Spend the Night: A Screen-Free Challenge

Something remarkable—and not in a good way—slapped me in the face a few nights back.

I’d spent a solid nine hours with my eyes locked to a laptop screen, furiously working on new projects. The nature of the work keeps me wedded to my computer, and for the most part I don’t mind it. Come the evening, though, I was itching to mix it up — to close the laptop, maybe, and spend those twilight hours in the world outside the cloud.

I shut down my computer. I then blinked, looked around my room, and realized I was left with a surprising question: “Well, what now?”

Call it a sign of the times, I think, that we might draw a blank on everything we can do without a computer. And can you blame us? For so many of us, now, computers have taken over. They’ve quickly—and quietly—become our first choice for entertainment, information, and everything in between, our go-to option for anything we need. You could make a strong case that this is a good thing, but I could make an equally brawny argument that we’ve been saddled with a bunch of negatives to go right alongside it.

We’ve forgotten how to live without the Internet. We’ve forgotten how to spend a handful of hours without the comforting glow of our screens. And most importantly, I think, we’ve forgotten everything the world has to offer beyond the edges of our monitors.

So ask yourself: if you took one evening this week to spend your hours away from your screens, what would you do?

Therein lays the challenge. Spend one night each week with no screens. Shut down the TV, close your laptop, and keep your distance from all glowing rectangles, spending your time with what’s left: you, yourself, and the sights and smells of an entire real world around you.

Spend your time like you used to, back before technology became such an integral—integrated—part of our lives.

With the computer quiet, you might feel a little empty. You might feel a little restless. What can you do when Facebook and Twitter have to go on without you?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Read a book.
  2. Take a walk.
  3. Spend some time decluttering your house.
  4. Phone up an old friend.
  5. Take the time to cook your dinner — and dinner for the next few nights, too.
  6. Work on your drawing skills.
  7. Go to bed early.
  8. Meet up with friends for tea and conversation.
  9. Play a board game with your family. Or, you know, just talk.
  10. Do that one thing you’ve always wanted to do, but could “never find the time.” Guess what? You just found it.

So make a list, now, before you begin. Fill in your own activities, and make a vow to spend one night each week pursuing them.

And just think: if you take one evening each week to live through your list, how much could you accomplish?

And then imagine: what if you did this for a year?

What’s on your list? What are you going to do when the TV is quiet? Sound off below! And please help me spread the word of this challenge using one of the buttons below.


  1. Theresa says:

    I like to play board games or card games with my mom and brother. I also often like to go for a stroll around the block. We read sometimes too. Sometimes we do yoga. There’s really all sorts of other things to do, you just need to find what you like :)

  2. Andrew says:

    You forgot a big one- write! (yes, I hear it’s possible without Ommwriter or Word)

  3. David says:

    I love reading a good book, writing, meditating composing new music or simply chilling out playing my guitar or training.

    What I would love to add to my routine is.. shooting some photograph by night :) AND this is the moment to catch the opportunity!

    Happy challenge everyone,


  4. Lee says:

    Great idea, and great suggestions for how to implement it, Matt. I’m an avid reader, but still spend too many hours in front of my computer. It’s good to remember there are other things to do besides read, too.

  5. Joy Daniels (@AuthorJDaniels) says:

    Every week my family celebrates Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath. We’re not strictly religious but but have made it our family practice to refrain from: electronics/screens (TV, computers, stereo, etc), driving, and spending money. I look forward to Friday nights and Saturday afternoons b/c I know I’ll have HOURS to get into the book I’m reading, to play games with the kids or to go to a park or some other place w/in walking distance

    Whether religion speaks to you or not I, highly recommend picking a day “off.” A time to turn everything else off and yourself on to the world outside the computer/tv screen.

  6. Terry says:

    Great topic! We all need some time in the real world, unplugged! We have gotten so far out of touch with what really matters… in the end I believe it is our gift of time and attention to the ones we care about, and ourselves as well.
    Being successful in the world is not the ultimate goal in my life, it is giving of myself to those I love.

  7. Leiah says:

    Great advice. My boyfriend & I decided NO TV for the month of February. I spend all day on the computer for work, so come evening I’m always desperate for something that doesn’t glow! This evening I’m catching up with a drawing assignment and listening to a book on tape. (and by tape i mean computer…but it still counts as No computer, right?!)

  8. Rebecca says:

    This post was very timely. We just cancelled our TV licence because we want to eliminate mindless TV-watching from our lives. However, we seem to have substituted nights in front of the TV with nights in front of our laptops! So thank you for your ideas for alternative activities.

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  10. Lowry Manders says:

    My family (mommy, daddy, 4-yr-old, 2-yr-old) recently started a new weekly “Tech-Free” day as part of our vision for 2012. Here’s the scoop on how it’s going for us, and how to make it work for your family: http://www.mommymanders.com/2012/02/02/disconnecting-to-connect-our-experiment-plus-10-tips-for-your-family/

  11. lex says:

    Does reading a book on my ipad count?

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      That’s up to you. :) I don’t mind reading books on a screen, honestly, as it’s still a much more mindful way to pass the time than to just mess around on the ‘net.

  12. Rachel says:

    This is great – thanks. I love the last one. I am always telling people that if you have a To Do List that never seems to shrink, try NOT watching TV or turning to the computer in your leisure time. You’ll be amazed at all the “found” time.