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?