Having more movies and TV shows than you’re ever going to be able to watch in your lifetime all available at the click of a button is quite a treat, you might think. But if you’re starting to regularly see your evenings and weekends get sucked into binge-watching black holes, perhaps it’s time to pull back a little, and these tips can help.
There’s nothing wrong with an extended binge-watching session now and again of course, but besides taking up large amounts of time that could be spent doing something more productive, it can hurt your sleep patterns and encourage you to spend more time sitting and lying down than is good for you.
Stop auto playback
Just about every streaming service out there will automatically queue up the next episode of a show as you reach the end of the current one, but you don’t have to settle for this default setting. It might just get you to move off the couch.
For Netflix on the web, hover over your avatar (top right), then click Account, then Playback settings, then untick Play next episode automatically (the same setting controls playback on other devices too).
If you’re using Amazon Prime Video, go to Settings then Playback on the web interface, or Settings then Auto Play on iOS, or My Stuff, then the cog icon, then Auto Play on Android.
Use OS limits
You might already be used to using Screen Time (iOS) or Digital Wellbeing (Android) for rationing your time in games or on social media, and these tools work well for keeping your binge-watching down to a manageable level, too. You can easily override these settings, of course, but they might just give your willpower an extra nudge.
On iOS, choose Screen Time from Settings, then App Limits, and Add Limit — under Entertainment you can select Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and others, and then choose your daily allowance. Screen Time was recently added to the Mac with macOS Catalina, too, so you can limit your viewing across multiple devices.
On Android, the option you want is Digital Wellbeing from Settings: Pick Dashboard, then one of your apps, then App Timer. As on iOS, you can set a daily limit in hours and minutes, with the clock resetting every night at midnight.
Turn off notifications
If you allow your favourite streaming services to ping you with details of new shows that you could be catching up with, then they’ll take full advantage. Disabling these notifications is a small but potentially significant way you can resist the urge to dive back into whatever show you’re currently obsessed with.
Notifications on Android are handled under the Apps & notifications entry in Settings: Choose an app then tap Notifications to stop it from pushing new releases and reminders onto your screen. Some apps will let you disable specific types of notifications rather than switching them all off at once — with Amazon Prime Video on Android, for instance, it’s possible to turn off alerts about new releases and recommendations while leaving other notifications active.
If you’re on iOS, notifications are managed via Notifications in Settings. For each of your video streaming apps, you can choose to have alerts sent silently to the Notification Centre (rather than appearing on the lock screen or as pop-up banners) or switch them off completely.
Install third-party apps
With Apple and Google now pushing their own time-tracking and app-limiting solutions, third-party apps that do the same job are getting squeezed out. You can still find some helpful options, though, especially for laptop use, should you spend a lot of your binge-watching time in front of a computer.
Freedom works across Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS, and can block all kinds of app types — including streaming video. You set your limits, and it does the rest for $10 a month or $45 a year after a free trial. The software lets you allow access to the likes of Netflix and Hulu at particular times and only those times, or you can block these services altogether.
StayFocusd is a simpler option that works as a free Chrome extension — add video streaming sites to the blocked list, set a daily time limit for accessing them, and you’ll find your access revoked when that limit is up. LeechBlock is a similar tool that works in both Chrome and Firefox.
Get more help
There are plenty of other ways to get a hold on your binge-watching: Maybe find someone else you can be accountable to (preferably not an addicted binge-watcher struggling with their own issues), or set timers on your phone so you know when you’ve been staring at a screen for too long, or just have a plan and stick to it.
Speaking of timers, maybe enlist the assistance of a smart plug that switches off after a certain time. Admittedly you can easily turn it back on again, but having your TV suddenly go blank is at least going to make you think twice about queueing up yet more episodes of a show.
If you’re travelling and making use of your streaming app’s download function, decide on a certain number of episodes and stick to it — a lack of available Wi-Fi can certainly cut short your binge-watching exploits, and if you haven’t saved up a dozen episodes ahead of time, then you can’t watch them.