17 Productive Things To Do Instead of Watching TV That You Can Do at Home20 min read

Published by Zach on

It’s 7 pm, I’ve just finished dinner, and it’s time to unwind. Let’s see what’s on Netflix today…

Sound familiar? This used to be my night every night after I got home. Is TV the best thing for me to do at night? Is it helping me grow? I’m not sure if it is.

What about learning a new language, writing a blog post, or reading a book? Now those things will help me to grow. I started this YouTube channel after writing ten scripts for videos for fun in my free time. In the past three years, I’ve read about 40 books, those aren’t great numbers, but that’s 2x the amount of books I read in the previous 24 years.

Learning, reading, and writing improve me much more than watching TV. I’ll give you 17 things to do instead of watching TV in this post.

*No one is sponsoring this post; however, there is the occasional affiliate link.

1. Take an Online Class

Free online classes are one of the best inventions on the internet.

Recently, I’ve been going through a course on ancient philosophy on MIT OpenCourseWare. Here are some great locations to learn online; most are free:

  • MIT OpenCourseWare (free) – pretty much every class offered by MIT is accessible on the internet; that’s pretty awesome; some even have full lecture videos.
  • Khan Academy – This is how I learned calculus and physics and studied for the MCAT. This is my most lifelong used online learning resource.
  • edX– offers many courses from top Universities (like Harvard) that are primarily free.
  • TED talks – are free and exciting, although they aren’t that good for consistent learning as they are based on many different topics. I have been going through the most viewed videos.
  • CosmoLearning – has excellent complete video courses on engineering, social sciences, languages, and technology. The only problem is they are somewhat dated but usually have great material (this physics class is fantastic).
  • Coursera – A popular learning platform for a reason, there are paid options, but many courses are entirely free. This is a great free one from Duke on How to Reason and Argue, and there’s also a good one called “the science of well-being” from Yale.
  • FreeCodeCamp – the best place to learn to code for free on the internet.
  • DuoLingo – I love the phone app for this straightforward way to learn a new language.

(if you want a more expansive list this is a great reddit post with tons of them)

2. Create a Website

Creating a website and making a YouTube channel has changed my life. Building a website is insanely simple and easy, and you can start posting about literally whatever you want. No one will read it in the beginning, I promise, so feel free to go crazy. Many people I know have them and use them as their resumes, which is a great option.

Initially, you could make a site that is just your name, have a section for articles, a section for resources (cool stuff you find on the internet), and a section for “about me” and you are all set. Then, just start slowly adding things that interest you.

If you like photography, bam, albums of fantastic photos.

Artist? Bam, pages of cool stuff you draw.

Economist? Bam, articles of what’s on your mind.

Computer scientist? Bam, cool code you’ve written or projects you’ve done.

Here’s how I would make a website today:

  • Register a domain on google domains
  • Sign up for WP-Engine (the fastest and most reliable host I have seen and use, you can use other cheaper ones, but if the website is about you or, even more importantly, is your name, you don’t want a slow, non-secure webpage). Also the best customer support ever (which can come in super handy when your website goes down for a random bug).
  • Pick a WordPress theme, install it, and start playing around with the appearance
  • Create a home page, resources page, about page, and articles page
  • Start trying to do one post a week on absolutely anything; you’d be surprised people on the internet might find you.

I used the above strategy when I made my website. Then, when making my YouTube videos, my script is based on my website post. So I get a two for one, the post is a website post, and also it serves as a script for my YouTube video, like this post right here!

What are the benefits of having a website? For me, I get about 10k website visitors a month and get some affiliate income, but, more importantly, I have a place where my more giant fans or potential employers can learn more about me. They can read articles about my book reviews or view unique posts that wouldn’t make sense for a video, so the content is only posted on this website.

Even better, there is a great power of “building in public.” It allows, number one, the ability for you to monitor yourself; what do you like that you’ve done? Dislike? Number two, it lets other people follow you along that are also just learning or just beginning; I don’t want to learn from a professional coder with 35+ years of experience how to make a website; I want to learn from someone who has maybe been doing it for a year or two because he knows how it feels as a beginner and he can instruct a beginner better. Finally, people on the internet sometimes provide great feedback; beyond the mean stuff, there is so much helpful criticism; maybe there is something you can improve, and perhaps the internet can help you?

I think everyone should have a website, every person is unique, and every person has something uniquely interesting to contribute to the world.

3. Meditate

Meditation is one of the few things that has actually changed my life, mainly how I think and how I can manage situations when I feel overstressed.

Evidence shows people who meditate are not only less stressed but also that they may even have more active immune systems; that’s kind of cool.

Meditation can be practiced by anyone, at any time, anywhere. It can range from just counting your breaths for five breaths to a full hour of focused mindfulness meditation.

Great applications for learning meditation:

4. Go for a Hike

In 2019 Nature released an article that took nearly 20,000 adults and examined their time in nature, how clever. They found that at least 120 minutes outside was linked with significantly greater reports of good health or high well-being, with peak associations between 200-300 mins per week.

Here is a quote from their introduction section:

While the quantity and quality of evidence varies across outcomes, living in greener urban areas is assosciated with lower probabilities of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma, hospitalisation, mental distress, and ultimately mortality, among adults; and lower risks of obesity and myopia in children. Greater quantities of neighbourhood nature are also assosciated with better self-reported health, and subjective well-being in adults, and imporved birth outcomes, and cognitive development in children.

White et. al.

Hiking is a great way to get that outdoors time and exercise. Here are some helpful resources:

5. Clean Your Apartment

A clean environment helps you focus. I spend 15 minutes before bed cleaning up every night. I wait until nighttime to do this because by the time it is late at night, I don’t want to do hard work, but I don’t mind doing busy work. Finally, cleaning my apartment lets me wake up to a clean apartment, which is always lovely.

6. Cook something Great

Cooking saves money, makes tastier food, makes healthier food, improves your quality of life, and improves the quality of life of those around you. Get cooking!

If you’ve never cooked before, just think of something you like to eat; I bet you can make it! Then, google it, and try it.

My favorite places to find recipes:

7. Try the Dreamlining Exercise

The idea of the dream lining exercise is to figure out your dream life. The problem I think many of us face is coasting, whether through school, work, or energy. Now, we don’t need to know what the end game is, but we should have a goal in mind. What does a school or your work accomplish? The sneakily cool thing about this exercise is you realize your dreams are possible. The activity takes anywhere from 1-5 hours in my experience, but can have life-changing results.

You outline dream things you want to have, want to be, and want to be doing; then, you outline how you will get there. What will it cost? What steps can you take today?

Check out these resources for a more in-depth guide on exactly what to do:

8. Write in a Journal

Journaling is one of those sneaky things where the results are worth 10x the effort; this is the same thing I’ve experienced from meditation, exercise, and proper sleep. Here are a few benefits:

  • Brain Dump – Anything stressing you out, maybe even things you don’t realize are stressing you out, will appear on the page; just like, well, the other dump, doing a brain dump usually makes you feel a lot better
  • Organization – What is a priority in your mind? What are you thinking about? What can you put aside? Journaling helps organize our thoughts.
  • Have something fun to look back on – I was never a consistent journaler until about a year ago, but when I first started journaling about five years ago, I would maybe write one journal entry every month. About two or three times a year, I look back and read those entries; how interesting they are! What was younger Zach thinking? How was the feeling when he was applying to med school (not outstanding) when he got into med school (super happy) when a relationship ended (not great), when he passed 100k subscribers on YouTube (super happy)? For sake of just this reason keeping a journal is worth it.

But what do you write about? Anything. You can write about anything. My practice at the moment is a morning journal after I shower and meditate that takes MAX 5 minutes:

  1. 1 Big Goal for the Day
  2. 2 Things I am Grateful For
  3. 3 Smaller Goals for the Day
  4. Journal about how I am feeling, what’s going on in my life, literally anything

Importantly, I don’t limit myself to writing in the morning, although that is my most consistent habit. Sometimes I feel like writing down how I feel on a long journey or after a particularly crazy day.

  • I use a notebook and a pen at the moment.
  • Sometimes, when I am traveling or don’t have access to my notebook, I use Day One to journal, or if I feel like clicky clacking my keyboard

9. Learn to Code

Coding is important. As a newer internet creator, it’s surprising how frequently coding can save me money, create something extraordinary, or help me understand what’s going wrong. I mostly use it right now for fixing my website, designing an email newsletter, or selling a product on the internet.

I took a couple of courses in high school and college on coding, so I had a basic introduction through MatLab, C#, and Java. However, I had no idea what I was doing until I started training myself through online classes. So how would I start if I was to start again from square one? Before just jumping into a language, I would join a free online course from MIT, Yale, or Harvard and get a basic introduction to coding from that. Then, you can delve deeper through online courses and projects and implement and create things yourself.

My process was I started taking the MIT online course, got bored, and jumped onto FreeCodeCamp and loved it. I learned much more from trying and failing than following a course online.

  • Online College Courses (for free): MIT Intro or Harvard’s
  • FreeCodeCamp.com is made by an awesome guy and will give you the skills you need to work as a coder (specifically a front-end web developer). I am going through this entire website; it’s fricken awesome (and it’s free).
  • I can’t recommend anything else because I haven’t used anything else; I’m pretty new to all of this. If you want to learn more or try different languages, here is a good Reddit post on where to start.

10. Do an Online Yoga Class

Or any online exercise class. I prefer going outside but if you have no other options doing an indoor online course is 100x better than doing nothing.

During the COVID pandemic, I alternated between these two free classes on YouTube, one was 60 minutes and 30 minutes.

11. Become a Tourist where you live

I recently did this in Philly and discovered some museums in Philly that I saw before! There are a couple of ways to do this, get up and walk around near you until you find something cool (assuming you are in a safe area, of course).

Or, check out these online resources and pick something and try it out:

  • TimeOut* (probably the best one because it will also include weekly events)
  • You Probably know the best news outlet or media source in your particular place; check it out. Are there any shows going on? Events? Showings? Parties? Concerts? Galleries?
  • TripAdvisor
  • EarthTrekker(fewer places but excellent itinerary’s)

12. Plan a fun trip

Of course, there is an extensive range of things to do. However, it can be fun planning something even if you have no time to do it (for now). Just figuring out where would be a fun trip and what exactly you would do in that place can be tons of fun.

I love mapping out itineraries and exact locations I will be; for example, I’m planning a Tuscany trip after medical school right now and am planning out the exact days and places and restaurants, including Genoa, Florence, Siena, Val d’Orcia, and so on. Even looking online it’s fun to explore the wine tours, experiences, and castles to climb!

Some things you can plan:

  • A big trip to a new country or place like London, Australia, NYC, Spain, Italy, Canada or anywhere big and new
  • A little trip closer to where you live, maybe this is a 2-6 hour car or train or bus journey away, where will you stay? How long would you go there for? What season would it be best to visit? Can you time it with some special event?
  • A day trip might mean “becoming a tourist in your hometown.”
  • A camping trip
  • A road trip
  • A “visit a friend” trip
  • A “visit a relative” trip
  • A beach trip
  • A big hike

13. Organize your Computer and Email

I am at inbox 0. However, getting there was tough. One day, a couple of years ago, I went through everything in my inbox from the past year, then literally just deleted every other thing in my inbox. There are a couple of good guides to cleaning out your inbox and maximizing that organization that I have listed below. Before that, however, what I do is either three things: I reply and complete the email right then and there, I put it in a special mailbox that says “Action Items,” or add that email’s content to a to-do list. Everything else gets deleted

Step 2 on organizing my computer is managing hard drive space. Take a look at the files that are taking up the most storage on your computer; are they necessary? Can you delete them?

  • For the Mac, I just go to the Apple icon top left → “About this Mac” → Storage → “Manage” → Then I look at documents on the left and delete anything that seems unnecessary or I haven’t opened in over a year.

Step 3 on my organizational journey is making sure my documents and folders are in place, again, using a Mac:

  • Check the downloads folder and delete or move any files, should be nothing in the downloads folder after that.
  • Go to documents and organize everything under three major categories (“Personal,” “School,” and “YouTube”)
  • Sub-organize those folders, so, for example, in school, I have “High School,” “GWU,” “UPENN,” and “Jefferson.”
  • Finally, I like to organize the favorites tab in my finder window, so on the left, I only have my most used folders currently.

Then, if you want to get freaky, I like to organize my Spotify playlists and even the following Podcasts. I like to just hit “Play” on my podcast playlist at the moment of various curated episodes, so I know I’ll be listening to some good stuff.

My Spotify Playlists:

  • Epic Music (intense studying)
  • Working Out
  • Ambient Music (chill studying)

My favorite Podcasts:

  • Tim Ferriss Show
  • Huberman Lab
  • The Knowledge Project
  • The JRE
  • My First Million

14. Play an Instrument

Playing an instrument can improve cognitive functioning and creative skills (according to this paper). Anecdotally, I note my smartest friends always grew up playing an instrument. I didn’t pick up an instrument until college.

If you don’t play an instrument that’s ok! But, honestly, just one weekend of dedication can make you know enough basics to start learning the fun of the instrument. Studies show things need to be 85% doable for us to learn the most, so once you get basic proficiency, you can start learning new chords and new songs, which apply to every instrument.

The only guides I know are for guitar because that’s all I play, so here are my favorite resources:

  • Justin Guitar
  • The other guy with riffs
  • GuitarTab for songs
  • Fender Autotune, so you never have to buy one of those annoying tuners again
  • Some picks and a capo

Of course, many of my very smart friends play piano and violin and saxophone, anything will do.

15. Update Your Finances

Simply, get a general sense of how much you are spending, where you are spending it, and how much you are earning. I’m not saying necessarily to budget; just getting a general sense of your ins and outs can be very helpful.

Then, if you run any business, like, for me, I have my company Zach Highley LLC (which I do all my YouTube and website dealings through), it might make sense to do this more frequently. For example, I pay virtually no taxes right now because all my income goes straight into this channel, the the point where I really don’t have any profit at the moment: camera gear, editing expenses, website hosting, bla bla.

Then, once you see what’s going on you could even start to see some trends or make some decisions:

  • “Oh, I didn’t know that subscription was that much! I don’t even use that service?” → cancel
  • “Wow, I am spending too much money on delivery services; how much would it cost to start cooking a little more? Can I spend the time to replace maybe just one take-out with one cooked meal?”
  • “I have been saving well for a while now; why don’t I finally do that trip I’ve always wanted to do!”

Really, all you need is Excel, if you want a little more ease of use and automation you could check out QuickBooks which I use for my business.

16. Create a reading stream of great blogs

Instapaper and Feedly are my primary sources of new blogs to read. Reading blogs, I thought, was silly a couple of years ago. But, I later realized, that some of the smartest people in the world are posting their thoughts and insights on the internet for free! I would be stupid to miss out on all of that completely.

Other significant sources of blogs are from newsletters I receive, and usually, they send good blog posts. Usually, whenever I see one of these posts, I don’t have the time to read the post thoroughly, so I save it to Instapaper. Then, I’ll open Instapaper and read through them when I am waiting around one day or traveling.

My favorite newsletters are:

  • Nat Eliason
  • Ali Abdaal
  • Seth Godin

My favorite blogs are:

  • Zenhabits
  • Derek Sivers Blog
  • Oliver Emberton
  • Get Rich Slowly
  • Cdixon
  • Mark Manson
  • Paul Graham: Essays
  • Sam Altman
  • The Technium
  • Wait But Why
  • Wise Bread

17. Read

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

Benjamin Franklin

Reading does a couple of things beyond the actual content of the books:

  • Improved writing abilities
  • Improved vocabulary
  • Improved focus
  • Improved communication skills

My habit right now is I read for 30 mins – 1 hour every night at 7 pm. I also spend at least one weekend morning sitting outside and reading. Depending on my mood, I am constantly reading one fiction book and one non-fiction book. If a book bores me, I stop reading it. My reading rate has improved from about one book a year to about one book every three weeks.

You can check out my favorite books I have read so far here. However, I think there are a couple of great lists on the internet on books to read in a lifetime. Currently, I’m reading Letters From a Stoic by Socrates.

  • 100 Books to Read Before You Die – a great list that combines and correlates the top lists from Harvard, The Guardian, Amazon, Time Magazine, and The Telegraph to a list of 100 books.
  • The Great Books List – Nat Eliason, a really cool blogger I follow, has created “the great books project” with the essential classic books from all time in chronological order. He plans to read 233 books over five years, starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh from 2100 B.C. and ending with American pastoral from 1997.

You can’t go wrong with either of these lists. I’ll slowly start integrating more of the classics into my reading, although I don’t think I’ll complete this entire list.

The most important thing, however, is starting the habit. I would start reading stuff you really want to read first, then expand to the more “classic” books.

Ok, that’s it; thank you so much for reading. Hopefully, you found one thing you could do instead of watching TV.


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