Everyone knows I’m a big fan of minimalism. I think anything that simplifies your life while requiring you to prioritize what matters most is a good thing. Living with less also has other benefits, however. One of the biggest is a clear focus. It’s amazing how deeply you can hone your attention when you remove all the unnecessary static and noise that swirls around us 24/7.
One way I did this was by throwing out my television. It sounds like a daunting task in this media-obsessed world, but, to be honest, I don’t miss it. Like many Americans, I found it was way too easy to get sucked into a new television show, a binge-watching session or a movie that ate up hours of my day. We all know sitting is the new smoking, and hours spend in front of a glowing screen is precious time we’re not spending with our families, friends or enjoying habits that truly make us happy.
Now, if television is one of your life’s little pleasures, I’m not advocating you throw your 52-inch flat screen off the second-floor balcony. Instead, I’m suggesting you find the little (or big) time sucks that bleed you dry on a regular basis. I was amazed to find how much free time I truly had to pursue other passions or interests once I didn’t have the crutch of that little black box to entertain me day and night.
Cable television isn’t the only media center that can leave our tank empty and brain foggy with distraction. Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services are also culprits, as are laptops, smartphones and tablets with their endless supply of social media feeds, latest viral videos and funny cat memes.
Idle conversation, newspapers, video games, text messages, emails, even mindless eating can all act as time fillers, making us feel “busy” when all they really do is detract from the task at hand. Procrastination is a slippery slope, taking many forms – not to mention hostages – on a daily basis. While all of these activities can be fine and healthy in moderation, you want to make sure you know why you’re engaging in them.
Are you constantly refreshing Facebook because you’re putting off a serious talk you need to have with your spouse? Are you responding to unnecessary emails because you don’t want to join your co-workers for a lunch meeting? Are you snacking because you’re actually hungry, or because you’re nervous about an upcoming doctor’s appointment?
It’s the motive (the “why”), not the habit, that should dictate the “how, what, where and when.” If you like to sit on your deck every morning with a cup of coffee, soak in the sounds of the birds and the smell of freshly cut grass and read the paper, then wonderful! What a lovely routine and awesome way to start the day! If, on the other hand, you run out of the house first thing in the morning, citing that you’re going to get the paper and then hide out on the deck for an hour so you avoid the wrath of your 14-year-old daughter, you may have a problem – and a scapegoat – on your hands.
Take a little time this week to notice where your free time goes. Chances are, you spend longer periods of time engaging in mindless habits than you think. Evaluate whether these habits are adding or detracting from your life and adjust accordingly. Removing clutter, scheduling breaks and creating to-do lists are a few other ways you can remain focused and undeterred. I think you’ll find that once you’ve removed (or significantly cut back) activities you thought were essential, the quality of your free time will grow exponentially. As will your mood and the moods of those around you.