This is a guest post from Erica Douglass. Erica sold her successful business and “temporarily retired” at age 26. Having made over $1 million online, she is now sharing her business knowledge with over 10,000 people every month at erica.biz.

There is one reason most of us don’t learn how to invest, start a business, or even can our own food — we just don’t have the time to do those projects. Between jobs that force us to work ever-longer hours, and growing duties at home, there never seem to be enough minutes in the day!

I wanted to go deeper, though, so I delved into research to answer two questions:

  • First, how do we actually use our time?
  • And secondly, which activities could be cut down or outsourced to allow time for pursuits we really want?

Immediately, I assumed that we could outsource housecleaning tasks to free up time for our passions. I was right: we work on housework an average of 14.7 hours per week, or nearly 765 hours per year! However, my triumphant post about outsourcing housecleaning work was met with one criticism: “I simply don’t have the money to do that.”

What activity, then, could be cut back without incurring a significant cost — and leave us enough time to start a business, make more money, or do something we have always wanted to do?

I found the answer in a book called Time, Goods, and Well-Being, which uses “time diaries” to calculate how much time people are using. Unfortunately, this book uses time diary studies from the mid-1970′s. But after reading it, I’m not sure we are all that different today.

Breaking It Down
750 hours a year is 14.42 hours a week, or just over two hours a day. Besides housework, “market work” (the term the book uses to denote paid-for jobs), and sleeping, what activity consumes the most time?

The answer shocked me: It’s watching television.

Wait — don’t close this browser window yet! I’m not suggesting you give up TV. I like “American Idol” and “Heroes” just as much as you do. Instead, I merely suggest that you change a simple behavior pattern related to watching TV.

There are two types of TV watchers: those who turn on the TV and watch whatever is on, and those who turn on the TV to watch specific programs. By moving yourself from the first category to the second, you can find 7-8 hours a week of extra time. With that time, you can do those things you seem to continually be putting off:

  • starting a business
  • volunteering
  • taking cooking classes

With a simple investment of as little as $10 (in an old VCR) or a more high-tech DVR such as TiVo, you can free up hours a week. (Not to mention that many DVRs allow you to fast-forward through commercials!)

Once you make the investment in a VCR or TiVo (consider it an investment in yourself — your time), thoughtfully consider which shows you most enjoy. For instance, my TiVo is set to record every episode of Dr. Phil. That would be 4-5 hours a week of watching Dr. Phil, except that I delete all the episodes I’m not interested in. That way I don’t have to worry about what I’ve “missed” — I can see all of the shows the TiVo has recorded, pick the one I want to watch, watch it, and then turn the TV off!

By making this one simple change, you can free up hundreds of hours of free time a year. By eventually going “cold turkey”, you could free up, on average, over 750 hours a year — enough to learn a foreign language, start a profitable business, or read enough books to make you more educated on a particular subject than 90% of us.

After implementing this change, I found I watched enough less TV to cut my cable bill from a digital package to Limited Basic, saving me $50/month and still allowing me to record network TV on my TiVo. I’m quite happy to have that $600 extra a year, but more importantly, I’m happy to have my time back.

But I Enjoy TV…
Does TV really make you happy? There is evidence out there that it doesn’t. In Bowling Alone, author Robert D. Putnam cites surveys that show that “viewers consistently report that television viewing is less satisfying than other leisure activities and even than work.”

How do you feel after watching a long series of TV shows? Chances are, you feel groggy, tired, and perhaps even grumpy. Since television is mildly addictive, however, it’s hard to give up. That’s why I don’t recommend going cold turkey. Try eliminating one show you really don’t care about that much. Then try strategic viewing — not watching every episode.

Finally, have a goal in mind for those extra hours. Otherwise, you will easily slip back into watching more TV, since you won’t have anything else to do.

  • Schedule dinners with your friends.
  • Sign up for a class.
  • Make a date to go to the library or walk outside.

Motivate yourself with a specific, measurable goal — perhaps to lose 10 pounds by the end of the year, or read 12 books in the next 12 months. Whatever your passions are — this is your chance to let them shine!

What about the Internet?
Many of you will be reading this right now and saying “I don’t watch that much TV!” But watch out: an Internet addiction can be just as bad. Wandering aimlessly around online and watching videos isn’t much better than watching TV. What goals can you set while working online? Can you make some extra money? Learn HTML? Set up a website or blog and keep it going for 3 months?

If you really want to start a business, or if you have a goal in mind, and you watch TV or surf the Internet mindlessly, you do have time to reach that goal — over 750 hours a year, in fact. This life is your chance to better the world around you in some way. What amazing creations can you make with that time? What will you do with your newfound 750 hours a year?

J.D.’s note: I agree with Erica 100% — you have the time and the knowledge and the resources to pursue your dreams. All it takes is a few small changes. For more on how I reduced my own TV consumption, check out cheap alternatives to cable television.

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