How To Control How Much TV You Watch

Television, the drug of the nation, breeding ignorance and feeding radiation.

– Michael Franti, Spearhead

Cats watching TVThe other night I was lying on the couch watching TV. There was nothing on so I would watch something for a bit then move on to something else, watch that for a short while and then move on again. I did this repeatedly for quite some time without really watching anything properly. Eventually I realised how ridiculous it was and turned the TV off. What a relief!

One of my old school principals said: “Alcohol is a good servant, but a poor master”, and I think it could equally be said: “TV is a good servant, but a poor master.”

Watching a good movie, sports etc can be a great way to relax and unwind, but like all things, it is good in moderation, not in excess. How many times have you found yourself doing what I mentioned I was doing the other night? If you haven’t ever done this then you’re either unusual or a liar!

If you watch too much TV you’re not alone. Check out the graph below which is a survey of Americans from 2007 (and probably true of many other countries too). Over 50% of their leisure time is spent watching TV!

How much time do you spend watching TV?

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

It could be even worse this year as a study by the University of Maryland found that people watch more TV during bad economic times. Interestingly they also found that unhappy people watch around 20% more TV than happy people. Do they watch TV because they’re unhappy or does watching TV make them unhappy? Unfortunately the research didn’t answer that question.

I probably don’t really need to convince you of any of this though (if you’re not convinced then check out so here are some tips to help you control your TV watching:

1. Record how much you watch – Keep a notepad beside the couch for a week and keep a record of how much TV you watch. At the end of the week tally up the amount of time. It seems a bit overly geeky but you’ll probably be surprised at how much time you actually watch for. Think about all the things you could have done in that time…

2. Throw away, give away or sell your TV – Drastic? Perhaps. But would it work? Yes.

3. Define TV time – Set yourself specific times when you can watch TV and only turn on the TV during those times.

4. Record TV – Use your recorder more effectively. Lookup programmes you want to watch in advance and record them. Then you can watch them at a time when it is convenient for you.

5. One TV – Only have one TV in the house. Do you really need a TV in the dining room, bedroom, your kids’ rooms etc?

6. Alternatives – Write down a list of alternatives to TV: read a book, play a game, exercise or even…have a conversation.

7. Hide your remote – Then the only way to change channel is to get up off the couch. Channel surfing doesn’t seem to happen as much this way.

8. Turn the TV off as soon as your programme has finished – The TV people are clever and they start the next programme straight away. That way you are watching it and hooked into the plot before you’ve had a chance to get up. Don’t fall for it, turn it off straight after your programme has finished.

9. Cancel your subscription channels – Even with lots of subscription channels some days you still can’t find anything decent to watch.

10. Try it for a week – If the idea of no TV forever sounds a bit daunting then just try having a No TV Week and see how you like it. You could even put the TV away in a cupboard or the garage for the week. You’ll probably enjoy it more than you think.

If you have any other ideas please share them in the comments.

14 thoughts on “How To Control How Much TV You Watch”

  1. Recording programs and the switching off realy work in our household.
    We tend to have early nights and early morning, so if anything is on TV late we just don’t tend to bother or we would record it. What TV companies do here in the UK is give a little taster of the next program during the end titles of the current one. That way the audience is already getting hooked on sitting there for another hour. You have to be disciplined and jump up and turn it off, otherwise you soon find your entire evening has been handed over to the TV moguls and advertisers.

  2. Oh, do I agree with this one! The television is a life-sucker! SO easy to get pulled into channel surfing as you describe. For me the saving grace was a digital video recorder. I now only watch what I’ve decided ahead of time is worth watching–and find I watch FAR less and that what I do watch is of FAR better quality (so that I don’t feel I’ve wasted precious minutes/hours of my life watching it). And now I’m too busy and loving what I’m doing to bother wasting time watching television. It really is like an addiction, isn’t it?

  3. I used to be what you might call a ‘TV addict’. First thing I did when I got home was switch on the TV and it was the thing turned off before I went to bed.

    Two things changed all that. First thing was I moved to a country where I don’t speak the language and before the days when cable and satellite TV was readily available. That might be a bit drastic as a way to control TV watching. Later, once satellite was available and I started to slip into old habits, I threw it out. No TV. No problem! It does work!

  4. @Ian Peatey
    I can relate to that Ian, years ago I lived in Japan for a year and I would sometimes watch the local TV, even though I couldn’t really understand the language. I guess the habit was so established in those days that I would still slip into it even under those circumstances. I think I justified it by telling myself it was a way of studying the local culture – they do have some pretty bizarre game shows over there!

  5. I canceled my TV service a long time ago, but they came to the door offering two months free. Stupidly, I signed up, and I don’t even turn it on. There is always something more rewarding to do.

    I turn it on for three minutes and watch while I brush my teeth, that’s it.

  6. @ David: You brush your teeth for three minutes! That’s a pretty thorough cleaning. ;-)

    I am beginning to loathe t.v. particularly since there is ALWAYS something on. They even schedule stuff that makes it easy to rationalize spending hours watching: it’s educational, it keeps us informed, it’s incredibly entertaining… there’s no end to it.

    For the most part, I can live without it, but I see my son get “hooked” by the “coming up next” cliff-hangers on kiddie channels. It drives me nuts because it makes ME the bad guy when I say it’s time to turn it off: “But Mom, (something or other) is coming up next!” He is not old enough to understand it’s like that 24/7.

    I think t.v. is a socially acceptable life-wasting addiction.

  7. @David Cain
    I was pretty impressed with 3 mins too lol. My electric brush pulses after 2 mins and I find that long enough!

    The advertising on TV is another reason it’s bad for kids too. It sucks them in and they aren’t happy unless they have the latest doll, truck, clothes etc. Not good for parent’s bank balances either!

  8. You’ve got that right… I’m on the perpetual quest for balance in my bank account!

    Hey, Julian! How about a guest post about your Kilimanjaro trip for my Spirit of Adventure Mondays? Doesn’t have to be long, and I’m sure you’ve got an awesome photo to share! I’ll I need is what you did and what you learned. What say you? =-)

  9. We don’t have a tv in our house. We do, but it is up in the closet. We watch tv on the computer – when we want, what we want and no commercials. It is just inconvenient enough that we actually plan it out and there is no “just watching something” and no “there’s nothing on..” to worry about. I would say that we probably watch about 5 hours a week on that system, which seems like a lot but we are really into CSI!

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