off your television and ten things to replace it with. I’ve pretty much weaned myself from the TV but here were a couple reasons to turn it off that caught my attention:

Commercials Those wonderful short little programs that are designed to sell you stuff, period. Even better: they often work in concert with the programs to create a sense of guilt – and they offer a psychological way out. One commercial isn’t powerful, but when you’re inundated with them… very powerful.

Less time for other opportunities If the television is on for four hours a day, that’s four hours where I could be doing something more constructive with my time, like starting a successful blog (*ahem*) or starting a business or working on a novel or getting household chores done and so forth.

It’s easy to think you’re blind to all of those commercials you watch day in and day out, especially the dumb repeat ones but he’s right. We do respond, otherwise there wouldn’t be any, right? Personally, I can’t stand the thought of being hypnotized and controlled to the point where I’m buying things from tainted thoughts in my head.

That’s the point of the TV, though: to spend the few or many free hours you have in the day… and make you buy stuff from those who provide it to you. It’s logical to do something constructive like reading a book, but what’s the point? It takes effort. Watching TV takes minimal effort, but if we’re lucky to watch a repeat then it takes none… we only have to remember from the one before! TV lets you be dead for the meantime and come back to life once you’re finished.

OK, I don’t want to rag on all the TV junkies out there. I use to be one of them. I firmly believe, though, that some of your best work and advances in your career and lifestyle can come from using TV time for other important things. Some good ideas from Trent…

Start a second business. I keep this blog running on less time than I used to spend watching television each night and it is earning some money. I also started a computer consulting business, where I fix people’s computers locally. This has opened up two solid revenue streams for me that, added together, approximate what I made from my job before. This has made me feel much less stressed about work – I do my job, but it no longer has the paralyzing “Oh my God what if they downsize?” fear that it used to have.

Take on a major project. Do something huge that you’ve always wanted to do. I’ve done things like made a homemade bullwhip, learned how to speak Mandarin, and so on, just in my newfound spare time.

Get things done. When I finally turned off the television and looked around, I saw literally hundreds of little things that needed to be done that I simply hadn’t done. So I started getting them done; I literally spent three days making a giant checklist of every task that would take longer than five minutes, then I just started going through them. I felt so productive while doing this that it was a huge endorphin rush just by itself.

Take care of whatever bothers you. For me, it was taking a little bit of time each day to meditate and get in touch with my spiritual side, and it made a huge difference in my life.

I’m not going to crucify the TV just yet. Hell, just in the middle of this blog, I had to watch an episode of Seinfeld over the internet to chill for a bit. A conscious effort should be made, however, to steer yourself away from it (but not completely) and work on those goals of yours. Your future self in five years may thank you for it.

More on the author, Johnny Spence
Johnny is the founder of The Freelance Rant and a freelance web programmer with 8 years in the business. Have a visit at his company Oscarrr!web or see what he's up to on Twitter.

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