You Have All the Time You Need: How to Find an Extra Hour and Start Something Awesome Today

In a million years, I wouldn’t have thought Comcast would be the one to finally get me to cancel my cable.

Freeing myself from the grips of the idiot box was something I had wanted to do for years.  People I respect had convinced me that cancelling my cable could change my life, even add 8.2 years to it and save me $133,369.

iStock 000014505558XSmall 300x225But I liked ESPN.  And reruns of The Office. And even a helping of Top Chef once in a while.  So I did the easiest thing, which was to do nothing.

How Comcast helped me finally quit cable

I actually did call to cancel my cable one time.  And in typical fashion, the person who was supposed to come unplug us didn’t show up. But when our bill came the next month, we noticed we weren’t paying for cable anymore.

Sweet.

Not entirely satisfied but happy to be paying less, I again did nothing, and kept on watching TV.  Not a lot, but enough.

Until Comcast benevolently stepped in and weened me off of it.  One day, several months of mindless half hours later, I turned on the TV to find about half the cable channels gone.  Replaced by a message, about something digital box something something.

I almost called to get a box.  But I still had ESPN, and doing nothing was pretty easy, so again, that’s what I did.

And then one day a few weeks ago, everything was gone.  Something digital box something something.

What did you do yesterday?

Yesterday I drove for two hours.  And spent three hours writing emails and some Twitter.  And met with my thesis adviser for an hour, and wrote a Calculus II quiz and gave that Calc II quiz.

That was the “work” part.  But there was plenty of time for stuff I like.  I went for a run, a hill workout at the trail.  And I helped my wife cook dinner by shelling fava beans for this recipe, and got to hang out with her and play with my son for a few hours too.  I also listened to an album (Death Cab for Cutie, Plans) and a seminar about self-publishing, both while I was driving.

Oh yeah, and I went to the grocery store.  And I read some of a book.  The first fiction book I’ve read in a long time; it’s called Seven Types of Ambiguity. And I enjoyed a beer while I did that.

My point isn’t that my day was so interesting.  In fact, it was pretty typical.  What do I hope you see is that there’s plenty of time to do stuff when you aren’t wasting time on things that don’t matter.

How to Find the Time to Do What Matters

The internet doesn’t need another time-management post.  But a few days ago when I surveyed people who get the No Meat Athlete newsletter about what they wanted to see in the upcoming Half Marathon Roadmap (the half marathon counterpart to Marathon Roadmap), a huge number of you said “how to find time to train for a half marathon.”

This shocked me.  Now, I understand that a half marathon is a big deal if you haven’t run one before.  It’s hard; it takes a lot of desire and the willingness to put in some sweat.  But time?

You can train for a half marathon with three 30-minute runs a week, plus a long run of an hour or two on the weekend.  We’re talking about less than four hours a week, and some of that can come from the time you already spend on exercise.

If running (or anything else) is important to you, you can find four hours a week for it.  How?

Like this.

1. Choose something you’d really, really like to do if only you had more time.

Maybe it has to do with running, maybe not.  Maybe it’s learning a language.  Or taking violin lessons.  Or reading a book a week.  Or taking a class.  Something that would bring you a lot of joy and satisfaction, something you’d look forward to every day.  It’s gotta be something exciting.  No cleaning the house.

Now think about how much you could accomplish if you could commit just half an hour, uninterrupted, to that each day.  Or, if you want to get really crazy, an hour.  With no Facebook, TV, or anything else to distract you.  (I know, just ridiculous.  An hour on something you love?)

Where would you be after a week of that?  After a month?  A year?  You can create a lot in an hour a day.  You can change your whole life in an hour a day.

Time management people classify the type of activity you’ve picked for your hour as “important but not urgent.”  It doesn’t have the interruptive power of a ringing phone, an email alert, or the thoughtless escape offered by a Facebook message.  And so it gets put off.

And yet, it’s the only thing that will make you happy.

2.  Now find that hour a day to spend doing something great.

There are a few ways to go about this.

Option 1: Write down every single thing you do for two or three days.

It’s kind of a pain to do this time diary, but it’s eye-opening.  When I first did it, I was on a Minesweeper kick, and this exercise made me realize that deleting the program was my only choice.

Option 2: Sit down and write out what you did last week.

Doesn’t have to be perfect, just as much as you can remember.  Figure out how much time you spent watching TV, driving, exercising, cooking, Facebooking, whatever.  Then classify each activity as one of four types:

  • Not urgent, not important (Minesweeper, TV)
  • Urgent, not important (some phone calls, some emails, anything that could have been avoided if you had better systems in place)
  • Important but not urgent (training, learning, ass-kicking, doing awesome stuff)
  • Important and urgent (things you like doing but that aren’t relaxing because of urgency)

Then add up the hours you spend in each type of activity.  Don’t be perfect, just guess.

This approach is so cliched it’s in just about every time management book on the planet.  But that’s because it’s good.  You create great things when you spend time on “important but not urgent.”

But like I did, you’ll probably find that most of your time is spent in the first two groups.

That’s where you should find encouragement.  For me, those were huge numbers.  When I did this back in November, I came up with 36 (!) hours in group 1.  That’s a full-time job of time-wasting!

Seeing that number is a life changer.  When you see how much time you spend on things that don’t matter (and might not even be urgent), you realize you have all the time you need.

Even better, when you do start spending more time on things that exercise your mind and body, and less on TV and Facebook and checking your email every 15 minutes, the funny thing is that you feel more energy.  Which leads to the perception of even more time.

The final, most important step:

3. Commit to making time for the awesome thing you’re going to do.

Don’t immediately say you’re cutting out every group 1 and group 2 activity.  That sounds hard and miserable, and you won’t stick with it.

But find an hour a day (or half an hour, if that’s really all you can do) that you can use on that thing that matters.  This should be easy; you’ll probably be tempted to do two or three new things with all that time you find.  But just do one for now, and build some momentum.

Warning: this is where most people won’t follow through.  They’ll do the first two steps, but won’t actually change anything.

Be different.  Write down what you’re going to do, and take some action (cancelling your cable, maybe?) that makes it concrete.  If you’re not really excited about what you’re going to do with that hour, go back and do Step 1 again.

Then kick ass with your hour today.

Bonus: free your mind

If you do that stuff, you should be proud.  But there’s one more thing I’ll recommend that will really allow you to enjoy more of the time that should be yours.

Go on an information diet.

I got this term from Tim Ferriss in Four Hour Workweek, but I first learned the concept from Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Fooled by Randomness.

We’ve gotten it in our heads that information is good.  The news, talk radio, magazines, how-to books.  All things many people would consider “smart.”

But it’s bad.  At least, to the extent that most of us flood our minds with constant information.  Most of it, unfortunately, is noise.  Very little is signal.

Think about news and otherwise “time-sensitive” information like a graph, one that increases over time but that has many jagged ups and downs along the way that, when viewed up close, make it easy to miss the forest for the trees.

If you were to start watching, reading, or listening to the news just once a week instead of every day, you’d see less of the jagged ups and downs, but you’d get just as good (or better) a sense of the message.  And those ups and downs don’t just take time and attention to understand — they also cause stress.

You can actually stop listening to or reading the news entirely; if something is important you will hear about it.

I’m sure I’ve offended somebody who loves the news.  If politics is your hobby or you get entertainment from learning what’s going on in the world, that’s cool.  For me, that doesn’t hold anything, and that’s why I don’t watch or listen to or read news.

But even with other, non-news information sources, it’s worth taking a break.  I’m the first to admit that I love non-fiction and self-improvement books and even sports talk radio, so this is hard for me.  But when you step away from it all and replace it with art — music, fiction, etc., even for just a few days — it really does have an energizing effect on you.  It’s like a vacation for your head.  Your brain has some space to be creative, rather than consumed.

(Note: This isn’t the same as a digital sabbatical.)

Ready, go!

It’s uncomfortable to pull yourself away from the stimulation, maybe even comfort, you get from information and background noise. And it’s even harder to stop doing the unimportant activities that have become your habits.  I know I’ve still got plenty of them.

But it starts with small changes.  So stop saying you don’t have time.  Everyone has the same amount of time in their day, and you have way, way more choice as to how you spend your time than most of the world does.

So start doing.  Preferably something that matters.

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Comments

  1. I’m notorious for multi-tasking and “wasting” time in this manner, even though I hardly watch any TV. Somehow, the hours just waste away, and my room is still a mess. Definitely will keep your mindset in mind as I start to do things that I think are “important.”

  2. I recently cancelled my cable and I’m so incredibly happy I did! 95% of the shows my boyfriend and I watch are on Hulu (which I’ve been a member of for 2 years) or Netflix (which I’ve been a very happy member of for 5 years). We’ve been cable-free for just over a month and our bill is nearly cut in half (as we still pay for internet)!

    Our next step is to buy some digital rabbit-ears so we can still get local TV stations for news and stuff.

  3. The same thing recently happened to me! My free cable just kind of went away channel by channel and suddenly I had all sorts of free time to read and cook and get things done. I honestly don’t miss cable at all, and I still have the networks for when I just NEED to watch something!

    • Yeah that’s how I feel. I think I’d be sad (right now, anyway) to get rid of ALL television. It’s nice to still have 4 channels, because I find good stuff to watch every once in a while at night, but since there’s absolutely nothing I’d watch in the day, it keeps me from having the TV on all day.

  4. Great “just get it done” post. I canceled my cable 4 months ago after finding myself just mindlessly flicking channels. I watch two shows online now (which aren’t even an hour because there are fewer commercials! another bonus…).

    With the extra time I’ve been taking more photos, learning some new editing software, taking a 50hr wilderness First Aid course (OMG…I haven’t had to study in a long time…), doing more yoga, growing a garden… I didn’t think I watched that much TV, until I wasn’t watching it anymore.

  5. Great post! Very inspiring!

  6. Thanks for this great article! Excellent advice for all of us living in “the age of distraction”.

    Following these tips will surely help all readers to more successfully pursue their passions, and love every minute of it!

  7. LOVE this post! I’m going to reevaluate my use of time. I almost don’t want to know how much I waste, but it’s the only way I’ll change!

  8. This is great. I am running a 1/2 marathon on June 5th and I haven’t even started to train. I need to focus. I need to cut out the things that consume my time that I don;t even realize are consuming my time. Like the internet and my phone. I don’t have cable but I do have netflix. That can be dangerous. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Well Meg, you have 7 weeks or so. Given the last one to rest (I’m not a big fan of programs telling you to run 12 miles the week before), that makes 6 to train. As long as you’ve got an okay base, that’s not impossible. Get training though!

  9. Yeah, I don’t even have a TV, sometimes the BF and I will watch a movie or something on Netflix but I don’t miss the cable TV at all, it IS expensive and television is a giant time sink when you could be doing something productive or even reading a book. Now I just have to do something about my internet addiction…. lol :)

    • Yeah, the internet addiction. Digital sabbaticals are becoming really popular. I spend a lot of time online and I’m fine with it, but the one thing I do to fight it right now is that I refuse to get a smartphone. If I had one, I’d be checking email ALL the time.

  10. Congrats on no cable (although forced – lol). We canceled cable about 6 mos ago – I was angry that moving to a smaller city, in a smaller county meant a higher cable bill – something about provider agreements. We only have Netflix now, and I’m amazed at how much less CRAP I watch. With little kids, TV just got in the way. Initially I watched TV online, but even that has fizzled out as I’m replacing “TV time” with QUALITY TIME. Well done!

    • Thanks Jessica! That’s why I’m considering Netflix; it’s just less crap. I’m sure there’s crap on Netflix, but I don’t think it’s as easy to get sucked in.

  11. Maureen says:

    I’m with Amy! We got rid of our television when we moved, two and a half years ago, and never replaced it. Don’t miss it at all!

    I do, however, waste WAY too much time, online.

    Like right now, for instance. I’m sitting here, all carbed out on pizza, while my husband and kids are out for a bike ride. I should be running, but I feel bloated and gross.

    More motivation to commit myself to going fully vegan, again, and spend less time loafing, and more time doing!

    But hey, I finally got myself into a pool, yesterday, and started teaching myself how to swim laps, so I’m not going to beat myself up, too much. ;)

  12. My wife and I haven’t even had a TV for the past 3 years, and we are sooo much happier and healthy. We use the time to walk, run, and cook together. People think we are so weird, but I have come to like weird, its exciting… Some people think running marathons and being vegan is weird and crazy too! Good article Matt, thanks for the encouragement, keep it up buddy. Cheers!

    • Cool Ryan. When I’ve envisioned not having TV, that’s the kind of quality time I think of. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m definitely not TV-free yet, but cable is the first step!

  13. This is great. I ditched cable when I moved to a new apartment to save money. I don’t miss it at all. So many friend and family members ask me all the time, “What do you DO?”

    The answer is: Anything other than watching TV. Living instead of watching others live. It’s awesome.

    • Jillian, I heard a quote from Judy May Murphy the day I decided to start this website that’s similar to what you said. She said, “TV is watching other people get rich.” Whether or not you care about getting rich (you can even view “rich” as being “enriched” if you want), it’s so true. You’re watching other people do interesting things instead of doing them yourself.

  14. Killed my cable box when we moved. We still do watch “TV” but its all online, and since we only own laptops, it not quite as convenient, so less mindless watching.

    I first kept a “time diary” a few years ago when I took part in “National Novel Writing Month.” They suggested the same strategy, and you are right: it’s eye-opening. Its something everyone should do, whether they “need” more time or not. Its shocking how much time you just sort of fritter away doing nothing — not just wasteful, but not even that enjoyable. Its like when I decided to loose weight, and realized I was eating a lot calories each day which I didn’t even enjoy that much. If you stop snacking up your time, you’ll realize there are all these secret minutes hidden in your day.

    • Chris, good point about laptop TV being less convenient. I agree that’s a good thing. Even without TV, I’ll still watch shows and movies on my computer from time to time. Since it’s not as comfortable or convenient, it makes it hard to get sucked in and sit there mindlessly for 2 hours.

      And about time diaries… yes, that’s one of the most interesting things: that you don’t even ENJOY a lot of the time you waste. Snacking up your time is a great metaphor.

  15. We quit cable as well and saved a good chunk of change, the problem is that we still watch a ton of netflix sighh. I think the idea of doing a digital sabatical is a great one. Now I just need to figure out how to do that with being a blogger/writer :P

    • Jenny, my wife and I were thinking about getting Netflix too. Somehow it feels different to be watching a movie that you deliberately chose, rather than mindlessly flipping channels or watching whatever is fed to you.

      But then I wonder why… I mean, HBO supposedly makes really good, quality shows… some might say “art.” You could argue the same about a few other TV shows, I’m sure. So I’m wondering where is the best place to a draw a line between what’s junk and what’s good. Or maybe there just shouldn’t be a line, huh?

  16. Matt,

    What a great post! I wrote about similar experiences with the cable company in my blog, several months ago. Yes, still working on Part III:

    http://meatlessmainecrow.blogspot.com/2011/03/get-ripped-abs-in-312-weeks-part-ii.html

    http://meatlessmainecrow.blogspot.com/2011/03/get-ripped-abs-in-312-weeks-part-ii_04.html

    After ‘canceling’ my cable, I still ended up getting ‘free cable’ for almost 3 years, without paying for it. Once Time Warner finally cut the cord, it only took about three weeks before I never thought of it again.

    Now, my wife and I have more time for things like cooking, birdwatching, reading, gardening… things that really matter.

  17. Love it! THanks for sharing — I posted it to my FB wall because today is the American Cancer Society Choose You day ! and this post IS perfect! :)

  18. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Awesome post again Matt! You are on a roll. I would happily cancel cable if could just get ESPN and HGTV and nothing else (The wife would kill me if we got rid of HGTV). We do find ourselves in the rut at times of eating dinner in front of the tube, especially if UCONN basketball is on (thankfully it’s seasonal) or again, HGTV. When we are able to tune into our awareness of this, we then switch back to eating at the table with music on. I know we don’t watch as much as others, but more the some as well. Spring and Summer weather definitely makes it easier to keep the tv off. Good for you and everyone responding to this post who has cut the cord. Slowly trying to get there. We are all a work in progress.

  19. Lindsay S. says:

    This post is totally complimentary to the book I just read – “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman. I highly recommend it! It’s about how our TV culture fills our lives with this glut of really irrelevant information, to the point that we don’t even recognize how negatively TV affects us anymore. This just reinforced my drive to turn off the tv. I grew up in a household with NO TV, and while I felt like I was missing out on something as a child, I now look back and feel it was my parents’ BEST parenting decision. Our family read together, ate together, listened to music, rode our bikes and played outside, went camping…all the stuff that enriches life and creates memories. TV does none of that – it just saps time and energy. So thanks for your article, Matt – It’s giving me ammo to convince my husband to cut the cable…if only I could wean him off ESPN!

    • Hey Lindsay,

      Keep working on your husband.

      When we cut cable, I thought ESPN would be hard for me to give up. But after about three weeks, I didn’t miss it one bit.

      More time to run, write, cook, read, garden… :-)

  20. A similar thing happened to us…first we had all the channels, then a few less, then one day only 13 channels (the networks up through PBS) – guess what…we don’t miss it. We have Netflix and use the library a whole lot more. My kids read, we make things together, and spend a lot more time outside than before. We should all dump our cable. We’d be a much healthier nation for it.

  21. Army-wife says:

    I’m wondering if there any single people that have tried this (no tv) with success. I’m tempted, but my husband is deploying to Afghanistan this summer. I fear that I’d have too much free time (us that possible) and that I’d fill it up with worry about my husband. I just think going it alone is probably a different experience than doing it with your spouse/family. Thoughts?

  22. I’ve always been made to feel guilty and ignorant because I don’t like watching or reading the news. It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one!!! I know there is misery in the world…I prefer to volunteer and make small changes I can see for myself.

  23. Wow! I needed to read this today. (And I’ll probably be back to read it again…and again while I am working on my time management). Thanks so much for sharing.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Matt at No Meat Athlete had a terrific post on cancelling his cable, and the (non)impact on his life. We all have time to do the things we love…. we just have to prioritize those things! […]

  2. […] You Have All the Time You Need by Matt @ No Meat Athlete. While a lot of Matt’s content tends to be about running, fueling, and athletics in general, I think I actually engage most with his writing related to tangential issues. This post discusses time management and goals. It’s an empowering (and, daresay, convicting?) reflection on how we view, and use, our time, and how we really can achieve just about any goal if we know how to appropriately adjust our time investment and focus. It actually completely changed my week — I took his advice and wrote down all the activities from my day, with amount of time spent on each. Since I’ve been feeling frustrated with balancing seemingly irreconcilable visions and dreams lately, this was just what I needed. The only question is: what do I do now with the information I have? I’ll keep you posted… (No pun intended.) […]

  3. […] things you don’t care about so you can focus on what you’re passionate about. Check out You Have All the Time You Need: How to Find an Extra Hour and Start Something Awesome Today.  Matt did something crazy and cancelled his cable, something I did almost a year ago. I […]

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