Vegging out in front of the TV can be a fun activity for a lazy Sunday, but while you’re binge-watching every episode of Jessica Jones, your weekend is passing you by. On Monday you’ll wonder where all that time went that you’d planned to use to fix up the house, read a book, and hang out with friends. Illustration by Fruzsina Kuhári.
Watching TV isn’t inherently bad and it’s a great way to relax after a long day, but too much of it saps your productivity. Before you know it, watching a couple episodes of your favourite show can turn into six hours of time lost to inertia. If you’re looking to cut back on your non-stop streaming marathons, these tips will help you reclaim some time.
Pace Yourself; It Makes Shows More Enjoyable
You binge-watch a show because you enjoy it, but what if there was a way you could enjoy it even more? According to a study conducted by Jeff Galak, PhD, and published in the Journal of Consumer Research, the faster you consume media like TV shows the less joy you actually get out of them. You become bored with the show and miss out on the subtle nuances that make it so great. It works the same way with other things too, like food. The first few bites of a dish are an exciting journey for your taste buds, but by the last few bites you’re just trying to finish what you started. When you pace yourself with TV shows, you give yourself a chance to think about what you’ve watched. You’ll have time to come up with your own theories about what’s going to happen next. You’ll also build anticipation for the next episode, making it far more engrossing when you finally sit down to watch it. A little distance makes the heart grow fonder, so treat it like a treat you only have every once in a while and you won’t get sick of it.
Furthermore, Galak suggests that playing the “catch-up game” with a new favourite show can make the wait for the next forthcoming season far more distressing than it would be normally. You may have just powered through five seasons of Game of Thrones, but now you have to wait months to get your fix.
Avoid “Purge-Watching”: Only Watch What You Love
Sometimes binge-watching is a result of your basic desire to finish things. Maybe you feel like you’ve already invested some time and you don’t want it to be a sunk-cost that’s gone to waste, or maybe you just don’t like to be a quitter. Normally, having the gusto to finish the things you start is a positive trait, but it can be negative when it comes to things like halfway-decent TV shows you’re not sure you even like. Adam Sternbergh at Vulture calls this “purge-watching”. Essentially, you’re seeing things through for the sake of finishing shows and removing them from your queue. It could be because someone told you to check it out and you feel obligated, or because it’s a show that everyone else seems to like and you don’t want to feel left out. Whatever the reason, do yourself a favour and just drop it.
If a show hasn’t completely hooked you by about the fifth or sixth episode, it might not be your cup of tea. That’s perfectly fine. You gave it a chance and now it’s time to move on. The more lukewarm shows you can get out of your life, the less of a desire you’ll feel to purge-watch and continue to fill your never ending queue.
Stop Watching During a Lull in the Action
With a little knowledge of how most TV shows are structured, you can avoid the plot hooks that encourage those epic five-season marathons. Binge-watching involves back-to-back viewing of episodes that were probably meant to be seen seven days apart (save for a few of the streaming-only shows popping up). The way they are scripted is designed to get you hooked and coming back every week, but when you have immediate access to every episode it can be really hard to pull away from their grasp.
Break out of that never-ending loop of cliffhanger-resolution-cliffhanger by finding a loophole in the show’s storytelling. Just look for a lull in the narrative arc in each episode. It could be in the middle of the episode or somewhere around three-quarters of the way through. As soon as the action has died down, back out and save the exciting cliffhanger for your next viewing session. Next time you start it up, you’ll see something exciting right off the bat, and see how it gets resolved before stopping at the cusp of yet another cliffhanger.
Disable Autoplay for Your Streaming Services
If streaming services like Netflix and Stan didn’t already make binge-watching easy enough, autoplay makes it almost impossible to pass up. An entire 10-season series can be delivered to your brain in one monstrous session with the press of a button. That’s why Michael Hsu at The Wall Street Journal recommends you turn off autoplay on all of your streaming services.
- Heading to the Netflix web site in your browser.
- Sign in and go to the Your Account page.
- Find the “Playback settings” link in the My Profile section and click it.
- Under Preferences, uncheck the box next to “Play next episode automatically.
Turning off autoplay gives you a natural break where there wasn’t one before. Suddenly it’s obvious that you’re choosing to binge-watch instead of just allowing it to happen. With autoplay disabled, you have a moment between each episode where you have to make a conscious decision to keep going. That moment is your chance to think of the other things you might want or need to do.
Set an Alarm
Stopping your binge-watching habit doesn’t have to mean no TV at all. You just have to regulate how much time you spend in front of the screen. The easy way is to set a timer or an alarm on your phone when you sit down to watch. When the alarm goes off, that’s it, you’re done! You’ll get more time tomorrow.
If you don’t think you can hold yourself to that, however, you can build a TV limiting system with a basic Arduino board. You can set it to turn your TV off after an hour, or set it so your TV can only operate during a certain time frame each day.
Make Yourself Earn Each Episode
Sometimes the struggle is just too great. Say, for example, Netflix just dropped an entire brand new series and you want to watch it all before the spoilers are everywhere. In those cases, there are still ways you can make binge-watching somewhat productive. Kathleen Smith at Bustle suggests you find a way to “earn” each episode as you watch:
Earn your next episode. If you feel like you will die if you don’t see the next episode of The Walking Dead, then think of an incentive for yourself, like finishing your laundry or calling your grandmother. You’ll feel proud of your accomplishments and won’t turn into a TV zombie by the end of the night.
You still get the instant gratification of finding out what happens next, but you also get things done so it doesn’t feel like a total bust. It’s just enough to let you sleep at night knowing you aren’t a total couch potato.
At the very least, exercise while you binge-watch. Alice Park at Time suggests you turn your favourite shows into exercise routines akin to a drinking game. Whenever your favourite character appears, instead of doing a shot, do jumping jacks for one minute. Or every time a character says one of their tag lines, do 10 pushups. Whatever your regimen is, form it around your binge-watching so you can become half as strong as Jessica Jones while you watch her kick butt. if you save your favourite show to watch at the gym while you work out, you have an incentive to both work out, AND you definitely feel like you’re earning your progress through that series. Of course, if you know you can’t trust yourself to exercise, you can always build something that forces you to.