While many of us claim to be starved for time these days, here's another figure: according to Nielsen, Americans watch 34+ hours of TV per week. The American Time Use Survey puts this a little lower (more like 20 hours, as a primary activity) but that's still a lot of time. It's the equivalent of a part-time job, and for many people, comprises the bulk of their leisure hours.
So what? Over the past week, I've started getting dozens of time logs after I asked readers to keep track of their time (in this post). Seeing these logs has reminded me how easy it is to let TV get out of hand, and that, if you want to use your time better, there are three serious reasons to think about cutting back.
1. TV steals your evenings. It is very tempting to turn on the TV after your kids go to bed, or after dinner. The problem is that the TV then often stays on for at least 2-3 hours. If you're working full-time, weekday evenings may be your best bet for doing something creative, resurrecting an old hobby, or catching up with your spouse. In the summer months, when it stays light later, evenings can be good for walks, bike rides, or even just sitting outside and enjoying the nice weather. People often claim they'd kill for 2 hours to themselves. Then when 2 hours presents itself, they use it to watch Jersey Shore marathons. Go figure.
2. TV steals your mornings. Every network wants to keep you watching as long as possible, and so in many of the time logs I'm seeing, people keep the set on until 11:30, midnight, or even later. That makes getting up in the morning to tackle personal priorities (like exercise) that much harder. Sure, Jon Stewart is funny, but here's another option: TiVo late night shows, get a treadmill, and let yourself watch those shows on a television in front of the treadmill in the morning. That's one way to find out for sure how much you want to watch them!
3. TV isn't that relaxing. The reason most of us pop on the tube is that we need to decompress after a stressful day of work. TV makes few demands of the viewer. It doesn't require planning ahead. It doesn't require that you call a sitter, or look presentable, or pay full attention. But not only can too much TV interfere with sleep patterns, studies of human happiness find that TV isn't nearly as pleasurable as other things, like socializing, exercising (believe it or not!) or sex. If you and your spouse don't have sex because you stayed up too late watching TV, it may be time to re-examine how you're spending your hours.
Minimizing the TV habit is hard. Some people go cold turkey, though there are always some truly pleasurable TV moments that are worth watching (I'm a sucker for the Olympics). Also, if you turn off the TV but turn on your email, you won't necessarily come out ahead. The important thing is to make sure you are controlling your TV watching, rather than it controlling you.
That's what BNET reader Deb DeFreeuw is doing. She sent me a log of her 168 hours, and mentioned that she'd already been working on cutting back TV time. One strategy was to play offense, and "make sure I have other options,â€ she says. That can mean "a great book, an art project with everything ready to go.â€ The other strategy is defense. She plans ahead and picks out a show she really wants to watch. "I usually record it on the DVR so I can speed through it on my schedule,â€ she reports. "If I just turn on the TV to see what's on I get sucked in and watch whatever is there.â€
As a result of these strategies, her time log showed her using her evenings to walk her dogs and go for a bike ride -- which sounds like a much better use of her hours than watching re-runs.
How much TV do you watch?