I was addicted to YouTube and social media, like, alarmingly addicted. Talk about wasting 3-4 hours a day just watching endless YouTube videos. I had no control over my life or my time. I knew I had to do something about it.
A few weeks ago, I picked up Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. In the book, he suggested removing all optional technology in 30 days - including any online service, news or apps that do not prevent you from functioning on a day-to-day basis. This process is called "digital decluttering". It aims to give you time to reflect on what matters.
Following his guide, I decided to cut down YouTube for 30 days.
Leaving YouTube was difficult. It was my primary source of entertainment. It was where I've learned pretty much anything - from learning a new language, coding to unclogging the sink.
To my surprise, after a month and a series of steps that I took to discourage myself from using YouTube, I no longer have the urge to use it anymore. It's just not that interesting to go and browse videos and watch them. I managed to reduce my YouTube time to less than 15 minutes on average per day. That equals to one YouTube video.
With COVID and quarantine life, I might not be alone in this battle against the infinite loop of excessive streaming habit and inner scream for help. Here is the list of my strategies and I hope you might benefit from it!
This first step is the most important. It is crucial to find other hobbies to not relapse back to YouTube. There are a few criteria for a high-quality hobby:
- Analog: I highly recommend you find a few hobbies that don't need technology to function. This will create distance between you and your phone, which means less opportunity to pick up the phone and watch a random video.
- Fun: It should be fun for you. It should spark interest, curiosity, passion - whatever floats your boat. It should be rewarding. I've started to read much more books than I used to. I also enjoy walking outdoor more, especially during COVID when nothing is open.
- Requires skills: Find something that requires skills that you hold valuable - something you need to work on to "level up". They can be physical or mental. For example, learning a new instrument requires both physical and intellectual capability. A few examples: learning to sew, playing a new sport, playing chess, running, writing.
When you have a hobby that you need to invest your time and energy in, you tend to stick to it more to reap the rewards. Also, if you want to reintroduce YouTube back, you now have a set of topics in mind that YouTube can help open horizon. YouTube will then become your tool and will serve you instead of manipulating your attention.
My recommendation is to find at least two fun and analog hobbies, and one of the two should require skills.
Once you've acquired a few new hobbies, remove YouTube from your phone. This step seems obvious, but I feel the need to include it here. I'm just a normal human with all of the desires and without any tremendous amount of willpower, so I have to create external barriers to not rely on my inner self-control.
Having YouTube available at your fingertips is dangerous. In a split second of boredom, our brain will activate a subconscious urge to order our hand to open the app. This also gives YouTube permission to send notifications by default. That would equal constant distraction and allow YouTube to sneak in and steal our time without us even realizing it. Of course, you can disable the notifications from the settings, but in my experience, not having YouTube at all on the phone allows me to forget about its existence altogether.
If you use an Android device, it's impossible to uninstall the app (uhh Google, please fix this 🤦♀️). The most you can do is disable YouTube, and in doing so, YouTube will no longer show up in your applications list. You'll probably receive a warning when trying to disable it, but don't worry, nothing will go out of order if you do so. Google will try its best to keep us hooked, and remember, it's always easy to enable it back on.
In other words, make YouTube dumb. I stumbled upon this feature while tinkering with my privacy settings on Google, and it honestly changed the game!
By opting out of YouTube activity tracking, Google will stop saving your watch history & search history in the future. There's also an option to delete my past data so I went ahead and deleted all my history.
After this change, I noticed YouTube still proposes videos that would interest me, but the recommendation engine would show more videos that I've already watched. As a result, YouTube became a bit duller and less engaging than it used to be.
To do so, all you need to do is go to https://myactivity.google.com/ > YouTube History and toggle off the YouTube History option:
There's an extra step if you want to delete your data. Just go to the Manage activity tab and choose which date range you want to delete your data from.
With this simple switch off, it takes me less effort and willpower to get over YouTube.
I use BlockSite, which essentially is just a tool that blocks your access to certain websites of your choice. When a site is blocked, you don't have instant access to it by default and have to type in your password to access the site. There are also options to add even more friction such as adding extra challenges to unblock the page. Remember, make it inconvenient.
This is what I see when I type
youtube.com in my browser:
I intentionally set my password to something ridiculous and difficult to remember and, funnily enough, I forgot my password 😜. Thanks to my laziness, I didn't bother resetting the password and stopped visiting YouTube altogether.
Another effective strategy is to plan your watch time. Ask yourself a few questions:
- When am I going to watch YouTube?
- For how long am I going to use it?
- What am I going to watch?
- Do I watch it alone or with somebody else?
- Why do I want to watch YouTube?
For example, I set out my schedule as follows: watch YouTube for a maximum of 30 minutes a day, after dinner at around 9 PM. Watch 1 or 2 chess game analysis videos from @agadmator because I want to follow what's going on in the current chess tournament.
By setting myself up to a specific plan, I'm less likely to go down the YouTube rabbit hole. I don't feel guilty for watching YouTube anymore because it now has become a tool. I regain control of my time and only use YouTube to follow my fostered hobbies.
Next, keep this schedule in a spot that's easy to see so that you have a constant reminder of your intention. For example, write it on a piece of paper and stick it on the wall. Or put a sticky note on your laptop.
YouTube has a handy built-in digital wellbeing tool called "Time watched profile" for tracking daily YouTube watch time. It also keeps track of your historical data for the last seven days and the rolling average. A good start would be getting into the habit of checking your watch time daily and becoming more aware of your time spent on the app.
Additionally, I keep track of my screen time with the Digital Wellbeing app on Android (or Screen Time for iOS users). Every day, I note my screen time on an external app to have a concentrated data source and further recognize my patterns. I use Notion to track progress, but you can use pretty much anything - an Excel table or even a paper calendar works too!
I don't think it's necessary to set a specific goal, like "spending less than 1 hour on YouTube". The primary purpose of progress tracking is to help you shift your focus to mindfulness. Results will come when we are intentional in our actions.
Finally, have fun with it! Don't beat yourself up if you don't remember your progress for one day, or if you used YouTube 1 hour more than you should today. Just remind yourself to get back to it tomorrow. Every new day is a fresh start 🎉
These are the solutions that I've tried and have worked for me personally. Some of these ideas might work for you while some might not. I'd suggest trying them out one by one and give yourself some time to get familiar with this new "regime". It's going to be difficult for the first week or two. You'll likely feel a strong sense of boredom and an urge to open up YouTube or any other time-sucking apps like Reddit or Twitter. It's completely normal to feel that way. Just remind yourself that you have a handful of hobbies to cultivate that will give you much more joy and satisfaction than spending 2+ hours on YouTube.
I hope this article proves to be useful in any way to you. Let me know in the comments!
Good luck 🍀