Archive for October, 2011

Need some extra time? Try this simple trick.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…                                                                                                                                                                        (taken from “Simple Gifts,  a traditional Shaker tune by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. – 1848)

Are you one of those people who never seems to have enough time in your day?  If so, there might be an easy way to fix that.  It just  requires a bit of  simple behavior modification…and it’s easier than giving up chocolate for Lent.

As a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, my first assignment after completing the Officer’s Basic Course was at an isolated air defense missile site in the German state of  Westfalen (Westphalia).  The year was 1977. Westkirchen was truly a village in the purest sense of the word.  With a population of only several hundred,  it had one stoplight, a church, a butcher shop, a bakery, a barber-drugstore combination and a pub, more properly called a “gasthaus” in German.  Westkirchen was surrounded by similar villages.  The county seat of Warendorf , which was nearly 10 miles away, offered only a few more conveniences.

Military duty in Westkirchen was tough on the soldiers and their families alike, mainly due to the isolation.  Counting soldiers and family members, there were less than 50 Americans in the village.  My wife and I were fortunate to have lived in Germany previously, so we both spoke the language passably.  Unfortunately, few of the enlisted soldiers or their wives spoke German. Most of the soldiers were young and single; the majority were teenagers or in their early twenties.  Few were married.  Of the married ones, most were young with young wives and infants at home. The American elementary school was located in the city of Muenster, about a 45-minute drive to the north.  Fortunately, there were no teenage children, as they would have been required to be boarding students living in a dorm at the American High School in the city of Giessen, nearly three hours to the south.

One particular aspect of our family life in Westkirchen was quite unique for Americans.  For the year my wife and I lived there, we had no television in our home.  There were two reasons for this.  First, there were no American stations available.  It was 1977 and there was no cable TV, just German broadcast stations.  Second, German television programming was abysmal in those days.  Stations didn’t sign on until late morning and signed off around midnight. The stations offered a very boring line-up.   There were a couple of decent weekly series, but German TV consisted mostly of news programs and a lot of dry documentaries.  The later had deep subjects like “sheep farming in the north German plain,” or “the trials and tribulations of life as a prostitute in a Berlin brothel.”  You get the picture!

Life without the “boob tube” was a bit difficult at first, but we soon adapted and developed a routine without TV.  Like our grandparents and parents before us, we turned to radio as the entertainment medium of choice.  In Westkirchen, we could pick up the American Armed Forces Network (AFN) and British Forces Broadcasting System radio stations on the AM dial.  The AFN station was best by far, as it provided news from home, familiar music selections and old-time radio serials.  It didn’t take us long to become fans of  Dick Tracy, The Shadow, Jack Benny, and the Lone Ranger.  Although one might have some difficulty finding these programs on the radio today, there are still lots of great programs available on broadcast radio and on stations that stream their signals over the Internet.

If you want to simplify your life and add some much needed time to your day, try turning off the TV and turning on the radio.  Radio has some great advantages over television. Foremost is that radio doesn’t require your undivided attention, because it lacks a visual dimension.  You can listen to a radio program and do something productive simultaneously.  I like to work with classical music playing softly on the radio.  Best of all, unlike TV, you can listen to radio and interact with other human beings simultaneously, providing you don’t have the volume blasting.

Another feature of our television-free Westkirchen home was board games.  We must have purchased a dozen during our time there and we still have many of them.  Unlike TV, board games require interaction with another person.  Generally speaking, the more people playing the game, the more fun it is for all.  Baby Boomers might recall a Monopoly game many years ago, with a roomful of players packed around the board.  If you think back hard enough, you’ll probably remember the talking, laughter, eating, drinking and people generally having fun.

Compare this to a common scene today, where a teenager sits alone for hours in front of  a computer screen, playing video games with earphones on and the volume cranked up, totally isolated from reality.  Many of these games, like  Dungeon and Dragons, have dark themes.  Ask yourself which scenario is healthier.

According to the Nielsen Company, in 2010 Americans watched more TV than ever–an average of 34 hours per person, per week. That’s enough time to work a second job!  Try taking this challenge. For one week limit your TV viewing to two hours per day (OK, we’ll make it three hours on days the Steelers or Penguins play). At the end of the week, do an assessment of  your time utilization and you might just discover that television viewing has become a time thief in your life.

Many readers will find that by limiting TV viewing, they suddenly  have a lot of extra time on their hands.  If this is the case with you, try filling your time “bonus” time with something productive.  Give the kids some extra help with their homework, begin reading that good book you’ve had by the bed for a long time, take an online course, or start a new hobby…maybe even blogging. Just turn off the tube and turn on to life! It’s really quite simple.