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12 Ways to Watch Less TV and Be More Creative

It’s easy to understand the appeal of slobbing out in front of the television when you’re exhausted at the end of a long day. We all need a little downtime. But TV can be parasitic: You turn it on because you feel too tired to do anything else — and that’s it. Watching TV is not going to restore you. It is very unlikely that you’ll turn on the TV at 8:00 pm and then jump up an hour later saying “Great! Let’s get to work on that watercolor painting!” TV is designed to hook you and keep you on your sofa.

The artist and author Keri Smith wrote on her blog: “A few years ago I turned off the TV for good, not because I think TV is necessarily evil, but because I wanted to take back control of my time and what I put into my head. I wanted to treat my mind as a sacred space, and begin to fill it with things that would help formulate new ideas, my imagination, and things that benefitted my life instead of taking away from it.” Well said.

Let’s say that you enjoy television, and it’s a fairly regular part of the evening routine at your house. You might not want to get rid of TV altogether. You may be like many mothers, and feel like a vegetable by the time the kids are in bed. If so, try one of these experiments.

  1. Front-load a few moments of creative practice. Tell yourself that you will watch TV, but first you’re going to be creative for just 15 minutes. You may feel like what you produce is drivel, but that’s OK. Being brilliant is not the point here. Just be creative. Write a few lines, draw a lousy sketch. Make some notes about an idea you had while doing the dishes. Simply do something. If you do this every night before vegetating, you may find that you don’t want to stop after 15 minutes, or that your short creative stint generates a second wind. You may actually feel energized by the activity. Even if your energy level isn’t affected, and you’re still dog tired and head for the couch, you’ll feel great knowing that you did a little something important for yourself beforehand.
  2. Move your body. Do a little stretching — some yoga, Pilates, or calisthenics on the floor. If you haven’t had much physical exercise during the day, a little bit of something will make you feel better, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. You don’t have to hit the gym or do a cardio DVD; just find a short routine that you can do on the floor. Do 20 sit-ups. Do some leg-lifts. If you have enough room, you might even be able to devise a short routine to do while you’re watching TV, if you can’t tear yourself away.
  3. Save it for later. Use a DVR to record those shows you think you can’t miss. Then use the time to read or talk to your spouse, call a friend, or anything else that appeals to you, even if you’re too tired to be creative. You’ll end up feeling less tired, and chances are, you’ll end up forgetting to watch that “important” show anyway. And if you do want to watch your recording, you can fast-forward through the commercials, saving time and brain cells.
  4. Pump up the urgency. Use a contest or other external deadline to lend you a sense of urgency. When you’re working toward something and you don’t have daytime hours to make it happen, evening time is suddenly an important resource. You’ll get things done despite being tired — and once you’re in the habit, you may even lose the fatigue.
  5. Go to sleep. If you’re really too tired to do anything you actually want to do, go to bed. You’re tired! Chances are, you’re not getting enough sleep anyway. It’s really OK to go to bed at 8:30 if your body is shutting down. Get a good night’s sleep and you’ll wake up with lots more energy and creative bandwidth.
  6. Be selective. Make a list of the three or four weekly shows that you really love, and decide to watch those and only those. Whatever you do, do not channel surf. When your favorite show is over, turn the TV off. If you have cable or satellite TV and pick up the clicker, you are guaranteed to be able to find something you feel like watching. Why waste your time staring at something you wouldn’t even know you’d be missing, if you hadn’t stumbled upon it by channel surfing?
  7. Turn on the radio. Avoid turning the TV on as background noise or to keep you company, whether it’s daytime or evening. Inane commercials pollute your mind, and you’ll probably end up sitting down and watching something if you let the TV run. If you like the sound of voices, tune a radio to NPR. If you want something more soothing or mood-boosting, put on some music.
  8. Surf the creative interwebs instead. If you think you’re just too brain dead to do anything else but stare at a screen, at least head to your computer — or use laptop while you’re on the couch — and do something that is vaguely related to your creative interests. Surf the blogs of other writers or artists, collect images you like, read the news in your area of creative interest. Connect with an online community. Do something that feeds your pursuit. While it’s still electronic, this activity is at least related to something that feeds you. If you’re already regularly connected to the blogosphere, make sure it isn’t cutting into your regular creative practice. Save surfing for the evening, or for whatever time of day you’re at your lowest energy level. If you’re doing research for a book or other project, cap the amount of time you spend researching so that you don’t pour it all down the internet drain.
  9. Check in with your Big Picture. Before you plop down on the couch tonight, read your mission statement, if you have one. Is watching TV every night part of what you’re here to do? If you were to die tomorrow, would this be the way to spend your last evening?
  10. Fake it ‘til you make it. Pretend for one evening that you are an exceptionally driven artist. Pretend that you are one of those women who aren’t tempted by TV and have a lot of energy. Pretend you don’t have a TV. Just try it. The results may be addicting — more addicting than the TV.
  11. Use your hands. If you’re going to be camping out on the couch for a while, you might as well do something creative with your hands. Try knitting, needlepoint, crochet, embroidery, etc. The physical movement of these activities is soothing. They’re not hard to learn; if you don’t yet know a needlecraft, you probably have a friend who would be happy to get you started.
  12. Create an ally. If you have a spouse or partner who is a serious TV watcher, he or she may feel abandoned if you suddenly start doing something else every night. Explain what you’re trying to do. So long as you aren’t abruptly and completely removing yourself from an established routine without any discussion, you may find more support for your creative interests than you’d anticipated. If not, keep at it. Over time, you’ll find a way to manage both needs.
For your reading enjoyment and/or a future reference, you can download a PDF layout of this post here.
11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I used to watch a lot more TV. In fact, when we first “met” you were a little surprised at how much TV I consumed. But now, our only TV is in the basement and during the day, my 6-year-old monopolizes it with episodes of River Monsters.

    We have become very selective about what we watch. We DVR specific shows and watch from 8:30 or so until 10:30 or so. Sometimes we pick a random documentary or something off of Netflix. Or Darin gets us some TV series to watch and we burn through them. Our TV time is so structured now, that I never worry about it.

    You know what is hard though? Not vegging out on the internet! I quit facebook last year. I have blocked sites where I would go and waste time “debating” with people. It is hard when where you work is connected to the net, so every time I hit a writer’s block I have to fight temptation not to surf around aimlessly.

    (This blog is never aimless, of course! LOL!)

    April 19, 2011
    • LOL–I remember that too, Liz. But even then, you watched it with a critic’s eye, not as a tool for procrastination (at least, that was my impression!). Very interesting that your viewing choices have changed. Any side-effects?

      The internet….don’t get me started. It’s so fabulous to be able to connect with people, see all the amazing things they’re doing, get inspired, do research — but so, so hard not to cross that line into “I’m doing this even though I might be better off doing something else.” I totally agree on the work/net timesuck connection. Even worse, I manage facebook and twitter accounts for several clients — so I actually have an “excuse” to be there. But while I’m there, I’ll just post this cool thing to the Studio Mothers page, see what my creative friends are up to, etc…suddenly an hour has passed and I have to revise my time sheet so that I’m not charging clients for personal social networking, lol.

      Good for you for escaping from flame wars with the ignoramos population. I used to get so wrapped up in trying to make a logical case to political opposites. Now I’ve learned that logic doesn’t have much to do with it, so never mind….!

      April 21, 2011
  2. great post… love it. I know far too many ppl that watch way too much tv.. sad. I make a mindful decision to turn it off every day. I accomplish so much more. Good thing. xo great post!

    April 19, 2011
    • Thanks, Bonita Rose! In my interviews with creative women, I learned that those who were satisfied with their creative lives watched far less TV (or none at all) compared to the women who were not so satisfied with their creative lives. Now I just have to figure out the chicken and egg question….Do they watch less TV because they ARE more satisfied creatively (and thus more committed to creative practice) or is it the other way around??

      April 21, 2011
  3. This is a fabulous post. I do not watch TV but I do have plenty of other distractions. Yes, it is about consciously choosing how you want to sped your time and then reminding yourself of that every day.

    April 19, 2011
    • Yes, there are an abundance of distractions, aren’t there? Makes me kind of wish we lived in the pre-TV and pre-computer age, but then I wouldn’t be here connecting with all of YOU, so maybe not!

      April 21, 2011
  4. I’m not much of a TV watcher either. My husband and I have our weekly Antiques Roadshow date, but that’s pretty much all I watch other than maybe the news while getting ready for dinner.

    But I agree with Liz on the internet. That’s my bigger timesuck. Lately, I’ve had the same thoughts of walking away from Facebook and even Etsy, since I have so few sales there. It’s time that could be better spent on other things. I’m considering disconnecting all together for the whole summer.

    April 20, 2011
    • Oooh, a summer un-plug? Hmmmm….love the idea. I can’t feasibly disconnect entirely, but a daily scheduled 30 minutes would keep me focused and away from the time traps.

      Stay on Etsy! You never know….

      April 21, 2011
  5. We have been “TV less” since 2009 and I love it!!!

    April 29, 2011
    • Us, too! When I was engaged to my husband, the TV blew up. Literally. We decided it was a sign. That was 12 1/2 years ago. I spend a lot more time writing now.

      November 15, 2012
  6. Inese Poga Art Gallery #

    I really had to laugh: I sometimes rest for some 15 minutes because I’m falling apart, and at 10 pm I really jump up and go back to that watercolor painting! Hilarious, but I don’t need much of TV since there’s not that much worth watching.

    April 10, 2014

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