A TV Ban Update

January 30, 2015

On January 1st, I began my first 31-day challenge of the year. The goal: to not watch TV for an entire month. On the first day, I quickly realized that the toughest habit to break would be watching TV while I ate, so I decided I would allow myself to watch one TED Talk during dinner. Five or six days into the challenge, I realized why I’d been able to get through so many seasons of TV on Netflix last year: it wasn’t that I actually wanted to watch it all, I just wanted some noise to fill the silence. So, on top of watching my one TED Talk, I started listening to a lot of podcasts, in an attempt to break the silence.

For the first 10 or 12 days, I was going strong. In that time, I read two books – Yes, Please (hilarious) and Nudge (a must-read) – watched some fantastic TED Talks (this one continues to be my favourite) and listened to entire seasons of old podcasts. I also wrote two chapters for my book and mapped out more, and had a great breakfast meeting with a friend about a couple projects we’re going to work on this year. Oh, and I started helping out another friend with one of his side projects. I was doing great, and my productivity was through the roof! But I began to waver mid-month, and eventually caved…

One evening, after coming back from the gym, I found myself in the kitchen doing a bunch of food prep before dinner. In the past, whenever I’ve cooked big meals or baked, I’ve put my laptop on the counter and turned on Netflix to keep me company. (Something I wondered many times this month is: is this just what single people who live alone do, or does everyone turn TV on to fill the silence?) On this evening, I brought my laptop into the kitchen, with the intention of listening to a podcast… but I signed into Netflix, instead. Ban be damned, I thought. I was tired and I didn’t want to think anymore.

I only watched one episode of a show; that was all I needed. But then things got tricky, when I went to Toronto. I stayed with Roomie (my old roommate) and she has cable. When we lived together, our weekend ritual was to wake up, make coffee and watch whatever movie was playing on W Network. What was I going to do this trip – say I couldn’t watch TV, then go hide upstairs in my room? No. The ban was only meant to boost my productivity, not kill my social life. So we sipped our coffees, watched TV and I just let it go. (But I didn’t watch anything on my flights, which was a major win.)

When I returned to Vancouver, I told myself the ban was back on – and it was. In the next 10 days, I read another two books – The Art of Asking (meh) and On Writing (every writer must read this) – watched more TED Talks, discovered a few new podcasts (I’m loving Invisibilia so far and am excited to see what they do with it) and got some writing done. And then, for some reason, I was just over it. A few nights ago, I was laying on the couch and all I could think was: It’s been long enough. My brain is tired. I don’t want to read or listen or do anything. I just want to zone out. And zone out I did – to TV.

Overall, I guess I have to wave my white flag and label this as a failed experiment. However, it did make me question how much TV I watch, which shows (some have been axed) and why. I can also tell you that I’m happy to leave it off more often than not now, as a result. In fact, sometimes I think about turning my TV on, then realize I don’t want the distraction. I don’t want to hear all the background noise and chatter. I’m finally comfortable with the silence. With that being said, I do still have a few shows I love, and I’m not going to feel guilty about watching them. I just won’t binge all weekend.

There are too many other things I want to accomplish.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods January 30, 2015 at 4:23 am

    I think it’s great that the ban made you question the amount of TV you were watching–to me, that’s the perfect result of a ban. If we ban something and then just boomerang the next month and binge on it, I feel like it’s a failed experiment.

    This, by the way, is what happened to me when I tried to ban all sugar and carbs a few years ago… I was miserable and then ended up inhaling mini-donuts. So, a lesson on moderation was learned by me :). Interestingly, I haven’t felt the same boomerang desire with my clothes ban–not sure why, but that one doesn’t seem to rankle me like the ill-conceived sugar/carbs ban.

    You’ve made me think even harder about how much TV we watch and I’ve realized that it has really tapered off for us. Once it stopped being an automatic part of our routine, we began filling our time in other ways. But, like you, I don’t want to give it up entirely… there are just those nights. And, I think that in moderate doses, TV really does have the power to relax and quiet the mind–which is not a bad thing for us hyper-productive type A’s :).

    • Cait Flanders January 30, 2015 at 8:28 pm

      I honestly don’t think I’d ever try to completely eliminate sugar or carbs. Is that crazy? I just know that’s a challenge I’d give up on. Give up shopping? Easy peasy. Avoid every single food item that might have a drop of sugar or flour in it? Not gonna happen, haha. So I’m with you! Everything in moderation… including TV. :)

  • Kristen January 30, 2015 at 4:33 am

    Growing up our TV was always background noise and we were a family of 4. Now, I have days where I want it as background and days I don’t. We live in the country and sometimes I just love the quiet. When I am working at home for “company” I generally put the iPod to shuffle and just listen away. There is research to suggest that having background noise (as long as you really aren’t focused on it) can help boost productivity (learned from a PodCast I listened to in the car).

    My week was busy with work, busier than expected, but in a good way. So busy in fact, I am working Saturday (but that is one of my dream projects so I don’t mind!).
    Best money I spent was $1491 and change on new brakes and other car maintenance. Since I have decided to live a life that requires the regular use of a car, I really need it to be reliable.

    Enjoy your weekend.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:06 am

      I now 100% believe that background noise boosts my productivity; it just can’t be the sound of a show I really want to watch, haha. But reruns or classical music both work well for me.

      And I love when working on regular days off doesn’t feel like work. I have had a lot of that lately. Hope you have a good weekend :)

  • L January 30, 2015 at 5:21 am

    I think I watch the same amout of TV now then I did while single, maybe a bit more when Netflix releases entire seasons of say House of Cards or Orange is the New Black lol, but overall it is about the same. Learning to be comfortable with the slience is a huge thing for most women but I think if you can learn to be comfortable with the silence/by yourself it a huge win for you personally! Good for you Cait!

    If you wanted to cut down on the TV while doing you supper prep you could always put on songza :) My fiance and I don’t have TV on the main floor but generally always listen to music while cooking. My favorite is anything from the 90s.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:08 am

      Yes, when House of Cards comes back, my productivity is going to go down for 2 days, haha. Also, 90s music? I like the way you think, L!

  • Sara Hamil January 30, 2015 at 6:40 am

    After reading this I sat back and thought about how often I turn on the TV with the intention of watching something specific vs times that I turn it on for noise (while eating, background noise while doing other things, etc.) and I realized there’s only one show each week that I seek out. That’s it. The rest of the time it’s just on for the sake of having it on. Which, would be one thing (if I’m already doing something that needs to be done, where’s the harm there?) if not for the fact that I often keep watching past the one show or beyond the activity I was doing previously. I’ve lost many good hours to that bad habit… SIGH.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:09 am

      Don’t sigh! Just something to think about and try to change a bit. I’m not going to feel guilty about watching the few shows I actually enjoy, but the ban helped me cut a few and realize that I don’t want to lose hours on reruns. The next time you find yourself in a rerun marathon, turn off the TV and open a book. That’s what I’ve been doing. :)

  • Steph January 30, 2015 at 6:43 am

    Have you tried listening to music in the background instead of TV?

    • Cait Flanders January 30, 2015 at 6:53 am

      Yep! But I find it really distracting to listen to music when I’m writing/editing, unless it’s classical (no lyrics). Background noise of a boring show (reruns with general chatter) remind me of being in a coffee shop or something.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach January 30, 2015 at 7:07 am

    I think it’s great you did the experiment, and I love listening to podcasts as a nice substitute for watching TV. Although I choose not to cut it out of my life entirely, I really limit my watching, much more so than in the past. Years ago I’d turn on the today show when I woke up, but I hated being bombarded with crappy news as soon as I woke up. So my TV never even comes on till the evening and I make a conscious decision to walk away from the computer. Playing to ukulele each night also keeps me from watching too much tv. But in the end, I love TV as one of my favorite forms of entertainment.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:13 am

      No TV until the evening – I like that! Might have to use that on weekends. :)

  • J January 30, 2015 at 7:19 am

    You did better than I would have with the ban! And now, you’re conscious of your TV habits which I’m sure is great! I always have the TV on for background noise, and I too watch Netflix on my laptop while cooking or doing food prep :) I can’t handle the silence.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:14 am

      Yea, silence is a weird one… I’m fine with silence while reading, but when I’m doing other things around the house, I want a little background noise. Hmm!

  • Trista January 30, 2015 at 7:26 am

    I just started a new show on Netflix. I’m still binging pretty hard. But I’m making more of an effort to get things done before I turn on the TV. I’m only listening to one podcast right now Martinis and your Money. I like to listen to it Saturday morning while I’m cleaning my apartment. I’d like to have a couple more as they engage your mind while you are doing boring/repetitive tasks.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:15 am

      I highly suggest Invisibilia! And if you want to listen to a personal finance podcast, I’m enjoy Farnoosh’s new one, So Money. The eps are only 20-25 mins, so they are easy to get through.

  • Stephanie January 30, 2015 at 7:47 am

    I cut cable when I moved last August (the old place paid for it.) I don’t miss it. I do watch things on Netflix or iTunes, but productive things, if that makes sense. Like, when I need to clean and organize, I watch Hoarders and Lush House, when I organize my closet, I watch What Not To Wear. It’s motivation, or something! Nothing helps a shopping ban like watching Hoarders, seriously.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:16 am

      Haha, that made me laugh, Stephanie. I can only imagine! It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Hoarders, but I remember it used to give me the heebie jeebies.

  • Sara January 30, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Did you have the television on as background noise when you were growing up? My husband did -it was literally on all day. So, like you, he’s very likely to turn it on while working in the kitchen or while he’s home alone. In my house we only watched one program and then the 10pm news, and my habits are much more like that. Even though I’m totally going to binge watch House of Cards on the weekend it comes out that might be the only tv I watch in February.

    If I’m bored while working in the kitchen I’ll grab my phone and call my mom or my sister – our schedule is a bit ahead of theirs so they are generally commuting home while I’m prepping dinner.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:18 am

      Hmm, the news was usually on, yep! I hadn’t thought about that.

      And I love that you call people! I feel like that’s so rare. I have a bunch of friends in the U.S. that I like to call every few weeks, to catch up. It’s so nice to hear people’s voices. :)

  • Chelsea January 30, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I watch my share of TV as well, but I also like keeping a clock radio in the kitchen. Whenever I’m cooking, doing the dishes, cleaning (my apartment is tiny!), etc. I pop on the radio for a bit of background noise. It fills the silence (though that can be nice sometimes too) without the danger of getting sucked into a storyline.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:19 am

      The danger of getting sucked into a storyline is real! Sometimes I even get sucked into good podcasts, and have to stop or sit down to really listen.

  • Aleksandra Sagan January 30, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Not just single people put on Netflix to fill the silence!

    I live with my boyfriend, G. But, when I’m in the kitchen cooking or preparing food, or when I’m working on my personal finance blog at home alone, I am one hundred per cent guilty of turning on Netflix just to fill the silence. I work much better with noise! I think it’s from getting used to having to operate in the hustle and bustle of a newsroom.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:21 am

      Yep, that’d be something to get used to! I have such a difficult time writing in an office. Coffee shop or at home with classical music? Sure. But in an office where you know everyone, can’t help but hear things and constantly get distracted… impossible.

  • Melanie January 30, 2015 at 9:40 am

    I never really watched a lot of tv but I do spend a significant amount looking and reading things on the internet. It may be a great challenge for myself to limit my time spent doing this. Although most of it is productive by reading finance, it still consumes a lot of my time.
    If I’m alone, I turn the tv on just to have some noise as well, it doesn’t even matter if it’s sports playing on the tv (not the biggest sports fan).

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:22 am

      Haha, that’s kind of funny! I’d get sucked into some sports, but could fall asleep to others (golf).

  • ARBM January 30, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    We watch a lot of TV in our house, but thanks to your TV ban I have definitely been more conscious of it. I think your experiment was a success. You learned a lot about yourself and your habits.

    My week was okay. Much better than I expected based on my Monday morning…

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:22 am

      Glad to hear the week turned around for you!

  • dojo January 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    I usualy watched netflix or hulu, but now I barely have te time to do some of my web design work and blog, when our daughter is asleep. It’s been almost a year since I watched tv or anything close to that.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:22 am

      You haven’t watched TV for an entire year!? That’s amazing!

  • Nadia January 30, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I haven’t done a tv ban yet. Most of the time when we want to watch something we record it on our DVR and then watch it so we can skip through the commercials. About the only thing I watch live are hockey games (Oilers) and baseball (Blue Jays).

    My week was alright. Got my first cheque with my raise on it. Funny how fast it leaves the bank account. But I’ll be very happy when it’s leaving my account to go into savings/retirement and not debt repayment.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:24 am

      Yes! It’ll feel sooo good when that money is going into savings, Nadia. And just remember it’s helping you become debt-free that much sooner. :)

  • Isabelle January 30, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    I wouldn’t call that a failed experiment at all. It made you more aware of your habits regarding TV and now you have a clearer picture of the changes you want to make. I don’t believe in eliminating something completely, especially if you really like it. Maybe just try for moderation and change your habits a bit. I personally have just one rule regarding TV: not during the day! It’s an evening past time. During the day, or while cooking, I’ll listen to music. I’m not afraid of silence but I need the company!

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Thanks, Isabelle! Maybe “fail” wasn’t the right word… I just didn’t last all 31 days, like I’d hoped. And I quite willingly gave up at the end, haha. Not on the overall goal (to be more conscious of my habit) but of the ban itself. So, mentally, that was a bit of a fail. Anyway, you’re the second person to mention the evening rule, so I think I’ll try to adopt that on weekends. (During the workweek isn’t an issue.)

  • Sara January 30, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    I am SO with you on your results. I can go days and days without turning on the TV or watching Netflix, but if I am in the kitchen doing prep for a bunch of recipes, I binge watch on my laptop. Psych is my latest stupid pleasure. I am not sure why it is so much better than having Pandora on for chopping, but it is somehow. There must be something behind it. You have given me something to think about. Thanks!

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Glad it gave you something to think about, Sara! :)

  • Petrish @ Debt Free Martini January 31, 2015 at 3:29 am

    I do not watch as much TV as I use too. I was amazed on how much I could get done without it. TV really does take up a lot of your time if not monitored. Good luck with everything, and I’m gonna have to read On Writing…..I need some help.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:28 am

      It’s a fantastic book that all writers should read. Enjoy!

  • Marie January 31, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    I am impressed with your TV ban. I WISH we didn’t have a TV in the house. I beg Tom to turn the TV off, all the time, but we don’t see eye to eye on keeping it off. You are definitely not alone with turning the TV on to keep you company while doing tasks, it’s common whether you are single or not. Usually, when I turn the TV on, it is because I’m doing something like chores or cooking, just like you’ve mentioned. I need to figure out how to download podcasts onto my phone via wifi, but I’ve been putting it off since I discovered my library card seems to have expired. I was attempting to get some audiobooks, but now I need to find a time to get to the library to find out what’s up.

    • Cait Flanders January 31, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      Make the time to go! You’ll be happier, after you do. :)

  • Ronnica, Striving Stewardess February 2, 2015 at 12:32 am

    I need to purge TV from my life (or at least limit it), too. It’s hard…I get free all-the-bells-and-whistles cable from work so it’s all at my fingertips.

    Last month I gave up shopping for a “Buy Little” month. It was great to figure out what I really need (much, much less than I thought).

  • strandedrocks February 2, 2015 at 4:34 am

    I also partook in the challenge and the first week I did limit my time to maximum 30 minutes a day. The weekends were a different story though. I take out movies and tv series from the library and I usually binge watch them on Saturday and Sunday. These are dvd’s that are on high demand so I usually only get one to two weeks. One definite change I noticed, my tv watching is now conscious. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I carefully consider what to watch and I enjoy it more. I find I get more done, I am more organized, I get more sleep, there is more structure to my daily routine. Because I didn’t completely stop watching tv, this change is going to be long term.


  • Sarah February 3, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    I am not single and I always bring my laptop into the kitchen to watch a show while I’m cooking or food prepping. I couldn’t stand it otherwise – I’d be bored out of my skull! I think you did great and the purpose of your goal was met.

  • Chris@RagstoReasonable February 4, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Cait! It’s hard right? I used to always have something playing in the background just for distraction, and when I started turning it off it was … uncomfortable. I was kind of bored, but I had to deal with the flurry of thoughts going through my brain. Not. Relaxing.
    But what I learned (on the days that I had enough will power not to just flip on Netflix right away) was that after the flurry of crazy thoughts, and boredom, my brain chilled out in a new way. I could relax into a really chill, and often super creative space. A mental space that I had been denying myself because I didn’t want to feel that first bit of uncomfortableness.

    So ya, I still flip on the TV at the end of the day sometimes, but not just to fill the silence…. cause turns out the silence… is pretty great.

  • Christina @ Embracing Simple February 4, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    This is so fascinating to me! I could really benefit from banning myself from watching TV for an entire month. I seriously disagree that you failed in your goal – if you have reevaluated how much time you are spending watching TV overall, and have drastically reduced your TV watching as a result, I would consider that a total win! :)