Layering and consuming audio content with Audible and Podcasts

Podcasts2Recently Apple has hit a milestone of one billion Podcast subscriptions. This made me reflect how much information I am able to consume via Audible books and iTunes Podcasts. The spoken word can be a powerful addition to your information consumption portfolio. I use Apple’s Podcast app to consume podcasts and Audible’s app to consume books. I listen to Audible books in the car on my daily commute and podcasts on my iPhone in the gym when I am doing strength training or stretching.

Listening to content connects with your brain in a different way than reading does. I can tell you from experience that I can, for example, work out on the Precor elliptical machine at the gym and read RSS feeds in Feedly on my iPad while listening to an upbeat “Cardio Workout” playlist on my phone at the same time. But, it is impossible for me to listen to a podcast and read at the same time. Our brains must process both of these content sources with the same part of the brain and therefore they short-circuit each other.

Similarly, I can easily listen to music or a podcast while driving but I could never read while driving. There are two primary use cases where I consume spoken word content – while I am working out (resistance training and stretching as opposed to cardio) and when I am in the car during my commute.

Multitasking has scientifically been proven to be a myth over and over. What we are actually doing is context switching and it is a sub-optimal way to process information. How then can I read RSS feeds, listen to music and use the elliptical trainer at the same time? It sounds like multitasking but it is not. It is called Layering.

Layering, is simultaneously performing several tasks that require different “channels” of mental functioning such as visual, auditory, mental or language. The only time “multitasking” does work efficiently is when you are layering different channels. This is why you can listen to music while driving a car with no discernible loss of effectiveness but you can not text while driving (even if you are using Siri to dictate your texts) and not lose effectiveness.

I also find listening to an Audible book that I have read previously enhances my comprehension over just re-reading it. Once again, this is because of the layering effect of listening to an audio source is processed by your brain in a different region than reading does. By matching the optimal information source to the optimal “layer” you can be more productive. This practice allows me to be productive in what would otherwise be “dead time” from a continual improvement point of view.

What activities do you “layer” effectively?

About Michael Keithley

5 Responses to Layering and consuming audio content with Audible and Podcasts

  1. David Freedman says:

    I have similar experiences to all of you:

    1) Audio Books – Audible has truly been life changing for me. I’ve listened to 83 books in the past year and a half…probably more than the prior 5 combined. I listen when driving and walking my dogs. I used to listen when working out but I’ve switched from a traditional gym workout to a much higher intensity Crossfit workout which requires me to do lots of counting and listening for instructions/corrections which is a lot more compatible with up-tempo music.

    David S – I haven’t yet seen the Whispersync function you’re talking about…very cool! I’m not sure if it is this flexible, but whenever an Audible book refers to visual (usually in a supplement), I’d like to bookmark and review audio with synced visual later. I most often just miss the visuals and never go back.

    2) Focusing Music – In the last 6 months I’ve chosen to get coding chops back up to (sub)par:) I discovered this site which has 20 focus-enhancing playlists that have supported me in two hour focused bursts of coding. The author describes the aesthetic of the music which is not necessarily mellow. Defineately worth a look.

    3) Kindle App – I only use for books that is either unavailable on Audible or is impossible to consume in a linear or audio fashion (technical references, photo-intensive, etc).

    4) General Music – I’m a huge Rhapsody fan even though it appears to be out of vogue relative to Spotify and other newer services. This goes with any physical activity, running etc.

  2. shupedogg says:

    As for my own layering…I think of this more in terms of one “channel” helping me to maintain focus or intensity in another area. I like up-tempo music when running or doing housework or yardwork, and I think it helps me do it faster or at higher intensity.

    When writing or coding I like to use the Coffitivity website or app with soothing classical music slightly louder than the coffee-shop sounds. I find this very helpful in maintaining focus. I accept that different areas of the brain are being used, and I also think the separate areas are helping each other out in some way…

    • I concur that uptempo music does in fact help out like you describe. While my coding dates are behind me, many of the coders that I work with have tell me that listening to soothing music does enhance their productivity. In fact, there is a site that has playlists just for this. Hopefully, I can dig the links up and will post.

  3. David S says:

    I am most intrigued by your comment that reading a book and then listening to the audiobook version enhances your comprehension. I will guess that you approve of Amazon offering a low-cost Audible audiobook when you buy a Kindle version. What do you think of the Kindle’s Whispersync that syncs the audiobook location and the Kindle location? Would you switch back and forth between reading and listening, or will you stick with reading first and then listening later?

    • I do like Amazons decision to offer low cost audiobooks when purchasing the Kindle version. I have not however switched between the two while reading a book. No particular reason other than once I start in one mode I just finish it that way. I’m going to force myself to experiment just to see what it is like.

      As to comprehension, it really works. I wish I had access to this during college as it would really help. Thanks for the comment.

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