• Robb G. Best

Grab a Free Hour: a How-To

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an extra hour in each day? Imagine how much more you could get done with another 60 minutes of free time.

Unfortunately, the earth’s rotations never got the memo, and we’re stuck with our 24-hour system—and once you pull eight hours of sleep out of that, you’ve got just 16 waking hours left to make the proverbial donuts.

Or do you?

A study by the Council for Research Excellence suggests that on an average day, adults are exposed to 8.5 hours of screens—TV, computers, smartphones, and so on.

Now most of us are committed to a certain amount of screen time; we can’t exactly tell our bosses we’re on strike from answering work emails or looking at spreadsheets. But even factoring out our work-related usage, it’s still likely that each of us is spending about three hours of our precious downtime on screen-related activity.

When you think about how nice it would be to find some extra time in the day, you don’t generally think about this time as negotiable. After all, it’s what you do for fun. It’s part of your me-time.

And if we were to break that 3 hours down, we would see that indeed, some of it is pretty enjoyable—catching your favorite show, for instance, or trading messages with your best friend. These experiences tend to be what we would define as purposeful viewing: watching something with clear intention.

However, of that three hours, there’s probably a sizable chunk where you’re a little spaced out, not fully “online” so to speak: flipping through channels, reflexively refreshing your email, idly scrolling through your Facebook feed. Let's call this ‘surfing’. In this mode, we’re simply killing time until something more exciting comes along. Frequently it doesn’t.

Maybe not surprisingly, studies show that little pleasure or enjoyment registers in the brain during this kind of activity. It really is, as far as the brain is concerned, much more of a holding pattern. You’re not riding a roller coaster of fun, you’re waiting in line for what will hopefully be the next ride—and it’s about as thrilling as waiting in lines ever is.

So if your “recreational” screen use is roughly 50% purposeful and 50% surfing, that means that every day, 1.5 hours go down the drain.

Furthermore, we know that in skill acquisition mode, the adult brain can basically hang on for about 15 productive minutes before attention starts to wane. So that daily 1.5 hours represents 6 fifteen-minute segments of intense focus you could be putting towards the goal of your dreams.

Just stealing back two, three, or four of those segments a day over the course of a year would provide you with enough time to learn a foreign language, master a musical instrument, or radically improve your chess or golf game. Not to mention kicking your gardening or gourmet cooking skills up several notches. You’d have time to meditate, or exercise, or polish the silver (for all you castle-dwelling blog readers)

And you don’t have to knock off your screen time. Just be more purposeful in your viewing, and stop when you find yourself slipping into surfing mode.

Nobody likes to stand in line. The Disney Corporation understood this early on by creating the snaky line illusion, which tricks the brain into believing that the serpentine line of humans waiting for a ride isn’t as long as it really is.

Screen surfing for many of us has become an accepted practice. In its unexamined form, its just part of what constitutes the screen experience. In the world that Walt Disney created, standing in line is a given. In your own kingdom, that appears to be up to you.


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