I tried blocking it all together. I tried using willpower. I tried clicking “not interested” on hundreds of videos to bend the algorithm to my will (this almost worked). And then…I found it. The perfect way to have a healthy relationship with YouTube, getting all the benefits with none of the hangover
I don’t use Twitter, I rarely go on Instagram, Facebook doesn’t pull me like it once did.
But YouTube…YouTube can still make an afternoon disappear in the blink of an eye if I’m not careful.
Watching videos for entertainment, edutainment, inspiration, or just to veg out is not inherently bad. Where it takes a turn is when one 8 minute video turns into 4 hours, you meant to stop working 2 hours ago, and you still haven’t sent out the agenda for tomorrow morning’s meeting. YouTube wants you to stay engaged indefinitely, it’s in their best interest. But you don’t. So it’s time to take back some of your power. It’s time to start using YouTube as a way to watch things you actually enjoy in reasonable quantities, not watch mindless blooper videos or reactionary politics at 3am.
Blocking the site altogether doesn’t work because it’s too restricting. Eventually the pull to numb out will win, and you binge even worse, either finding some way to get back to YouTube, or finding another way to scratch the itch.
So what you’re going to do is keep all of the good things about YouTube, and disappear the rest. You’re going to disappear the clickbait. The Autoplay. The rabbit holes. The massive buffet. You’re gonna go on a YouTube diet. And instead of putting a tantalizing cornucopia of food in front of yourself and saying you can’t eat it, you’re going to stock your fridge full of healthy, delicious, meal prepped food. If you’re hungry, no problem, you’ve got a great option that you’ll enjoy eating now, and feel good about later. It’s a win-win.
So here, I present to you, a step by step guide (with options!!) for how to have a healthier relationship with YouTube.
OPTION 1: THE 30 SECOND WAY
(Skip to option 2/3 if you want the most powerful option. They provide redundant functionality, so you only need to do one.)
Step 1: Download the “News Feed Eradicator” extension for Chrome, turn on the toggle for YouTube (and maybe Facebook and LinkedIn while you’re at it), and you’re done. This is a 90% solution in less than a minute. Thank you Jordan West!
If you stop reading here, you’ve already won. Keep reading if you want to become even more productive and learn even more powerful tools.
OPTION 2: THE MIDDLE GROUND
This is the shortcut version of option 3. You can take the shortcut, but I’m still going to show you what I did to create the shortcut, so you know what’s going on in the background, and can use the same strategy for other sites. Teach a man to fish, as the saying goes.
Step 1: If you don’t already have the AdBlock Plus extension, you’re going to want to download it now, for both Option 2 and 3.
What does an adblocker have to do with YouTube? AdBlock Plus (I’m not sponsored I swear) is a miracle tool not because it blocks ads (that’s great too) but because it can block arbitrary HTML elements. An ad is just a certain piece of content contained within an element.
And you know what else is contained within an element? You guessed it, rabbit holes, clickbait, and the “binges.”
So we’re going to use this little element blocking super power to fight back.
Step 2: Go to AdBlock settings in the extension manager in the upper right:
Step 3: Click the “Advanced” Tab on the left
Step 4: Scroll down to “MY FILTER LIST”
Step 5: Copy and Paste this list into the text field
Step 6: Go to YouTube and be amazed at how non-bingey it is now
OPTION 3: THE BEST WAY
This is the detailed option, the one that will really teach you how to wield AdBlock Plus as the superpower that it is. With these skills you’ll be able to take back control in your relationships with sites as far and wide as LinkedIn, Facebook, eBay, Twitter, and beyond.
Step 2: Set a timer (recall step 1 was to download AdBlock Plus)
Set a timer, ideally on a second monitor, ideally REALLY BIG, for 5 MINUTES. If possible put this how-to guide on one monitor with the other ready to do the work, so you can smoothly move from step to step.
Why do this? Simple, we’re about to enter the belly of the beast and we want to do everything we can to arm ourselves. In order to take the screenshots for this article I had to undo these steps so I could redo them, and I got sucked in!! So this step is a way to help you. If it’s really bad, call a friend and ask them to keep you on track or do it with you. It’ll only take 5 minutes to do the rest of the steps if you stay focused, but if you don’t….well, you know what’ll happen.
Step 3: Disappear the main feed
This is the biggest and easiest step to take, so we do it first. On the homepage of YouTube are approximately one zillion clickbait videos specially chosen to suck you in with the gravitational force of a red giant. Let’s make them disappear. Click on the ABP extension, click the blue “Block Element” button, then hover over the main feed until the whole thing turns red, and click. Click “Block” when the dialogue box pops up. You’re done.
Step 4: Disappear the Sidebar
Go to this video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxL9zFWqYA4
Why this video? Because it’s so boring it’s difficult to get sucked into, which will be important as we venture deeper into enemy territory. Again, click the ABP extension, “Block Element,” hover over the sidebar video list until it turns red, click, “Block,” you’re done.
Step 5: Disappear the comments
If you’re like me, you often scroll down to read the comments while the video is just getting started, for that extra dopamine hit. “Let me just get every last drop of unnecessary time wasting out of this video about someone unclogging a drain.”
I am going to make a bold and radical claim — the comments are not worth reading.
Whoa. I know, I said it.
You know the drill: ABP extension, “Block Element,” hover over the comments until the whole section is red, click, “Block,” boom, you’re free of comments.
Step 6: Disappear the final details
Fast forward the video to the very end, when the “Next Up” videos pop up in the player window. ABP extension, “Block Element,” hover over the video thumbnails, click, “Block,” done. You’ll have to do this again, because there are two layers of elements, one layer for the text, one layer for the video thumbnail. You’ll want to do both.
Step 7: Turn Autoplay off
A pesky little hidden rabbit hole, but don’t worry we’re almost done. Simply click the toggle button at the bottom of the video player.
Step 8: Gratitude
Take a moment to thank yourself for taking these steps to develop a healthier relationship with YouTube. Maybe even write down why this is important to you and what it is you’re wanting to spend that time on instead.
Step 9: Meal prep
Okay, last step. In place of the clickbait and bottomless rabbit holes, we’ll put content you actually like. Make a list of things to search for that feel nourishing for you. Things that if you took a ten minute break from work to watch you’d feel better about yourself after watching, not worse. I like to watch videos of West Coast Swing dance, because that’s what I’m passionate about. I suggest you pick something that you’re passionate about, AND that has videos that are generally less than 10 minutes. So maybe don’t put a full length soccer game or movie on the list.
And that’s it.
You still have access to all of YouTube’s greatness, the vast array of helpful, entertaining, educating videos, but you’re now in control of how and when you engage with it. And it doesn’t take tons of willpower to pull yourself away and get back to work, so you can save that for more important things.
Follow me for more posts on how to use technology to enhance your relationships with technology, so you can get more meaningful work done while feeling relaxed and fulfilled.