Primary vs. Secondary Content: A Strategy for Moderation

In a previous series on YouTube moderation, I grappled with how we can engage with the genuinely valuable and enjoyable content on YouTube and other social media/entertainment apps while still maintaining self-control. In this post, I’ll explore another strategy for approaching this dilemma: distinguishing between primary and secondary content.

I should probably find more descriptive terms (let me know if you have any ideas), but here’s how I’d define primary and secondary content:

  1. Primary Content is content that you are genuinely excited to consume. It is the best-quality, most helpful, and/or most engaging content you read, watch, or listen to.
  2. Secondary Content is content that you consume because (1) you’re overly fixated on a certain topic or (2) you’ve run out of primary content but feel an urge to fill your time with entertainment rather than silence.

I’ve observed that if I limit my consumption to primary content, I can experience the benefits of various entertainment mediums while still maintaining moderation. When I delve into secondary content, however, I’m far more likely to binge on that content and end up feeling miserable.

Secondary Content and Sports Fandom

Let me illustrate this through a humorous but very real struggle. I love the Sacramento Kings and the NBA in general. As the fan of a bad team, my two favorite times of year are the NBA draft (chance for the Kings to snag an exciting new prospect) and free agency (time for blockbuster trades and player movement across the league).

I know what qualifies as my sports primary content. These are the podcasts, Twitter threads, or YouTube videos that spark genuine excitement when they come across my feed. If I just consumed that content, my sports fandom would take up a significant but still reasonable amount of my time.

But my voracious appetite for Kings and NBA content usually doesn’t stop there. As an example of an over-fixation on a certain topic: when the Kings prized rookie, Keegan Murray, lit up the summer league, I didn’t just watch highlights or listen to a podcast or two. I stayed up late into the night, searching for any podcast, video, or article that remotely touched on his performance, even from sources I wouldn’t normally enjoy. The result was increasingly diminishing returns. What began as excitement for the Kings’ rookie, devolved into feeling silly for wasting so much time.

As an example of running out of primary content but preferring secondary content to silence: now is the dead time of the NBA season. No more draft, free agency, or summer league. After the deluge of content that was released during those periods, it has been difficult to adjust to the lack of news and content. Sometimes I’ll find myself searching out and mindlessly clicking on content I’m only mildly interested in, just to scratch that basketball itch.

Slaves to the Algorithm

If you think about it, the whole point of the “algorithm” for sites like YouTube, Netflix, and other apps is to rope you in and trap you with secondary content.

On YouTube, for example, your primary content comes from your subscriptions. Those are the creators that you’ve found valuable enough to subscribe to.

Your suggested video page picks up on topics that you’ve demonstrated interest in and recommends similar videos. Sometimes this results in finding new creators you enjoy (i.e. new primary content.) But just as often, the algorithm will recommend copycat creators or derivative content that is similar in topic but lower in quality.

This is how you can go down a rabbit hole and grow increasingly more miserable. Your fixation on a topic or desire to quench your boredom causes you to consume more and more from the algorithm, even as the content declines in quality.

In previous articles, I explored some practical strategies (see part 2 as well) for resisting the pull of the algorithm. One idea is to add any video that initially piques your interest to the “Watch Later” playlist. This creates an extra step for you to pause and evaluate if you really want to watch a particular video (primary content) or are just clicking impulsively (secondary content). Another strategy is to install DF YouTube to remove the suggested video page altogether.

Embracing Silence

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room”

Blaise Pascal

At my first job out of college, the work was menial enough that I could listen to audio content while I worked. This had its good moments (like listening to the entire Harry Potter series on Audible), but looking back, I realize that this freedom often made me feel unhappy and restless.

Why? The ability to listen to anything anytime caused me to develop a constant appetite for new content. Eventually, it became less about what I was listening to — it could even be a convicting sermon — and more about passing the time to get through the workday.

Our world of competing streaming services and constantly refreshing social media feeds promises a never-ending stream of primary content to entertain us. We buy into that promise and begin to crave that all our spare moments be filled with noise.

The result, however, is that we turn more and more to secondary content, which we watch just for the sake of watching. Like junk food, the more we binge on secondary content, the more addicted and unhealthy we become.

Embracing silence, in contrast, is like a muscle that grows the more we exercise it. Initially, we will feel uncomfortable. It will seem as if we are wasting our time or missing an opportunity to catch up on the flashiest new thing. In time, however, learning to enjoy silence will yield many fruitful benefits. To name a few:

  • Silence invites deeper reflection. Think of the difference between letting your mind wander during a walk or commute versus instinctively putting on a podcast.
  • Silence trains us so we can enjoy unhurried time in prayer, meditation, and study without growing bored or restless;
  • Silence allows us to focus on the present task at hand instead of always multi-tasking. An example would be simply enjoying a meal instead of reflexively watching a show.
  • Silence makes us feel we have more time. I find that when I take a break and simply rest without consuming anything, the break seems to last much longer than if I spent it scrolling on my phone.

Expanding Appetites

I ended the YouTube Moderation series with a reflection that strategies for moderation shouldn’t be our ultimate aim. I use the example of training wheels:

Training wheels assist beginners who are learning to ride a bike but are not yet skilled enough to balance on their own. Without training wheels, these individuals might teeter and fall, badly injuring themselves. I think the training wheel analogy is helpful. because it highlights the temporary nature of the various tactics I’ve proposed. These tactics are not ends in and of themselves, but help us as we go on to greater, more important pursuits.

In a similar vein, we shouldn’t be content to merely consume primary content and avoid secondary content. It does me little good, for example, if my only interest in life is basketball and the Sacramento Kings, no matter how disciplined I am in consuming primary sports-related content.

In addition to embracing silence, we should also seek to expand our appetites from content that merely entertains to content that informs and helps us grow. For me, I’ve been trying to push myself beyond my normal sports intake to seek out content on topics like fatherhood, personal finance, or health. These may not be as natural for me to listen to, but in the long run they will help me better lead and love my family.


Hopefully this discussion of primary and secondary content resonates and is helpful. Feel free to reach out and let me know what you think. Until next time!


Preparing to Start Well (2/2)

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of getting off to a good start. In today’s post, we’ll delve into some practical ways to do this.

Resisting the Siren’s Song

In Homer’s, Odyssey, the Sirens are creatures who use their enchanting song to mesmerize sailors and lead them to crash their ships against the rocks. The protagonist, Odysseus, escapes this danger by preemptively plugging the ears of his crew and tying himself to the mast, so they would not be tempted to veer off course.

This story provides an apt metaphor for starting well. In our morning grogginess, we are especially susceptible to distraction. We need to combat the sweet siren song of our devices through preparation. By preparing in advance, we protect our future morning self from short-sighted decisions. Positively, this means eliminating decision fatigue by planning what we’ll do in the morning. Negatively, it means preemptively removing distractions so we don’t need to rely on our frail and fickle willpower.

Below are 3 practical ways I try to prepare to start well:

  1. Prepare your environment. If we want to do devotions in the morning, for example, we can set up the night before. For me, this means cleaning unnecessary clutter off my desk, putting away devices, laying out a notebook, and opening up my Bible to the passage I’ll be reading the following day. Additionally, I find that by reading the passage night before, I’m much more likely to read the following morning and be primed for deeper reflection. By preparing my environment, beforehand, I proactively address the excuses that my sinful flesh uses to avoid spending time with God. Even as I sleepily stumble to my desk, I can still read, pray, and experience God’s refreshing grace through the means of grace.
  2. Prepare your digital environment. As my responsibilities have grown at work, I receive an ever-increasing barrage of emails. I would find myself spending the first hour of the day just sorting through emails to get my bearings. I’ve gotten into the habit of moving this more passive work of processing my inbox to the end of my workday or during my downtime at night. Doing this, combined with closing open tabs and documents, ensures I can start the work day with clean workspace and a less chaotic and cluttered inbox.
  3. Prepare your priorities. As part of processing emails, I’ll write down actionable tasks ordered by priority (2-3 main highlights for work and personal life, moderate tasks, and “easy wins”). From there, I can check my calendar for meetings and roughly time block how the day will go. This way, instead of wasting time in the morning spinning my wheels on low-reward administrative tasks or figuring out where I should start, I can immediately focus on my most important priorities while I have the most energy.

Only One Thing is Necessary

In Luke 10, we find the story of Mary and Martha. Martha is troubled, anxious, and consumed with busyness, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, eagerly hanging on his every word. It is easy to begin our days like Martha. We are confronted with everything we must do. We feel we must get straight to business, or else we will drown. As a result, we go through our days with restless hearts and frantic spirits. What would it look like to imitate Mary? I think it would look like carving out unhurried time to sit at the feet of Jesus, learning from his Word, and communing with him in prayer.

Jesus gently corrects Martha and the busy-body spirit of our hearts: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:41-42). So much calls for our attention, but Jesus reminds us that our most important priority is communion with him. Devotions can often feel like an unproductive use of time compared to all the urgent tasks of the day, but they are actually what our souls need most.

Spending time with Christ prepares us for the day to come. It is a time for us to unload our burdens and anxieties. It is a time to confess the sins that entangle us and remind ourselves of Gospel promises and blessings. It is a time for us to commit our upcoming days to God and ask him for strength for our responsibilities.

There is common grace wisdom in the world’s infatuation with morning routines. It is crucial to get off to a good start to build momentum for the rest of the day. As Christians, we understand this even more deeply. By cutting away distractions and making time for Christ, we go forth into the day’s responsibilities, secure in his love and strengthened to face the opportunities that God provides.

The Importance of Starting Well (1/2)

Some exciting personal news: I recently became a dad! I’m not sure how often I’ll be writing given that reality. However, I have some pockets of free time during my paternity leave, so I thought I’d jot down some lessons I’ve learned as a single/married person without kids to serve as a launching-off point for this new stage of life I’m entering.

I’ve found that the most accurate predictor of how my day will go is how I start the day. When I start well, I can approach my responsibilities with a sense of calm and intention. I’m more likely to adhere to other systems and strategies I’ve put into place, which allows me to better maintain focus. Conversely, when I start poorly, I often never recover. Even when I try to get back on track, I’ll feel continually restless and distracted.

Why does how we start the day have such an outsized impact on the the rest of our productivity?

Rolling into Momentum vs. Digging Out of Inertia

“Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.”

In his article, “The Physics of Productivity: Newton’s Law of Getting Stuff Done”, author James Clear creatively applies Isaac Newton’s first law of motion to our productivity. Clear explains: “When it comes to being productive, this means one thing: the most important thing is to find a way to get started. Once you get started, it is much easier to stay in motion.”

It makes sense, then, why it’s worthwhile to focus our efforts on beginning each day with healthy habits and priority tasks. These decisions may feel costly as we battle through bleary-eyed grogginess, but they make each subsequent step easier. They set us in motion down the right path.

On the other hand, the longer we delay getting started, the more difficult it becomes to get ourselves going. Each choice to indulge in procrastination is like shoveling a handful of dirt beneath our feet. Rather than coasting on momentum we’ve built, we must spend precious energy digging ourselves out of a hole of our own making.

Giving Distraction a Foothold

Our morning choices set the direction for the rest of our days. Here’s the problem: morning time is often when we’re least prepared to make wise decisions. All we want is to hit the snooze button and succumb to the whispers of sleep. When we do manage to roll out of bed, we’re susceptible to the onslaught of distraction from our devices.

I’ve written in the past about the pull of infinity pools — that is, how YouTube and other social media apps are designed to capture our attention and hold it hostage. We are especially vulnerable to those temptations when we first wake up. What begins as “Let me watch this video or check social media for a few minutes” quickly stretches to 15-minutes, a half-hour, or more of wasted time. This has several harmful effects that bleed into the rest of the day:

First, by granting distraction a foothold to start the day, we make it more difficult to battle distraction throughout the day. When talking to other brothers about the battle for purity, a common refrain is that the temptation for lust doesn’t subside once you give in; it only intensifies. In a similar vein, once we allow distraction in, our willpower to resist it grows weaker and weaker. Even if we’re able to get back on track, we will likely face increased temptation to relapse into laziness later on.

Second, beginning the day with distraction usually means beginning the day behind. By the time we emerge from our social media stupor, we are often frantically playing catch-up. This triggers a poisonous cycle of procrastination: (1) We’re behind on our responsibilities, (2) we feel guilty, frustrated, or overwhelmed at all we have to do, (3) unable to process those negative emotions, we turn back to distractions.

Passing the First Test

Recently, I listened to a short podcast (which somehow combines basketball and productivity) which helpfully captures how we should approach the crossroads we find ourselves at each morning:

“This practice is what I call passing the first test. When you first wake up, the first test of your discipline is… to not take your phone out of airplane mode until you’ve done your first major task of that day… What happens when you do this, is it’s this little bicep curl for your discipline muscle first thing that activates it. The rest of the day, when the choice comes up to be disciplined and do the thing you know you need to do, or go soft and eat the junk food or skip the work out, you’re going to have that muscle already pre-activated.

What I suggest is extending this to the rest of the day. See if you can notice times throughout the day, where there are these little tests. You have a choice whether you can maintain discipline and do the thing you know is right to do, or lapse into this softness and do the thing that impulsively you want to do. See if you can pass as many of those tests as possible.

Let’s endeavor to “pass the first test” and start our mornings with discipline rather tan distraction. In the next post, I’ll share some practical considerations on how we can start well.

Let the Day Go (and Tips for Waking Up)

Recently, I wrote about trying to fix my sleep habits, especially because of their connection with my morning devotions. I wanted to share a few brief reflections that didn’t end up making it into that post.

As an extreme introvert, I can idolize the time before bed. The day’s business is done. No more work, ministry, or events on the calendar. My wife is asleep and the house is quiet. I can relax and use the time however I want — whether that’s checking a few tasks off my to-do list or more often than not, unwinding with some entertainment. I value that “de-compressing” time.

There’s nothing wrong with alone time, but it becomes a problem when I hold on to the day too tightly. What do I mean? Going to sleep means the end of my blissful alone time and embracing the next day, with all it’s hustle and bustle, whereas staying up means prolonging those feelings of rest and relaxation just a bit longer. Once I’m in that frame of mind, it’s easy for the pull of entertainment to suck me in.

Instead I’m learning to “let the day go”. I’ll sometimes repeat that phrase to myself, when I find myself staying up too late. Yes, alone time is good in its proper place. But it’s not an escape from my God-given opportunities and responsibilities as a husband, friend, church member, son, and employee. Psalm 127:2 tells us that the Lord gives his beloved sleep. I don’t need to fear tomorrow and it’s worries. I can go to sleep with peace, excited to meet with God first thing in the morning. I can sleep in faith, knowing that God will provide fresh new mercy every morning and he is sovereign over the next days events.

Tips for Waking Up

We’ve touched on some of my heart issues for getting to sleep on time, but what about waking up? Practically speaking, the main factor of whether I’ll wake up or not is whether I can battle through the initial grogginess and get out of bed. In that moment of first waking up, the hazy fog of sleep is so powerful (somehow far less attractive when I’m deciding to sleep the night before!). It’s difficult to resist the urge to hit that snooze button and float off for another 10 minutes.

However, if I’m able to battle through the initial grogginess and make it through these 4 habits, I can usually start my morning on a good note:

  • Rehydrate – Chug water for 10 seconds
  • Brush Up – Splash cold water on your face, then brush your teeth, etc.
  • Movement – Do 10 pushups.
  • Light/Fresh Air – Turn on the lights (I’ll sometimes set my smart light to gradually turn on before my alarm) or go outside (helpful when I was doing my devotions at the park)

The key is that no matter how miserable you feel, to run through these habits on auto-pilot. This video expands on healthy habits for waking up early without feeling tired.

Until next time!

Teleworking and Avoiding Pitfalls (3/3)

In my previous posts, I talked about focused work and fruitful breaks while teleworking. I wanted to end with some practical tips for avoiding pitfalls

For me, the most dangerous time with the extended Pomodoro strategy is the transition between breaks and work. If I’m not careful, a 15-minute break can stretch to 20 minutes, then 30, then even longer.

Here are a few thoughts on how to be disciplined with re-starting work after a break:

  1. Start Well with Work not Rest – Some productivity gurus swear by making your bed to begin the day. The idea is to begin with an action that sets a tone of discipline and self-control for the rest of the day. Start well and discipline flows naturally; start poorly and invite disorganization. This might sound hokey, but I’ve found the principle to be true with work. Early on with teleworking, I’d spend my first moments browsing social media, sports, and tech news. Seems harmless enough, but by beginning the day with distraction, it became easier to be undisciplined throughout the day. These days, I try to set a better tone by jumping straight into planning out the workday (30 min) and then a 45-minute Pomodoro session.
  2. Avoid Distracting Websites During Breaks – In his article on deep breaks, Cal Newport warns against choosing break activities that expand outside of a 10-15 minute time window. It’s easy to start scrolling through social media or watching a YouTube video, reach your time limit, and think to yourself, “Just 5 minutes more.” Another side effect of distracting websites: your break will feel like it’s gone in the blink of an eye. In contrast, try walking around the block without headphones. The 15-minutes will feel much longer and you’ll really have a chance to think and catch your breath.
  3. Plan Your Next Breaks and Focus Session – Before going on your break, I’ve found it helpful to jot down what you’ll do during the 15-minute break and what you’ll do when you’re return. It’s a small step, but you’re being intentional and defining your next steps, instead of approaching them blindly.
  4. Be Flexible but also Disciplined in Returning to the Cycle – We don’t always have full control over our schedules. There will be times when meetings, trainings, other phone calls, will interrupt your 45-15 minute time blocks. Be flexible but also be disciplined in getting back to your Pomodoros. For instance, it’s easy for me to be lazy after I’ve had a long, tedious meeting. I need to be careful to limit myself to a 15-minute break and then focus, instead of lapsing into distraction.
  5. Use an Actual Timer – Actual timers, whether physical or digital, add an external source of accountability. Besides that, before I used a timer, I would just judge my calendar in 15 minute windows If I slacked and took a break until 2:37, it was easy for me to think: “Ah, I’ll just wait until 2:45.” Timers can help you stick to the 45-15 minute rhythm no matter the time.

My hope with these reflections is to brainstorm out loud about how to both faithful (Col 3:23-24) and balanced at work. With the 45-minute focus sessions, I can do good work and meet my deadlines. With the 15-minute breaks, I can rest and or knock out personal tasks that otherwise would build up and cause stress. While this may not be peak productivity, together, this rhythm of work and rest feels sustainable in these odd, unprecedented times.

Until next time!