May 15 2017 · 5 minute read
I watched a really great TED talk recently about time management by Laura Vanderkam (you can watch it here on youtube). The talk is titled “How to gain control of your free time” and it had me reminiscing about realizations my spouse, Robyn, and I made about a year ago, and the changes we made in our life.
We, like most people, live very busy lives. We have a two and a half year old son that’s severely disabled. We’re constantly running around to specialist appointments or therapies or spending days and even weeks with him admitted at the hospital, if he happens to be sick.
A little over a year ago, we felt like we weren’t really moving forward. We felt like we were constantly running around just to stay on top of all of our usual chores and responsibilities. We talked about future plans and things we’d like to accomplish but didn’t feel like we were actually progressing towards them. An example of this was we kept talking about starting a website and blog about our life caring for our son. We wanted to try to expose to the world some of our daily joys and struggles and maybe even help other parents along the way. I started working on the idea but didn’t get too far. I just couldn’t find the time.
We decided we needed to make changes. We just weren’t satisfied with this day in, day out routine. We sat down and took a critical look at our life and how we were spending our time. We found we were spending quite a bit of time almost everyday relaxing in front of the TV. Catching up on TV shows on Netflix or watching a recent movie release. Nothing surprising there, most people enjoy watching TV regularly.
What we hadn’t realized over the last few months was we were spending increasingly more time in front of our TV. It was almost hard not too! Like most homes nowadays, we had an open concept townhome where our big screen TV was one of the main focal points. I would get home from work, tired, Robyn would be exhausted as well, having spent the day taking care of our son. We would have dinner, cleanup, make some coffee or tea and sit in the living room. Sitting in the living room meant you were right in front of the TV (it was a small townhome). Every seat was facing the TV directly. We’d be chatting, telling each other about our day, and we’d flip the TV on, start going through different things we could watch. We’d put on a TV show or movie and there goes the rest of our evening.
When we started thinking about how much time we spent in front of the TV in a given week we thought “we have no reason to complain”. If you are spending countless hours every week watching TV or playing videogames, you cannot complain about not having enough time to work towards accomplishing one of your goals. What you should really be saying is “that goal is a lower priority to me than watching TV”. You’re choosing to spend your time watching TV rather than on your hobbies or tasks. This is what Laura Vanderkam explains in her TED talk. She gives a very good example of most people being able to find quite an impressive amount of “extra” time in their daily schedule when faced with an emergency situation.
So what’s the conclusion here? Should we all stop watching TV and playing video games? No, not at all. My takeaway from Laura’s TED talk and our critical look at our life last year was that we should change our mindset about how we spend our free time. It’s a question of prioritization. If you find yourself feeling like you’d really want to progress on a side project or hobby you should take a look at how you spend your free time. There’s 168 hours in a week and you don’t spend them all working or sleeping. You’re left with a sizeable chunk of free time that you should spend wisely.
Ourselves, we made a radical change last year when we figured this out. We sold our TV, all of our gaming consoles, and our not-so-useful electronics. We decided to experience the extreme of removing our source of, what we considered at the time, “distractions”. I can tell you, it definitely made an impact. We buckled up and started prioritizing things we could achieve in the near future. I started brushing up on my software development skills and working on a portfolio. Within a month or so I had a new job working completely remote from home as a Software Developer, a job I had been wanting for a long time. We bought a house about 3 months later and we published our long discussed blog another few months afterwards.
Truth be told, we did reintroduce television overtime. We didn’t get another TV, and we still haven’t gotten one today. We’ve really enjoyed not having a central focus point in our living room. Our furniture fits better and we feel like it’s much more of a relaxing area to spend our time in. But, we did start watching TV shows and movies on our laptops and sometimes on my slightly larger computer monitor. You might think that’s not very convenient or enjoyable, but, for us, it’s the best thing to just get our hankering done with.