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.
But 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.
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?
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.
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.)
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.