Finding Time to Pursue Your Dreams: Free Up 750 Hours a Year with One Simple Change

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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Ben-David
Ben-David
11 years ago

Bravo! We lived briefly in Manhattan after we were married – but because we knew we were moving out, we didn’t bother to get cable (antennas don’t work well in Manhattan because of the tall buildings). That broke us of our TV habit. We now live overseas, and are not interested in either local or satellite TV. My wife sometimes gets American women’s magazines from friends. Sometimes we cannot even recognize the woman on the cover – starlets have had their entire careers unfold without us knowing. Seinfeld and other “era-defining” shows have come and gone. And it hasn’t affected… Read more »

RDS
RDS
11 years ago

I couldn’t agree more about watching less TV. Better yet, cancel your cable completely.

Several months ago my family realized that all of the shows we regularly watch – Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and Grey’s Anatomy where all available for free (legally) on line. We watcah our shows on the networks websites or on hulu.com. We now save time and money.

RDS
http://financialvalues.blogspot.com/

Sara
Sara
11 years ago

I totally agree. When I gave up watching tv I gained enough time to start playing the violin, learned to make my own bread, paid more attention to my finances, take better care of my house and children and started studying things that I love. I still watch occasionally, but certainly less than five hours a month or so.

Chad @ Sentient Money
Chad @ Sentient Money
11 years ago

Time definitely is the ultimate currency. However, it is very difficult to be constantly concious of how you spend it, so posts like this every now and then serve a very good purpose.

CB
CB
11 years ago

I don’t have cable or even an antenna, but I do have a bluray dvd player and HD tv. I rent ‘proven’ shows through Blockbuster Online, and only watch those. It’s been great, have Kung Fu and Oz at home right now. I also recommend Weeds, Mad Men and Deadwood!

This method also cuts down on watching after the episode is over, it’s impossible actually.

April
April
11 years ago

When I tell people we don’t have cable, they look at me like I just grew a third arm. We can afford cable TV, but we choose not to have it because it’s a major time suck. We love PBS, and we subscribe to Netflix, and that covers any tv/movie entertainment we need. We spend our weekends cooking and working in our small garden (a new project this year). Last weekend, I learned how to can pears. TV is okay, but I’d rather spend more time out there living life, doing something constructive and gratifying. I want to learn three… Read more »

WiseMoneyMatters
WiseMoneyMatters
11 years ago

For my TV needs, I switched to Netflix and Hulu. Both offer on demand streams of most of my favorite shows. I’ve since canceled my cable TV (saves me money and time) and solely use these two services.

WealthSISTM
WealthSISTM
11 years ago

My wife and I gave up watching TV years ago and went the way of Netflix. Not only did we save on the cost of cable TV, but we picked up a lot of time to pursue other activities. We spend more quality time with each other and with friends; we both started new businesses; my wife went back to school; and I obtained a certification in my field. We get about a half dozen broadcast channels which look magnificent on HDTV so if we really wanted to watch something, we could. It’s all about priorities. What would you like… Read more »

Kellie Hill
Kellie Hill
11 years ago

Bravo for posting this! hopefully some people will listen… I grew up without a tv (thank goodness) and even though I married a tv addict (who is also a wonderful, caring man) I try to stay away from it as much as possible… I’m always getting comments from people who know that I work a full time job and also maintain a true daily painting blog, the I dont know how you find the time comments and I’m like put down the remote and freakin’ DO something… ok, I’m sorry I have nothing constructive to add to the article, I… Read more »

Christine
Christine
11 years ago

My favorite hobby is knitting, and therefore something I can do while watching TV. However, it requires me to put down the computer — the internet is my biggest time waster! Now that I’ve dedicated myself to knitting at least 1 hour a day, it means 1 hour offline. After reading this, I think it is time to kick it up a notch. Earlier this year, we decided to get rid of all the movie channels and to buy an Apple TV. We are now more selective of what movies we rent and watch – it is the perfect fit… Read more »

Leigh
Leigh
11 years ago

I’m not really sure who has two hours a day to watch TV daily–or more!?? How? We get home from work, make dinner, sit down with the kids to eat, clean up the kitchen while the kids bathe, do homework, play a board game, read a story, and then it’s bed for them and by 9:30–bed for me. If I’m lucky I get to sneak 20 minutes of reading in there myself. All of that is on a day we don’t have afterschool activities planned…I don’t even feel caught up on regular housework. Not entirely sure where I can chip… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

I’m with Christine @10. I have had no difficulty in giving up most TV (I admit I like to watch political stuff on CSPAN and the news networks — usually while ironing or knitting, though so it’s not too time wasting) BUT, I seem to have replaced it with several hours a day of internet time. It’s not surfing or shopping, it’s email, blogs, and aggregate sites that seem to me to be giving me a lot of information and discussion that I want and enjoy. But I do see it as something of a time sink and feel I… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Leigh wrote: Not entirely sure where I can chip out 14 more hours a week…Any other thoughts? Not everyone can do this, of course. But for many people, even if it’s not television, there are other things that can be traded for time. For me, it was computer gaming. Once I traded computer games for writing, I really was able to pursue my dreams. This reminds me of a recent Gary Vaynerchuk video in which he points out that if you’re really devoted to something, if you’re willing to work four hours every night at it, you can really have… Read more »

punkcoder
punkcoder
11 years ago

I think this is a great post, even though I work for an entertainment company that owns over 10 cable channels. A lot of people at work are surprised when I tell them I don’t have cable, not even basic cable or rabbit ears. I do have a nice television, a 46″ Hi-Definition, which I have hooked up to an Apple TV. I subscribe to a couple television shows through iTunes. These shows are not on basic cable stations, so it would cost me more to subscribe to premium cable to get these channels, than it does to purchase a… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
11 years ago

This is probably the strongest argument I have heard to suck it up and pay the extra $10 a month for a DVR. I might have to think about this one a little…

HollyP
HollyP
11 years ago

Right on!

I don’t have time to watch tv 2 hours a day, but I still manage to do it because I can’t get off the sofa after I walk my dog. This is time that would be better spent sleeping or reading. I think I need to move the sofa away from the tv.

(This is the same reason I don’t have cable. I’d watch 4 hours a day, and sleep only 6 hours a night, if I had cable.)

PW
PW
11 years ago

Thanks for this post! I’ve struggled with letting go of the TV for a long time. I had to stop taping shows cause I felt bad I didn’t have the time to watch them. I now only watch in real time and that has helped me to cut down, but I want to cut down even more. I really struggle with TV addiction. This post was helpful.

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

I can save time by not watching TV the way I can save money by not going to Starbucks and getting weekly manicures, the way the women’s magazines always tell you to. I do need to cut back on my internet time (and use it more productively–I have two websites to maintain, I don’t need to be checking email, LiveJournal, and Facebook every five minutes).

If I could just quit worrying, and quit standing around wondering what to do next, THAT would save me some serious time.

Jesse Hines
Jesse Hines
11 years ago

Count me in.

For the foreseeable future, I’m only watching Mad Men, NFL games, and the upcoming Presidential debates.

Other than that, my TV is staying off. I have better things to do.

Chris H.
Chris H.
11 years ago

Start running and excersizing. Once you really get in the habit of longer runs, you really chew up a lot of your time after work (or at least I did). That being said, I still probably watch 14 hours of TV a week (football Sundays and playoff baseball). Would actually spend more if I didn’t go to games every Saturday as well.

clara mathews
clara mathews
11 years ago

This is really helpful. I have been thinking of ways to reduce or eliminate my cable TV bill. This will help me to save both money and time.

Cole Brodine
Cole Brodine
11 years ago

JD, I went back and read your article about cable TV. I wanted to mention a few things I have found. Usually, if you live in a city, you can get all your local channels through a fairly inexpensive outdoor antenna. Check http://www.antennaweb.org/ to see what channels you would get in your area. You may be able to get them all in High Definition and drop your local channels all together. The antenna requires an initial investment, but pays off pretty quickly with the great HD programming for no monthly fee. It works with TIVO and other DVRs that you… Read more »

Alexander Gieg
Alexander Gieg
11 years ago

I’ve given up on cable TV a few years ago simply for lack of money. I’m a geek, so I love animes and I watched a lot of them in the Animax channel. After a while it didn’t feel that bad, I got used to being back to open TV. After a time I got addicted to online games such as World of Warcraft, and that also cut in my habit of watching open TV (and on useful things too: for two years I stopped attending college). Interestingly enough, after I also gave up on World of Warcraft (and got… Read more »

Chett
Chett
11 years ago

How about not spending so much time on the internet. I think we are quickly replacing our time in front of the TV with time in front of the computer screen. My addiction to reading certain blogs (thanks JD)has consumed its’ fair amount of time.

STL Mom
STL Mom
11 years ago

I don’t watch that much TV (and mostly watch while folding laundry) but I think I can apply these principals to the internet. I just counted and found that I have 27 blogs in my favorites, and one of those is Liferemix, which links me to a whole bunch of blogs. I’m going to choose my five favorite blogs, and erase the others from my favorites list. That will probably give me an extra two hours per week to do things myself, instead of reading about what other people are doing! Okay, I’m off to do this right now before… Read more »

Saravanan
Saravanan
11 years ago

A nice post.

I quit watching Cricket and in India, Cricket is a religion. I was very passionate about cricket but then I realized I was spending more number of hours doing nothing productive. Instead of watching it, I started to cultivate a hobby of designing and maintaining web sites. This has really helped me a lot.

Suggestion: Quit watching sports. You will get all the more time to do something productive.

Richard
Richard
11 years ago

Not watching TV has collateral effects too. Since we haven’t had TV for over a year now we’re completely out of the loop on what movies are coming out.

On the up side, we save a little bit of money. We only ever went to the dollar theater anyways.

On the down side it’s harder to talk with our friends about movies or to even want to go to the movies with them.

FWIW, the last movie we went to see was the Simpsons movie, in the dollar theater.

Crystal
Crystal
11 years ago

As soon as I saw the title, I knew it was going to be television. I agree with you and you are exactly right. I often feel like I don’t have enough time to work out as much as I want to. But I always seem to find time to watch a show or two every night. There are actually only two shows on that I even care about seeing each week and they aren’t even on at the same time of year. So I should have a lot of time! Often times I find myself watching it just so… Read more »

Jen S
Jen S
11 years ago

I think the commenters and to some extent the poster are making cable a scapegoat for their own leisure-time mindlessness. Any leisure-time activity you pursue to fill time is a time-suck. TV can be a time-suck, reading blogs can be a time-suck, creating pointless Twitter updates can be a time-suck, fanboying football can be a time suck — it wasn’t twenty years ago when women got crap for reading novels as a time suck. The point is, if you’re filling the time with something that’s just passable and not something you love, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s a… Read more »

Ian
Ian
11 years ago

I really like this post for a few reasons. I live in a very liberal town, and those “kill your TV” bumper stickers are everywhere, and it’s “cool” to not have a tv. Anyway, I’ve always challenged these folks, in arguing that it’s not the TV that’s the problem, it’s people’s behaviors in watching TV. I’d argue that TV is better than ever- well written shows, DIY programs, Tivo, on demand, etc. If people can watch on their own terms, and not needlessly channel surf, than people can realize the extra time the poster talks about, but also be “in… Read more »

Erica Douglass
Erica Douglass
11 years ago

Hi, I’m Erica (the author of this article.) I’m really glad you all enjoyed it and that it’s been thought-provoking for many of you. @Leigh (#11): One of the things to consider is to outsource some of your housecleaning work. Hiring a cleaning service is fairly affordable (even in my expensive area, I only pay $70 per cleaning) and can save you hours of time — and your sanity! Shopping around and finding a good cleaning service is worth it. I wrote about how to decide which personal activities to consider outsourcing here: http://www.erica.biz/2008/you-are-worth-more-than-you-think-overcoming-the-key-reason-entrepreneurs-fail/ It’s one of my most popular… Read more »

Someone
Someone
11 years ago

I broke the TV addiction years and years ago by getting rid of the TV. I’ve never regretted it, and never looked back. Breaking the internet addiction is much harder, because giving up the internet entirely would have far more negative consequences than giving up TV entirely. Moderation can be much harder than abstinence, with anything that’s even colloquially called an “addiction”. At this point, I feel like I’ve lost all the ground that I originally gained by giving up the TV, and I’m not sure how to get it back (since no internet access at all would be a… Read more »

Mark Nelson
Mark Nelson
11 years ago

We have never been tv watchers. Not to say we don’t watch tv because we do. It just does not consume us.

I waste more time on my computer. I tell everyone I am working but I waste time reading and interacting with my network.

Srinivas Rao
Srinivas Rao
11 years ago

I’m an avid TV watcher, but Im living abroad and I only watch TV online. So, it’s become very efficient. I plan on continuing that when I return to the USA

Simple Sapien
Simple Sapien
11 years ago

I banned TV from my life about 2-3 years ago and don’t miss it one bit. The only time I turn it on is when I get a Netflix DVD in the mail (and that is not exactly “TV”).

There was a time recently when all I would do is roam around the internet, like you said, and just waste time. But recently I have learned HTML, studied SEO, created a blog, and created a superstar RSS list that keeps the knowledge pumping!

– Jack Rugile
Simple Sapien

Ian
Ian
11 years ago

Seems like most people here are naturaly geared more towards internet addiction rather than TV addiction. THe difficult thing here is that internet addiction can be quite productive. TV is typically passive entertainment, but internet usage can be quite interactive and productive. For instance, maintaining blogs, uploading/sharing photos and videos, researching information, planning vacations/events, it can all be very useful. I guess the trouble is trying to decipher when it stops becoming productive, and starts becoming a time sink. For instance, I feel that reading this blog is helpful for my own personnel knowledge base, but does commenting on the… Read more »

Paul
Paul
11 years ago

I like the theme of this post – the value of time (really, your paycheck is simply your time and efforts converted into dollars). One caveat – I lived for about a year with a little 19 inch tv that was located in an inconvenient room in my house. I really broke the TV habit. Then I got my big ass tv ™ and dvr. I’m not sure how I survived without HD, and the DVR opened up an entire world of entertainment I didn’t know was out there (House! The Office! ATHF!). I think the key is setting time… Read more »

Jane
Jane
11 years ago

I feel the need to dispel the myth that a DVR leads one to watch less television. This is only the case if you are really disciplined. And if you are really disciplined, then you probably don’t need a DVR anyway, since you won’t be channel surfing. I’ve had a TIVO and various DVRs for six years, and I certainly don’t watch less TV. If anything, I probably watch more. First, if two shows you would like to watch are on at the same time, with some DVRs you can record both (on ours you can record three!). Whereas before… Read more »

leigh
leigh
11 years ago

i don’t have cable and our antenna gets exactly one channel with audio. i don’t really care, i listen to the radio instead. i do rent a lot of movies, though, which is an equal leisure device if you ask me. the benefit is that it is time-limited, unless you feel like going out and getting another. for me, it works particularly well because i will lay on the floor, watch the movie, and do all of my physical therapy exercises. then when i’m done with those, i’ll do some other exercises with hand weights, or extra sit-ups, or something.… Read more »

David
David
11 years ago

Are you saying I should stop reading blogs on the internet to free up more time?

m
m
11 years ago

Oooh JD in resp. to your comment: I watched that Gary V video you linked to on Twitter. I’m familiar w/his message and respect it in many ways but I also find fault with parts of it as well. I find his message far too simplistic, without nuance, and find it to be aimed at a very limited audience. Then again, how much nuance can there be in videos of a few min. length and a short keynote, I grant that for the sake of consistency and a strong speech he may have to sacrifice some nuance for simplicity. In… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416
11 years ago

Not that I disagree with the premise (mindless timesucks add up to a lot of wasted time) but the comments are making me laugh a bit … isn’t being superior over TV watchers very, um, eight years ago?

Mikey
Mikey
11 years ago

I agree, but I would say it is important to rethink your screen time, and as you would with a child, set daily limits for yourself.

TV + Internet + Gaming = screen time

Travis
Travis
11 years ago

I haven’t read through everyone else’s comments closely so I apologize for any redundancy. Great article, and I, too, have worked hard to take TV out of my life. I was even considering selling my TV when I moved this summer but decided to keep it for entertaining others (mostly my girlfriend when she comes over). One thing I’ve consciously done to get over my habit was to put a barrier between me and the TV: I put my remote controls in a drawer in my entertainment center. It’s amazing how something simple like this gave me more control. When… Read more »

Neil
Neil
11 years ago

Great article! I’ve recently begun to cut down on my TV consumption (limiting myself to 2 or 3 shows) and to watch show’s on my terms via PVR. I’m enjoying the free time and am putting it to good use!

You’ve hit the nail on the head though, which is take control of your life and live it on your own terms. Don’t allow your time to be dictated to you by faceless corporations.

brad
brad
11 years ago

I think the big issue here is the concept of “time inflation.” It’s like lifestyle inflation: you can free up time, but once it’s free you’ll fill it up with something else. That something else could be meaningful or entertaining or a waste, but you’re not going to necessarily end up feeling like you have “more time.” For most of the 10 years I lived in Vermont I didn’t have a television, yet I felt I never had enough time to do the things I wanted to do. In contrast, one of the busiest people on the planet is David… Read more »

Lainie
Lainie
11 years ago

Television and the internet are both big time-suckers for me, so I appreciate the motivation to change. Great post, thank you.
Also, a lot of television today focuses on lifestyles that are very wealthy and superficial, and too much of that can make you feel hopelessly inadequate and failing even if you have a good normal life. Not to mention — unattainable standards of thinness and rejection of aging.

Jessica
Jessica
11 years ago

Another TV time trick, do things while watching TV. Before I had my son, I used to get a ton of knitting and other crafts done while watching tv. I also could squeeze in some reading or exercise (mostly crunches) during commercial breaks. When I lived in a small condo, I could do things like cook or can (I didn’t can then, but I could have) while watching TV. The kitchen and the living room were practically the same room! I don’t watch that much TV anyhow, I’m a select show watcher (the TV doesn’t turn on until my show… Read more »

Dave Jones, CPA
Dave Jones, CPA
11 years ago

One of the things that freed me from the ball and chain called TV is that I will not watch it alone. Sounds crazy I am sure but unless the family is sitting down to watch a show or a movie together as a family event I stay away from it. This way I kill two birds with one stone; free up time for me and when I do watch it’s family time

Bill
Bill
11 years ago

I agree with the suggestion of getting a DVR. If you can afford one, it will change your life, or at least your TV viewing life anyway. I used to stop whatever I was working on when one of my favorite shows comes on, now I don’t have to. Here is a trick, if you start watching a show about 15 or 20 minutes after it starts, you can use the DVR to fast forward commercials and by the time you reach the end, you are at the normal end time of the show. So, that 15 – 20 minutes… Read more »

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