With commutes cut, gyms closed, and pandemic cleaning completed, you might be finding it difficult to keep up with all of your podcast downloads. Episodes for your existing subscriptions accumulate while your idle time on the internet means you discover new podcasts to try, such as shows dedicated to Covid or those recommended for kids stuck at home.
Find New Ways to Multitask
Jeremy Collins listens to podcasts for 12 hours a day. “Something’s constantly on,” says Collins, the founder of the Facebook group Podcasts We Listen To, whose 24,000 members share suggestions about the best shows. Collins can cram so many episodes into his ears because he listens while working as a delivery driver. But he also listens during all types of activities, including mowing the lawn with big noise-canceling headphones. “The deeper you get into it, the more you start to figure out new ways to listen. You find, ‘Oh, I’m sitting on the toilet and listening to a podcast,’” he says.
Driving, exercising, and cleaning are popular activities during podcasts, but heavy users incorporate episodes in many other ways: Walking the dog. Doing Sudoku or crossword puzzles. Grinding for levels in video games. Digital coloring. Cleaning out email. Knitting or sewing. Metalworking. Flying drones. Shaving or showering. Waiting in line. Smart speakers are especially helpful when hands-free listening is required, such as while washing dishes.
Most podcasts were 45 minutes or longer until two or three years ago when the industry started to trend toward podcasts of five to 15 minutes that can fill otherwise open pockets of time, says Will Pearson, chief operating officer of iHeartPodcast Network, which has 470 active shows including Stuff You Should Know. The shift in length allows users to listen during shorter activities that previously had been podcast-free. “They step back and think about those periods in the day that they actually have time to listen but may not have thought about it before,” says Pearson, who now listens during lunch—something he couldn’t do pre-Covid when he was often eating out for business.
Involving your family is another way to extend listening. Pearson, his spouse, 14-year-old daughter, and 11-year-old son hit Play while making dinner. “Everybody is stuck at home and looking for one more thing to do,” says Pearson. “Podcasts have been one more thing we can do together.”
Organize Your Listening for Efficiency
In the early days of podcasts, John Gibbons would listen in a linear fashion to every episode of the shows he followed. Now Gibbons is very deliberate about selecting specific episodes by using the Up Next feature on the app Pocket Casts, where he is CEO. “That has really freed me,” he says. “Your desire to be more organized about it will encourage you to graduate up to an app like Pocket Casts because there are these features where you can organize in a specific list.”
Playlists can create the right mood for the activity accompanying your podcast, and ensure you don’t fumble for the next show while exercising or driving. Manoush Zomorodi, host of the TED Radio Hour and ZigZag, uses her Pandemic Summer list during chores and daily walks. “It’s ready to go,” she says. “I know that anything that’s in my latest list has been vetted by me.”
To keep your library clean, set your podcast listening app for automatic deletion after you’ve played an episode.
Find the Right Apps
Zomorodi uses six podcast apps to stay organized for her 15 to 20 hours of listening per week. “I’m so anal about how I do it,” she says. She favors Overcast for creating lists and Apple Podcasts for searching. Zomorodi uses NPR One to discover what her colleagues are working on and to uncover random episodes. “I can allow it to act like radio stations used to act,” she says.
James Cridland, editor of the Podnews daily newsletter, advocates using tools to increase listening time. While he uses the Castro app to create a listening queue, Cridland prefers Pocket Casts for syncing shows among multiple devices, such as his desktop, car, phone, and smart speakers. “It knows where you’ve gone up to and what you’ve listened to” as you move between devices, Cridland says. Apple and Android watches’ sensible controls can conveniently start and stop podcasts from your wrist, set the speed, and activate other features, notes Cridland. Collins, the super user who devotes half the day to podcasts, listens on multiple devices, including his Xbox via Spotify.
Cridland also recommends the voice-boost function (sometimes labeled volume boost) available on many apps, to smooth out the volume for voices, making them easier to hear if a guest is quieter than a host.
Some apps can trim silences and cut intros to make shows shorter. To skip ads, set fast-forward for 30 seconds or 15 seconds based on the duration of that show’s commercials—some apps will allow you to customize not just your feed but specific podcasts.
Finally, in some apps, you can track your listening stats for a sense of accomplishment or as bragging fodder on Reddit.
Get Up to Speed
Ross Malaga, who teaches information technology at Montclair State University in New Jersey, listens at double speed to wade through all the episodes on his phone. Malaga will revert to normal speed when his wife or two children are in the car. “They can’t stand to listen to stuff fast,” Malaga says. “It bugs them, so I step it down, but it sounds really slow to me.”
There’s no denying the results of podfasting—listening at a speed faster than 1X. Play a show at 2X to cut the time in half, allowing you to listen to another episode or do something else entirely. But listening at 1.5X or 2X speed has drawn derision and lament, especially from podcast hosts and producers.
“Oh my God, that makes me so mad,” says Zomorodi. “We make things a certain speed so you feel a certain emotion.” Zomorodi says no one would quicken an episode of The Office. “You can’t speed up Jim’s look when Dwight says something dumb to him. No. It has to exist in real time, which is the same as podcasts. I think people are kidding themselves,” she says.
For those who want to accelerate their listening, start slow and increase the speed in 10 percent or 25 percent increments. “When that sounds normal to you, increase the speed,” advises Malaga. “You go to the fastest speed where you can still comprehend and it’s still enjoyable.” Also, choose the right app: Apple Podcasts frustrates some podfasters by offering only 1.5X or 2X ,while other apps allow listeners to increase speed by 0.1X, or 10 percent, increments.
Just be aware of the limitations. Uri Hasson, a professor in neuroscience and psychology at Princeton University, says the brain adapts to the speed of the incoming words, to a point. “You cannot squeeze a one-hour talk to five minutes. No one can do it,” he says.
Listening at a slightly faster speed can force the user to focus and be more attentive, says Hasson, noting 25 percent faster, or 1.25X, is probably fine for most people. He says the acceptable speed depends on many factors: the amount of training at the higher speed, how attentive the listener is, the age of the listener (younger people can listen faster, generally), how noisy the room is, how familiar the listener is with the host’s voice, whether host is speaking in the listener’s native language, whether the host has an accent. “There are many, many parameters,” Hasson says. “So it is important to understand the limitations and benefits and context and training.”
A sped-up show works well for news, tech, and business podcasts, but skip podfasting for music, which will sound strange, and for true crime, where pauses build mood and suspense.
Make It a Habit
Whenever Elsie Escobar starts washing dishes, she also hits the Play button. “The action immediately triggers ‘Oh, I have to go listen to a podcast,’ and part of this happens with you creating a habit around it,” says Escobar, cofounder of She Podcasts, a group that supports and nurtures female-led podcasts.
Escobar, who listens an average of five hours per day, also plays podcasts while running errands, and carefully selects headphones for public consumption. She wears wireless earbuds under her hair if she doesn’t want to look anti-social, but over-the-ear headphones if she wants to focus on her feed and be left alone. “I use them depending on how I want people to interact with me,” she says.
Danielle Desir recommends designating a time of day for podcasts, especially with Covid disrupting our routines. “I think time frame is very important, especially because a lot of us have different routines now,” says Desir, founder of WOC Podcasts, which provides space for women-of-color podcasters to share resources and network.
Fans even share their habits with podcast hosts. “I’ve heard from the listeners that they associate certain activities with me, whether that’s jogging or going to the grocery store,’ says Zomorodi.
Delete When Done, or at Least Pause Afterward
When Desir’s two-hour commute ended due to Covid, her listening time dropped to three hours per day, and she became more intentional about the podcasts she listens to. “Now I’m like, how can this podcast help me in my life?” says Desir, who subscribes to 50 shows. “If nothing captivates me, I unsubscribe.”
Zomorodi advocates leaving three minutes of silence at the end of an episode. “Take the time to think about what you just listened to in this information-overload world,” she says. “What is the point of taking in all these episodes and information if you’re not going to process it and do something with it?”
Collins subscribes sparingly. “It’s painful to have to cut one,” he says. Gibbons understands the sentiment. Subscribing to a show can feel like a commitment; unsubscribing like a breakup, he says.
“When I unsubscribe, I think, oh man, we broke up, and I feel bad,” says Gibbons. “I think a lot of people, whether they are consciously aware of that or not, that happens and then all the sudden they’ll have 60 podcasts that they’re subscribed to, and they’re stuck in the paradox of choice, so they end up not listening to anything.”
This is why Gibbons recommends skipping episodes via filters and curated lists. “It allows you to enjoy a broad swath of podcasts but enjoy specific episodes of each one. So it’s like you’re dating instead of getting married,” he says. “But there’s also a certain point at which, when you date so much, you become sort of trampish. There’s a point where you’re like, is he a gigolo or is he charming? I want to be charming.”
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