Attempting to control my YouTube addiction

In 2020, my personal YouTube usage got out of hand. Here's what I'm doing to reclaim my free time in the new year

Happy new year, subscribers! I hope you’re all happy and healthy and excited for the new year. I’ve been thinking about ways to improve certain aspects of my life going into the new year and my YouTube usage is something that’s on my mind a lot lately because it got a little bit toxic in 2020. I’ve been thinking of doing something like this for a while now and now that I’ve done it, I wanted to share the things that I did to make YouTube a healthier pastime for myself… thank you for subscribing and I hope you enjoy the article. – G

For various reasons, my YouTube usage in 2020 was really heavy. Looking back, I can see I was using it as a way to distract myself from the things in my own life I was procrastinating on.

Basically, since I spent a significant chunk of the year at home being jobless, during idle moments I would just go to the YouTube homepage and have fun watching video after video, letting YouTube’s algorithm do precisely what it was designed to do.

I was watching stuff from all sorts of creators: not just tech and gaming content, but also beauty stuff, and vloggy stuff, and towards the end of the year more budgeting and personal finance stuff too. There’s nothing wrong with the videos these creators make – in fact a lot of it is really high quality and I was learning a lot in the process. But I could tell that I was just spending too much time on it.

The amount of channels I subscribed to ballooned to over six hundred channels. My Subscriptions feed became basically useless, because there was just too many videos released daily for me to keep up with.

It was just way too much content for one Gary to handle. So I began thinking, what are some things I can do to make YouTube a more healthy place for me? I had to do something big…

So I unsubscribed from everything

As I scrolled through my list of channels, I just clicked unsubscribe on each and every one.

Now, I really didn’t want to give up YouTube totally, because there are a few channels I truly love. I knew in my head a list of about 6 or 8 creators who made videos I wanted to keep seeing. So in my notebook I wrote down each of those.

And then going through the list unsubscribing from everything, I found a few more channels that I knew I had to keep, and added them to my list.

So you may be wondering: why would I unsubscribe from everything and then resubscribe to the ones I wanted to keep? That seems redundant. Wouldn’t it be easier to just leave the ones you wanted to keep, rather than unsubscribe from them and them resubscribe?

This actually really worked because it’s kind of like cleaning off an old bookshelf, or a drawer. The best way to clean something effectively is to just remove everything, wipe the surface clean of dirt, and dust, then put back just what you want to keep, and discard everything else.¹

Once I had a list of all the channels I wanted to keep, and I’ve unsubscribed from absolutely everything, I resubscribed to only the channels I wanted to keep. The 24 channels I decided to keep are:

Before I unsubscribed from everything, I had notifications turned on for quite a few channels, so a nice side-effect of unsubscribing and resubscribing to these channels is that they all now have notifications OFF! I really don’t need any of these channels to be sending push notifications each time they release a new video.

So that brings me to the last part of this plan: I needed to find a way to be able to watch my subscriptions without even looking at the YouTube homepage.

For me, the YouTube homepage is what was actually the addictive part. YouTube has gotten really good at showing people videos that will keep them want to watch more videos. It regularly introduces new channels you haven’t seen before, all with cleverly written titles and thumbnail images that make me want to just watch everything.

My new way of consuming YouTube is to only watch the videos I’m subscribed to and totally miss out on the homepage experience. So I found a simple way to do this by using the Shortcuts app on iOS to make a new icon on my homescreen which takes me directly to the Subscriptions page within the YouTube app. If you’d like to add this shortcut to your device you can tap here to view the Shortcut.

I’ve been using this new setup for about two weeks so far and I find it’s going quite well. There has been a few times where I have visited the YouTube homepage and gotten sucked in, but overall my usage has went wayyyy down.

How do you deal with your YouTube

¹As opposed to the half-assed way of cleaning that involves picking each item up one at a time, wiping the surface, and then deciding if you’d like to keep the item or not. You end up getting rid of far less junk that way.