I used to have a bad TV habit. A really bad TV habit. There were the daily prime-time shows during the week that I began watching as soon as I got home, and then sports the entire weekend. It never occurred to me that there could be a life without TV. It was just the daily habit that I had fallen into. When I started to write about personal finance, I was working a full time job so in order to do it, something had to give. Greatly reducing the amount of TV I watched was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I am not one of those people that feel that TV is evil just like I don’t believe that credit cards are evil. I watch TV on occasion, but not nearly as much as I once did. If you use TV properly, it can provide great entertainment and even be educational. That being said, there’s a ton of crap on TV that most of us get sucked into watching more often than we wish we would.
In 2011, the average person in the US watched TV more than 158 hours a month at home, 4.5 hours a month on the Internet and 4.3 hours a month on tablet or smartphone mobile devices for a total of approximately 167 hours a month. That comes to nearly 7 full 24 hour days in front of the TV each month, or more than 5 and a half hours a day. When you take into account weekends and holidays, the average American is spending about the same amount of time in front of the TV as they are at work.
What that says to me is that most of us would greatly benefit if we learned how to watch TV in more moderation and use the extra time to improve out health, finances, and overall well-being. Of course, like any other addiction (and let’s face it, if the average person is spending that much time in front of the TV, it’s an addiction) the first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem. The second is to commit to making a change. While it certainly isn’t easy to break any habit, I can say from my own experience that once you do cut back and watch only what you truly want to watch, you’ll wonder how you ever got sucked into all the crap TV and wasted so much time in front of it.
If you would truly like to cut down on the amount of TV that you watch, you will have to make changes. Like dieting, saving money or exercise, you need to put in place a plan that encourages you to change your previous habits and form new ones. Here are some ideas on how you can break your TV habit:
Remove The Remote
While there are 20 suggestions in this article, this is the easiest one to implement and it’ll guarantee that you quickly and significantly reduce the amount of TV you watch. Take the TV remote control and put it somewhere where it makes it impossible to use. If you actually have to get up out of your chair to change channels and adjust the volume, you are much less likely to get sucked into watching hour after hour of TV. In fact, after doing it a few times there is a pretty good chance that just thinking about having to get up and do those things will help convince you not to turn on the TV in the first place. Don’t believe me? Give it a try for a week and see if there isn’t a dramatic effect on the amount of TV you watch.
Let There Be None
While this sounds rather drastic and something that people who don’t want to watch any TV would do, that is no longer the case. More and more people are watching TV on their computers and mobile devices, so even when eliminating the TV from the house, there are still plenty of opportunities to watch the shows you really want. Without the TV, however, you actively choose those shows rather than get sucked into shows while flipping through all the channels on the remote.
Say “See You Later” To Cable
Or at the very most, go down to the basic cable package. One of the main reasons that people spend so much time in front of the TV is that there are so many shows to choose from. A lot of the shows you’d probably never consider watching except that they happened to be seen while flipping through channels looking for something. Eliminate all but basic cable for a month and see how much of those premium channels you really miss. Chances are you’ll miss it a lot less than you think.
More Than One Is A Crowd
If you aren’t going to eliminate all the TVs in your house, then the most you should have is one. Seriously, when did we decide that there needed to be a TV in every room? There is really no good reason that any house needs more than a single TV and anyone that argues differently is simply making excuses.
Find A Little Room
If possible, don’t place the TV in a main room of the house. Put it into a side room where you have to actively decide to go to watch it rather than a main room where you will pass it many times during the day. This is using the “out of sight, out of mind” strategy. By purposely keeping the TV from being a focal point in the house, it makes it less likely that you will watch it as often.
Play Hide And Seek
If you can’t place the TV into a side room, make every effort to conceal it in a main room. Get an entertainment center that allows you to shut the doors to conceal the TV screen. If you can’t afford something that elaborate, find a nice blanket or other piece of cloth to hang in front of it. Again, this ensures that the TV isn’t constantly being seen and you have to make an effort to actually watch it.
Get The Binoculars
In addition to hiding the TV, arrange whatever room the TV is in so that the TV isn’t the focus of that room. If it’s in a side room, also make that room a library or game room with the focus on the books or games. If it is in the living or family room, arrange the seating so that the focus is on personal interaction instead of all facing the TV. Again, the less the TV is a focus, the less likely you will stop and watch it.
Pay The Piper
If you really want to know how much you value TV, put a price on it. It costs quite a bit of money to go to the movies these days, so most people spend time picking and choosing which movies they really want to see. The same should be true with your TV shows. If you had to pay $5 every time you turned on the TV, and another $5 for every half hour show you watched, chances are you would be a lot more choosy in the programs you watched. This is also a fantastic way to save money to create an emergency fund.
A lot of time wasted in front of the TV is spent watching shows that you have already seen. There is something strangely innate in most of us that have no problem watching the same show again and again even when we know we really should bother watching it again (which is why channel surfing when you have a full cable package is so dangerous — there is always something on some channel that is easy to decide to watch again). Resist this urge by making the cost of a repeat twice the cost of watching it the first time. Then you will know if it is really worth watching it again.
Get In Shape
Another way to reduce the amount of TV you watch is to exercise while you watch (note: If you want to be a really rich person, invent a product that can easily be installed that makes it so that the only way the TV works is if the person watching is using some type of exercise equipment. it would be the greatest diet program of all time. If Americans had to exercise 5 and half hours a day, the obesity problem in this country would quickly disappear). The best thing to do is to create an exercise room and have the only TV in the house in that room (no comfy chairs) and commit to only watch TV when you are actually exercising.
The Uncomfortable Truth
While you don’t want to make any room in your house uncomfortable, you don’t want to make watching TV super comfortable. If you have that soft and comfortable lounge chair directly in front of the TV, there is no way you are going to be leaving that seat unless the house catches on fire even if there is absolutely nothing on TV. The best course of action is to have no furniture to lounge on in the TV room (think exercise room again), but if you do have it, make sure that it isn’t the type where you want to spend the rest of the day. Leave that chair next to the bookshelf for reading or other appropriate activity.
Have No Limits
This sounds kind of counter intuitive to reducing the amount of TV watched, but making a daily limit can end up defeating the entire process if you really think about it. The truth is that most days you really shouldn’t be watching any TV, but if you have a daily limit of an hour, most people will watch that hour of TV (especially kids) even if there isn’t something that they truly want to watch. It’s much better to make a weekly limit to specific shows.
You probably have a list of shows that you want to watch each and every week. In addition, take a bit of time and to pick out any additional special TV programming that isn’t weekly, but is of interest that week. Once you have picked, watch only those shows and be sure to turn off the TV once they are over.
Rule With Rules
You know yourself better than anyone else. Use this knowledge to adapt rules that will benefit you the most when it comes to watching TV. If you have a goal of learning a new instrument, make a rule that you must practice an hour before watching any TV. If you have a goal of removing all the clutter from your home, make a rule that you must spend an hour decluttering before you watch TV. Use the TV as a tool to help you achieve the other goals that you have, but never seem to have enough time to do.
Make A Record
Make it a rule to record all the TV shows you want to watch on a DVR. This allows for you to watch the shows when you actually have time and doesn’t interrupt other activities you may be in the middle of when the show comes on. It also allows you to skip the commercials which take a large portion of the time you spend in front of the TV when you watch the TV at a regular broadcast.
Kill Commercial Breaks
If there is some reason that you find yourself in front of the TV during a regular broadcast with commercials that you can’t fast-forward through, have 5 – 10 minute tasks ready to do. get in the habit that the second a commercial comes on, you get out of your seat to do something during that time. It could be to work a few minutes cleaning a particular area of the house, to do 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups and 10 jumping jacks, or to take the trash out. Whatever it is, just make sure that you get into the habit of getting out of the chair whenever the commercials come on. Not only will you get a lot done, you will not be watching things that entice you to make purchases you don’t need.
If you don’t have a specific show to watch, then you shouldn’t be watching TV. That means that when a show that you turned the TV on to watch is over, you immediately turn off the TV and don’t start flipping through the channels to “see if there is something else on.” Not immediately turning off the TV is a good way to get sucked into watching hours of TV that you never planned to watch.
Say No To Noise
A lot of people say that they keep the TV on because they like to have background noise. The problem is that if the TV is on as background noise and you hear something that sounds as if it might be interesting, you get distracted from whatever you were doing. If you go to the TV “just to take a quick look” you will likely soon be sitting and wondering how all the time disappeared when you finally do get up from in front of the TV. The TV should only be turned on for specific shows that you have picked in advance and nothing else. Instead, get your background noise from your music player or the radio.
If you’re watching one of the shows on your watch list, that doesn’t mean that you should only be watching. There are very few shows where you need to be so attentive that you can’t be doing other things while still understanding perfectly well what is going on. Always have something that you can do while watching TV. Save tasks like folding laundry, opening mail and the like for when you are watching TV. If you have a hobby that can be done such as knitting, always have that close by so that you can do it while watching. TV can be a great opportunity to multi-task if you do a bit of preparation so that whatever needs to be done is waiting the minute you turn on the TV.
How many times do you seen the kids wanting to sit in front of the TV because “there isn’t anything to do!” For that matter, how many times do you find yourself there for a very similar reason? Spend some time creating a list of alternatives to watching TV that individuals and the whole family can do together and enjoy. These alternatives can be classic games like Monopoly, Scrabble or any card game. It could be to go outside and play if the sun is still out. Make the list as long and detailed as possible so that there is always something that can be done instead of watching TV.
Of course, none of these suggestions are exclusive and many can be used together to create a strategy that will allow you to watch only the TV that you truly want to watch while eliminating much you currently watch mainly out of laziness. If you have the will power, you’ll find your productivity skyrocket, and all of a sudden you’ll have time to do a lot of things that you never seemed to have time to do before. It could also be worth a million dollars. The one thing that I can guarantee is that if you do make the commitment to limit your TV viewing to exclusively the shows that you want to watch, you won’t have any regrets and you’ll wonder why you didn’t make the changes long ago.
(Photo courtesy of Lisa Newton)