How to make sure YouTube doesn’t consume your life

I love YouTube. I hate how quickly my time goes by when I look at it. At one time, I could open the site, find something to watch on my break, and then leave. It’s more difficult now, which is the result of deliberate choices by YouTube’s design team. They want people to stick around, so they’ve added all sorts of features to increase the chances of me continuing to watch videos (instead of, as it were, doing my work). These include automatically playing another video after I watch one, a sidebar full of fascinating links, comments I can’t resist scrolling through, and more.

It makes sense for YouTube to do this – it’s in their best interest to keep me on the site. But it is not in my interest to do so. So, I’ve taken some steps to make those tempting pages less addictive – consider making these changes yourself.

Turn off autoplay

YouTube is designed to play another video after the current video ends. The idea is that you’ll keep watching, which is exactly what you don’t want. That’s why the first change you should make—and I can’t recommend this enough—is to turn off autoplay.

You will find autoplay button to the left of the closed caption button at the bottom of any video you watch online. In the app, you may have to tap on the video to bring it up, but you’ll see it in the top right corner. In either case, just flick the switch to turn it off. It will stay turned off on your device, though you may need to repeat the process if you’re using a new device.

Go straight to subscriptions or your video library

YouTube’s home page uses its infamous algorithm to show you the videos you’re most likely to watch — a category that may or may not be the videos you actually want to watch. Who among us hasn’t felt the need to take a shower immediately after watching after clicking on an attractive link on the home page, only to watch more of the same thing? Not a great feeling.

That’s why I recommend skipping the YouTube home page entirely and instead heading straight to the subscriptions page – there’s a link to Subscriptions in the left sidebar of the YouTube home page (click on three lines in the upper left corner if you don’t see it) and at the bottom of the screen in the app. Here you will see a list of all the videos uploaded by the channels you have decided to follow. It’s a much cleaner experience and much less likely to send you down a rabbit hole. Just watch a video you’re interested in, from someone you know you like, and get on with your day. The simplest thing to do is to bookmark the subscriptions page, which you can find at use it when you want to watch YouTube videos.

[Related: How to navigate through YouTube videos like a pro]

Another page worth knowing about is Library, which will show you all the videos you’ve watched recently. The link should be right next to Subscriptions. This is a great way to find the long video you started on one device and want to finish on another. It’s also a good way to review the types of videos you’ve watched recently, just to get an idea of ​​how much time you spend watching things.

Block out distractions

The tips above will help a bit, but YouTube’s interface is still full of potential distractions. Enter ZenTube, a free browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Safari. It’s open source and volunteer-supported, which means you can trust that it’s free of scams and ads. The extension can block all the things that make YouTube such a distracting place.

By default, it hides all comments, thumbnails, video recommendations, and avatars. The result looks empty, which is the point—if there aren’t compelling visuals on the page, there’s nothing to reflexively click. If you’d rather not disable everything, don’t worry—you can turn any of the features back on if that’s your preference. Play around with it – it will reduce the amount of time you accidentally spend on the website.

YouTube, at its most useful, is a place you can go to with a specific purpose. This could be for watching instructions or for quick fun. Taking the steps I’ve outlined here makes it more likely that you’ll only use YouTube for the specific thing you opened it for, without going down a rabbit hole of distractions.

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