Category Archives: Productivity

YouTube and the unhealthy obsession with numbers

This article is part of my ongoing YouTube Articles and Guides series.

In this post, I want to talk about an aspect of YouTube that affects you from Day 1 for the total duration of your presence on this platform: Numbers. It is focused around YouTube, but might be relevant to anyone who is focusing too much on numbers with any other project.

Subscribers, Total Views, Likes and Comment Counts. Supposedly, they are the numbers that define success and failure. Especially subscriber counts seem to be the golden metric that everyone looks at first. We work towards subscriber milestones and even create subscriber specials when we reach them.

This focus on that number leads to an unhealthy obsession. Having obsessed over these figures and having suffered under the self-imposed stress that this habit brings with it, I feel it is important to talk about this topic.

So what is the problem with these numbers?

The golden metric? Subscribers

The subscriber count can give you an idea of your current channel growth, but it is misleading to equate your subscriber number with success.

Viewers subscribe to channels for particular kinds of content, which includes the personality of the channel owner. Having a lot of subscribers does not mean, that the channel generates enough views to be sustainable or that the subscribers are even still active. A good example are many Minecraft channels, which exploded in size based on a single game. Eventually, the game lost the appeal to the creators, and they switched to other games. As soon as that switch occurred, the views dropped. To sustain themselves, they have to produce Minecraft content. Switching to other games is nearly like starting over again. Channels with over a million subscribers can get abysmal views, even though most people would consider a channel with that amount of subscribers a success.

What you need to keep in mind is, that this number is just an indicator. We often obsess so much over it, that we feel like we are doing something wrong if that figure drops below previous levels (and it always will eventually).

We tend to check these numbers every day, often several times. Maybe we have a life subscriber count open in a window at all times. But why are we doing this? We are trying to get our quick fix.

Just like checking the likes on our Facebook posts, we seek validation. Getting a subscriber gives us that little boost and makes us feel good about yourself. If we get more, we get excited. If we break previous records, we get ecstatic. What we don’t realize is, is that we don’t have any direct control over these numbers.

Checking in on our subscriber count doesn’t generate new subscribers. It doesn’t produce content; it doesn’t help you rank. But we still constantly check these numbers. Not only are we trying to get our fix, but we are also creating an unhealthy habit, that is difficult to break. I had times where I woke up in the morning and the first thing I did, was to check my stats on my phone before I even had my first coffee.

If my channel grew increasingly, I was happy. If it did not grow as strongly (but still really well), I felt bummed out and started to stress about, what I could differently. I thought, that making more videos meant I could keep this growth going, being disappointed when I couldn’t. I started to feel horrible, that I apparently didn’t do enough or my content was not good enough to make my channel grow exponentially. Staying at a linear curve wasn’t good enough anymore. I always needed to beat my previous score.

A big part of YouTube is luck, just like so many other endeavors. Just because you work harder, doesn’t mean you will automatically see success. Relying on luck also means, that if you are not successful, it doesn’t mean, you haven’t done enough. Everyone has their theory of why they are successful, pointing to various things that worked out well for them and their techniques. If you look long enough, you will almost always find someone, that achieved similar success by doing things completely differently. There is no one correct way to be successful. (There are things to help you increase your odds of success, but that’s all.)

Especially when channels are smaller, they tend to focus a lot on subscribers. Of course, it is a great moment to reach your first 100 subscribers, especially if they start seeing a community emerge. But that’s all it should be – a great milestone to pat yourself on the back.

Views, View, Views

Views allow you to compare the performance of videos directly and seeing loyalty rates in series. But even these numbers are misleading, given that a video can rank for numbers of reasons, not only the first in the series. Seeing one video do worse than another has probably less to do with you creating better or worse content and more in the interest of people.

Sometimes a video gets a lot of views because it gets suggested with certain search terms that don’t even relate to the content in your videos. It is important to look at your traffic sources and watch time when you look at views. Views by themselves are merely an indicator, not the only number when you want to figure out how successful a video is.

RealtimeRealtime is an even worse offender than your subscriber numbers or view count. You can directly compare your performance of the last 48 hours. You start to obsess over individual views, which are out of your control. You might see a spike in a video, maybe because it is getting shared, perhaps because YouTube is suggesting it somewhere. An hour later the views drop and you feel horrible about that. You panic and try to change keywords, or you rework descriptions, even though the views could fall for a variety of reasons. Maybe the audience, interested in the sort of content, is sleeping now. In my opinion, it is best to avoid real-time views for performance and only give it a look every once in a while to get an idea, when to best release your videos. (Release them when you have the most views during the day.)

Imagine you had a job in which you could see your actual performance in real time. You might have had times during the day, you were particularly productive and will feel great about yourself. Now imagine you are tired and exhausted from working so hard and you see your performance drop. It won’t make you perform better; it will just make you feel horrible, even though you did all you could. Frantically trying to work harder will most likely just suck your spirit out of you.

Total Views

Total views don’t tell you anything about a channel or your performance. It’s a cool number to look at every blue moon, and it can give you an indication what someone might have earned over the course of his YouTube career in ad revenue, but other than that, it’s probably the most useless number of the bunch.

Comments

YouTube CommentsThe number of comments shows you the engagement of your users, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t receive many. I have videos that barely get comments, most comments on these are people proclaiming they are the first or second viewer and other uninteresting copy-pasta. Comments should be a nice extra, but you shouldn’t use the amount to evaluate your success on this platform. You can use a call-to-action to increase engagement and get a few more comments. It is more important to look at comments in terms of quality. Do you prefer to have ten people leaving a ‘FIRST’ comment or 1 person leaving a well thought-out comment about your video?

Likes VS Dislikes

Likes vs. Dislikes are tricky. Getting a lot of likes are nice, and they give you an idea of the engagement of your viewers, but they don’t reflect the success of a video or channel. I’ve seen plenty of videos with millions of views that have 50% or more dislikes. Viewers will dislike your content if they just are not interested. You will notice this with switching game genres on channels. If you tend to play strategy games and then play a first person shooter, you will almost automatically gain a bunch of dislikes. Don’t take them to heart; they are just a way for people to let you know if they like the video or not. A video that has a bunch of dislikes at first could turn out to be one of your most successful videos on your channel, once the right people find it.

Dislikes can be an indicator of something being wrong with the video itself, not necessarily the content. If your microphone cuts out or your game stutters a lot of viewers will dislike the video too. A huge spike in dislikes in a video can alarm you that something went wrong during recording or editing. Even if people don’t like the particular kind of content your create, don’t take them personally. We are all entitled to our opinions, that doesn’t make them wrong or right.

How To Deal With The Numbers

  • Please write this down somewhere: They are just numbers! They don’t relate to who you are as a person or how good your content is. Just how successful you are in that particular moment. You might do fantastically tomorrow and be back to previous levels in a week. It is not only incredibly difficult to influence because it is based mostly on luck, it is also a purely extrinsic motivator. You have to remind yourself why you are doing it and why you started it in the first place. (Ideally, because you enjoy the process of doing it.)
  • Chasing numbers can also lead you to create content you don’t enjoy making. Before you realize it, you are creating videos just because they get views, not because you enjoy creating them. The happiness you get from a high view count only lasts for so long, and the positive effect will disappear. If you enjoy making your content, you will stick with your channel, even if the views drop.
  • Set yourself limits to how often you check numbers. There are many fantastic plug-ins for browsers that allow you to block websites or restrict the amount of time you spend on them. If you notice yourself checking in more than once a day, I can highly recommend implementing one of these measures.
  • Don’t compare yourself against other channels. You are not the same person; you don’t create the same content, and there are way too many unknowns, to be able to compare your performance against someone else effectively. We look at other channels performance and feel either good about ourselves or worse about ourselves. We create a competition out of thin air and cake an extra layer of stress onto this already stressful hobby of ours. If you take away one single thing from this whole blog post: Block socialblade and any other website that allows you to look at other channel’s statistics and obsess over your own.

I hope this post can help a few of you out there, worrying about your subscriber count. If you have some thoughts you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments. I would love to know what your thoughts are.

Limit Upload Speed in Google Chrome for individual websites (without plugins)

If you are regularly uploading huge files with Chrome (like YouTube videos), you will be able to relate: Once the upload is active, the rest of your browsing experience becomes sluggish and barely usable. Because the YouTube uploader like many other online services, don’t integrate a way to throttle your upload. With this little guide, you can limit Upload Speed in Chrome for individual websites without having to use plugins or third party software.

If you are using Chrome, there is a hidden, but powerful tool for developers, which allows them to throttle speeds, to test websites under different conditions. With these tools, you can limit the upload to any speed for a single open tab. Reducing the upload speed by just a bit, you won’t have to wait for the upload to be done, to be able to surf the web without wanting to bang your head on the keyboard, due to slow speeds.

Continue reading

Gaming for yourself vs. Gaming for YouTube

Since I started YouTube nearly two years ago and especially since I started Let’s Plays about 1 1/2 years ago, I had (and still have) the following dilemma: Should I play this game for myself record this for YouTube?

It has been bugging me for a long time, and it still does every few days, when I feel like playing a game for fun. If you regularly record gameplay videos and then start to play a game for yourself without any capture software running, it feels a bit like doing office work and then at the end of the day, throwing out every bit of progress you made; a missed opportunity for content.

This dilemma seems especially true for story based games: You simply cannot play a story based game for yourself to ‘savor it’ and then record the same game again for YouTube; you already know the plot, your reactions are not genuine, and it’s more or less boring.

Recording it while experiencing the game the first time yourself will give you a genuine reaction and also will (generally) lead to more exciting footage for your channel since you are interested in the story progress and react the first time to events. So why not savor it while recording it for the first time?

Here is the problem: Interesting and engaging commentary take quite a bit of focus. Have you ever tried to have a conversation during a movie? Chances are, you will miss important parts. If you try to concentrate on the film, your conversation is going to be very bland.

Long story short: I believe, playing a game without recording it, results in a better gaming experience since you can fully focus on the game. But if I play for fun, I feel bad for not recording it, since I am not working towards my YouTube channel.

Now a solution to this problem would simply be to record Let’s Plays and after that play games for yourself afterward (if you want to provide daily content). I am sure that’s a legitimate possibility: If you are a full-time YouTuber living from it!

Strategy based games or survival games with a high replayability value are a good choice for this dilemma. I can have a YouTube savegame AND and personal savegame and both gameplay experiences are going to be different enough, for me to have fun every time. Now I only need not to feel like I am slacking, when I don’t record the game I am playing. 🙂

Let me know what you think about this!

Gamify your tasks?

This blog post was supposed to be online yesterday, but the internet gods decided to punish my excessive browsing of cat pictures and video games instead of acquiring knowledge on the web.

I figured I would talk about the tool, which has helped me to keep my focus in the last few days. I am getting more things done, and I feel more accomplished at the end of the day – subsequently, it boosts my mood and my output. I don’t know what you call the opposite of a downward spiral in a figurative sense, but I will just go with an upwards spiral.

HabitRPG is the website that tries to gamify your life by representing you as a character on its glorious quest to defeat monsters, level up and do what you do in other RPG games. Customization and guilds included. Instead of actual fighting, you tackle tasks or daily habits!

I have always been intrigued by an idea like that, but have no encountered a version of that concept that could keep me engaged more than a few hours. The app looked excellent and well designed with beautiful graphics, but was lacking when it came to functionality.

Habit RPG does a great job with offering useful features, without providing too many ways to plan too much about every aspect of your task. The concept is simple: You create tasks, habits and daily activities that you want to accomplish and for every finished task, you get XP, Gold and every once in a while an item. Gold can be used to buy better equipment (or yourself a reward). And it does this well without focusing too much on some pseudo-gameplay or incredibly fancy graphics – because, in the end, you use this tool to get things done.

HabitRPG is free to use but offers a subscription service, that provides an otherwise unobtainable in-game currency, removal of the ads and some other benefits like certain drops. It’s a great way to support the development since it will give you a few extras to customize your little pixel avatar.

If you are working in a team, you can tackle group tasks together and “fight” monsters in unison by completing your team’s tasks. I had no chance to try this, but I could imagine that it can be fun. If you like the idea of accomplishing tasks with like-minded people, the guild system might win you over. You can join a guild that will not only offer contact to like-minded people through the tavern chat but also offer you challenges to complete and potentially inspire you to a healthier lifestyle or any other goal you might want to accomplish.

HabitRPG has mobile support through apps and even if they are not incredibly fancy, they will do the trick and keep your tasks and habits updated on the go.

If this sounds like something that might help you to keep organized and motivated, I would highly suggest just testing it and follow the steps outlined in the ‘tutorial’ at the beginning. To Glory!

YOU are your worst boss – An approach to managing yourself as a freelancer

“YOU are your worst boss.” – You might hear this sentence whenever you meet a freelancer or a business owner, and after ~8-10 years of being self-employed, being part of teams and founding companies I will have to say that this can be true. You won’t allow yourself hours off, or you just don’t push yourself hard enough as a boss. You might give yourself more work than you can handle (because you promised your client something just not to lose the contact) or you might criticize your performance and work much harsher than someone else would.

So why don’t we just try to become a better boss of yourself? Maybe take a step back and look at our performance, like we would when we had an actual employee: Take life events into consideration and understand that you can’t push yourself over the limit too many times without burning yourself out. On the other hand, we have to make sure to push ourselves enough not to miss a deadline and screw up a job. You might not have enough income to sustain yourself if you slack too much and there is no automatic paycheck guaranteed at the end of the month. Consequences are a bit more direct, even if job security is not the best anymore.

I think (and feel free to correct me or let me know what you think) that you need to apply a particular kind of management to yourself – be your boss, but be fair to your employee.

  • Track how much time you can allocate to your employee and keep other daily tasks in mind (cleaning, cooking, etc.employees), so he doesn’t have to work too much overtime.
  • Keep an eye on your employees’ habits and don’t let him indulge in too many distracting habits. Just don’t be too harsh when he ends up surfing every once in a while. Nobody works 100% all the time.
  • Supply your employee with an excellent ergonomic workplace and the tools he needs.
  • Send your employee to training and let him read books about his field on the job. It’s part of keeping his skills up to date.
  • Give praise for good work and maybe even get him something nice.

Don’t be your worst boss – be a good one. Isn’t that why you became self-employed in the first place? 🙂

Just write something… but how?

Ah yes … writing. Something I do enjoy quite a lot, whenever I actually get in front of my keyboard and decide to just write down what comes to mind. It is somewhat of a defragmentation for my brain and there was a time, when I used to do it on a daily basis, just to empty out my head and focus on other things. But remembering the positive effects it had on me, I should maybe start this again, as I am doing it right now….

There is quite a simple tool called Write Or Die, which I have been using in the last years, whenever I just needed to write something down. You can basically choose between different grace periods (the time you are allowed to not write anything before you get ‘punished’ by the tool) and using the KamiKaze mode; being the most efficient for me. (KamiKaze mode starts deleting words when you stop typing.)

Granted – not everything that I write under this pressure turns out to be writers gold, but I definitely cures to ‘Writer’s Block’ that many people encounter; which leads me to the actual point I wanted to talk about: Just doing it.

Of course we all have bad days and there are exceptions to the rule – but doing something for only 5-10 minutes can trigger that spark that you need to end up writing / working all night long because you got into the groove. If we think too hard about what we want to achieve or how we want to make it, we end up planning and worrying but never actually implementing anything. So if you just start writing down ANYTHING that comes to your head for a few minutes, you will inevitably get into the groove of writing / working and break the blockage. There are tons of articles about this exact approach and that’s for a reason – it works well in most situations.

This article sums up the whole idea pretty well: How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the “2-Minute Rule”
by James Clear.

How often did I catch myself reworking many lines of code and even adding whole new components to a game, when I only wanted to comment a few lines of code that I wrote the day before. You can never know when your muse will kiss you, but you can make sure to regularly check in on her and poke her in the eye until she finally agrees to go on a date with you … I think my analogy is falling apart at this point.

I remember reading The Artist’s Way about the process / the idea of just writing a page per day, just after waking up and letting whatever comes to mind flow onto paper. Just for yourself, for no one else to read. The book has much more to offer. The daily writing, was just an important part for me.

Each time after I read and followed the advice in this book, my creativity became more focused and I was in general feeling more productive whenever I was working. I think a big reason for this is the fact, that our heads are filled with worries, tasks, past experiences and that we sometimes have a hard time letting these go. By writing them down to paper, you give them a place outside of your head. Just like writing down all the things you still have to do on a simple list and then referring to the list, instead of constantly trying to remember it. This frees your head up for creative impulses and just more energy in general.

So let’s wrap up this post for today:

  • I recommend Write Or Die when you just need to get yourself to write something to escape the ‘Writer’s Block’
  • Writing down your thoughts and worries down on paper, will free your head to pursue other things and give you energy
  • Doing something for just a few minutes, can bring you into the groove and lead to the needed spark to get going