Smithfield in Dublin at night.

About eight years ago I began exploring the topic of productivity/lifehacking. I read Getting Things Done, by David Allen. I subscribed to productivity blogs and wasted a lot of time experimenting with things that were going to make me more productive.

Some of the ideas were great and I still use a lot of what I learned. Other things I’ve tweaked a bit so they fit with how I work. And of course, some of it was gimmicky or just plain dumb.

While most of what I’ve learned I incorporated from others, there was one hack that I stumbled into on my own. I found it to be one of the biggest time-saving I’ve ever tried (saving me about three hours per week). It has paid dividends in other areas of life as well.

Here’s the Idea
Although we’d had a DVR for a while, I’d never utilised it much. I used it to record shows that we weren’t going to be home to watch, and that was about it. Then one Wednesday night, as I was about to watch Lost it hit me. “Over the next hour I will watch 20 minutes of stuff I don’t care about.” Commercials, the “previously on” segment, etc. That evening was also a time when I was going to watch another show afterwards. That meant over two hours, there would be between 36 and 42 minutes of stuff I wasn’t interested in, yet sat there for. The vast majority of which was to make me want to buy stuff.

At that point I watched around 10 hours of television per week. My experiment saved me more than 3 hours over the course of the week. Time which I was able to use to read a book, do something with the kids, chat with Liz. Whatever.

Since then, other than the odd sporting event, or news show, I rarely watch television live. And more than 90% of the things we watch as a family, we watch via the DVR or Netflix.

The impact of that was immediate and is still paying benefits.

What has occurred to me over the past couple of years, is that there was another, even larger benefit, which I didn’t realise at the time.

Last month, leading up to Christmas, when I was asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” my common response was “Nothing really. I guess I could use some clothes, or I’ll always take books, but I can’t think of too much else.”
What struck me was how that has been my common response over the past few years. That is a shift because in the past I could always come up with a long list of things I wanted…now it is stuff I need. (Although with all the Apple Watch stories showing up in my FaceBook feed, I’ve begun thinking that maybe I should start wearing a watch again).

It is impossible not to see advertising in some form or another throughout the day. But having cut out over 3 hours per week, of viewing appeals for things I don’t need, for over eight years has had a large, positive impact.

Being grateful and content should not be situationally dependent. However, gratitude and contentment are more difficult to achieve and maintain if we believe we have unmet needs. Finding ways to redeem wasted time is great. Being able to remove items that kill contentment and gratitude has been the far bigger benefit.

What do you do to avoid things that battle gratitude and contentment?