In my last post, I explained how YouTube uses Infinity Pool features to draw users in and keep them on the app. Originally, I had planned to review Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism in this post. But, because book reviews require more time and research, I found myself losing momentum and procrastinating on this series. So, while I hope to return to Newport’s book in the future, I will skip over it for now.
Instead, I want to offer some practical strategies for YouTube moderation that have been helpful for me. Think of this post as more of a toolbox than a rigid list of rules. Please feel free to experiment, find what works for you, and discard the rest.
1. Use a YouTube Blocking App
In his book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear writes that the most self-controlled people are often the ones who need to use it the least. How? They engineer their environment to remove temptations before they arise. They make bad habits impractical by increasing “the friction until [they] don’t have the option to act”.
In my previous article, I covered the Distraction Free (DF) YouTube extension. This browser extension can remove features like suggested videos, auto-play, comments, and more. Users don’t have to summon their willpower to combat those distracting features; the extension takes care of them automatically.
DF YouTube is a helpful start, but I’ve found it helpful to pair that extension with a YouTube blocking app. My app of choice is called Freedom. It allows me to designate certain times of the day to block YouTube (and other distracting websites) and works across desktop and mobile devices. If I try to access YouTube, I’ll be greeted by the following message:
Figuring out a schedule that works for you requires experimentation. You’ll need to get in the lab and figure out which time periods you are most prone to lapses. If you do use Freedom, I recommend using “locked mode” which does not allow you to modify your blocklists once a Freedom session has started.
2. Keep a YouTube Log
Bad habits often function on an automatic, non-conscious level. This is why it’s so easy to fall into a YouTube rabbit hole before even realizing what’s happening. We’ve created well-worn cues from past failures, and the app’s infinity pool features are engineered to put our attention in a stranglehold.
In Atomic Habits, Clear emphasizes the importance of raising our level of awareness from a mindless habit to a more conscious level. “One of our greatest challenges in changing habits”, he writes, “is maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing.”
This is why keeping a YouTube log can be helpful — it encourage intention and helps you maintain awareness of what you are doing. Keeping a log provides a brief moment to pause and evaluate: do I really want to watch this video? Do I choose to watch this video? I’ve found that the simple act of pausing to write down a video I’m about to watch helps me to actively choose the content I consume, instead of mindlessly drifting between videos.
I keep my log pretty simple. I write down the name of the video, the length of the video, and whether I intentionally chose to watch it.
3. Find Pro-Active Accountability
Recently, I was talking with a friend with similar struggles managing his YouTube consumption. We decided to try having accountability for our YouTube/technology use. If we seek accountability for other besetting sins, then why wouldn’t we do the same for our devices, which often sap away so much of our time and energy?
Currently, we keep our accountability pretty simple. We’ll message each other a plan for the week which includes practical strategies (usually adjustments from the prior week) and the heart behind those strategies. We can check in during the week to update the other person, as necessary.
I can’t speak for my friend, but I’ve found this practice helpful so far. Why? A few reasons come to mind:
- There is both a joy and weight of sharing struggles and resolutions with a friend, rather than doing it on my own.
- It requires pro-active thinking. When I submit my plan for the upcoming week, I’m forced to evaluate what worked and what didn’t in the prior week and brainstorm possible solutions. This helps me recognize patterns of failure and prepares me as I approach the new week.
- Sharing the heart behind our strategies helps me resist legalistic rule-keeping and reminds me of the point of productivity: love for God and others.
In the next post, we’ll continue with more practical strategies on YouTube moderation. Until then!
All posts in the YouTube Moderation series: