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How Binge Watching Affects Productivity

Welcome back to The Curiosity Concept!

I know, it has been a while.

My previous post was published two months ago, and since then a few things have happened:

  1. The Curiosity Concept was updated (I’m very excited about this!)
  2.  EXAMS.
  3. I finished my second year of university!

I know some still have a couple of days or weeks of exams left. Believe me, I understand the struggle. So, whilst more will follow on points 2 and 3 above in the coming weeks, for now, let’s get into a topic that’s a little distant from exams and the associated stress.

The summer holidays are on the horizon, so this post will discuss an activity that, in recent years, seems to have become everyone’s favourite pastime: binge-watching. 


Firstly, for those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘binge-watching’, it refers to the activity of watching a significant amount of video content in a single sitting, i.e. successive movies or TV show episodes.

With the rise of digital/online services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Viki, which provide thousands of hours of video-on-demand, there is so much available, at the literal touch of a screen. FlixList keeps a record of all TV shows and movies available on Netflix and at the time of writing, there are currently 20,773 titles on Netflix UK.

Imagine that this number indicates only the number of movies on Netflix and let’s assume that each movie is 90 minutes long. This would mean that there are almost 31,160 hours of content available to watch. If you spent all day, every day watching every single one of these hypothetical films, it would take 3 and a half years to complete watching the whole list. And Netflix adds new titles every day.

Insane.

The traditional experience of watching TV shows consists of waiting for a single 25 or 45-minute episode to be aired once a week for a few weeks, sometimes with a mid-season break and always with a hiatus in between successive seasons. Now, that experience has been completely transformed.

In a TEDTalk in 2017, Shonda Rhimes (creator of shows including How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, just to name a few) explained the impact of the binge-watching trend and experience. The whole video is definitely worth a watch (considering Rhimes’ incredible success in television and insights into the future of storytelling), but jump to 19:25 – 20:10 for the part that’s relevant:

Rhimes describes binge-watching as being “inside of something, really intensely, for a very short period of time”. This view makes sense – binge-watching essentially means you can watch months’ worth of a TV show in a weekend, just by tapping ‘Play Next’. Actually, most video streaming services now do this automatically, so you don’t even have to exercise any willpower or make a choice to ‘Play Next’. The system does it for you.

This idea stuck with me and it got me thinking: what is the impact of this intense viewing experience on productivity?


Instant gratification

An immediately noticeable effect, which you might be able to relate to (I mean, I hope. It can’t just be me, right?!) is the lingering feeling of “what now?”. The story is over, and so too are the feelings of excitement, awe, thrill and suspense that came with it. Now, it’s back to reality. I felt this especially after I binged seasons 1 and 2 of Sherlock and the week after I finished the whole series of The Musketeers.

Peña studied the effects of binge-watching and participants in the study responded strongly to the statement that binge-watching “allowed me to forget my life for a while”. The intensified escape from reality that binge-watching provides can be fun but it is also a source of instant gratification, and a quick google search of “instant gratification and productivity” will show how counterproductive instant gratification can be.

When bingeing, the satisfaction and accomplishment you feel when, for example, your fave character narrowly escapes death, comes without you having to expend much effort. So, when you’re back to facing real-life challenges that require more effort from you before you can feel gratified, it becomes harder to avoid the distractions, e.g. a notification popping up on your screen, that you know will give rise to immediate feelings of satisfaction or entertainment.

Sluggishness

Another effect can be a feeling of sluggishness. Bingeing is often not accompanied with much physical activity, so it kind of goes without saying that the stationary mode we’re in when consuming all that content does very little to improve energy levels. When I feel sluggish, my brain tends to initiate a thought process that goes a little something like: “I’m tired so even if I stop watching now I won’t be productive. So I can watch just one more episode.” And by “one” I actually mean two. Clearly, my binge-watching is an obstacle to any productive activity I might have planned beforehand.


The month-long binge-watching experiment

Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project and A Life of Productivity, conducted a productivity experiment where he binge-watched Netflix for an entire month.A whole month.

I really recommend reading Bailey’s article because it goes into good detail about the standoff that occurs between the logical and the impulsive parts of your brain when bingeing, in an interesting and easy to read way.

One of the lessons that Bailey learned from this was related to the impact that bingeing had on his motivation levels. By the end of the month, his motivation levels were much lower than they had been at the beginning of the month. Remember that sluggish feeling I mentioned before? Chris Bailey had a similar experience.

But it wasn’t just his motivation that was affected. He found that the month-long experiment also reinforced bad habits, which included spending just over $245 on takeout food.

Building on the lessons from his article, one thing I have learned about binge-watching and productivity is that it’s important to counter the bad habits. This Vox article explores the idea that the role of willpower is overrated and whilst I still have lot to learn about willpower, I have come to realise that with binge-watching, it’s not just about having the power to stop yourself from watching 5 more episodes. It’s also about building good habits.

This may be obvious, but with summer coming up, I think it’s worth saying – the time you spend finishing a season of a show (which, if you’re like me, you’re only continuing to watch because you’ve already invested so much time into it) can be used to build better, more productive habits. You could: learn a language; exercise; explore your city/town; start that hobby that you said you’d start months ago; even help someone in need in your neighbourhood. Binge-watching is an escape from reality but I think it’d be dangerous for it to become such a prominent activity, in my own life, that it becomes my reality.

While I’m not saying that we should all stop using Netflix and Amazon immediately and abandon TV and movies forever (wouldn’t that be an interesting experiment?), I am advocating for being more aware of how we consume content.

For me, this means cutting down my bingeing time, identifying and addressing the kind of triggers that usually lead me to binge, and switching this habit out with one that is more productive, so that the gratification I get is more meaningful.

A useful piece of advice Chris Bailey gives for making binge-watching a more productive activity is that you could watch whilst doing tasks such as washing the dishes or doing the laundry. This is actually how I usually watch YouTube vlogs, so cleaning my house is now fun (lol).


So, this is the part where I usually conclude the post, but I actually have questions!

Do you binge-watch? If so, how and what? Can you relate to the feelings of instant gratification and sluggishness? And do you have tips for maintaining your motivation and productivity levels?

I’m interested to get to know The Curiosity Concept readers more!

As always, and especially to those who still have some exams left to go,

onwards and upwards,

Anoshamisa 🙂

Sources I used for this post:

Breaking Binge: Exploring The Effects Of Binge Watching On Television Viewer Reception – Lesley Lisseth Peña

5 huge lessons I learned binge-watching Netflix for a month – Chris Bailey

Why willpower is overrated – Brian Resnick for Vox

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