Originally published February 19, 2016. Some of it is out of date; see Audio Content at Grognor's Nook for updated recommendations.
It is called "the" lifehack because it is the only useful lifehack.
a long time, I couldn't listen to any spoken word. Audiobooks,
podcasts, and their ilk just didn't work for me. I would lose focus and
think about other things, and have to go back in order to listen again
to what I'd missed, and this was deeply frustrating because I had no
idea how far back I needed to go and the whole point of listening to
things is not having to interact with the source of the information.
I am always listening to podcasts and audiobooks. Whenever I'm in
transit or walking around. The difference is a genuine One Weird Trick:
speed up the audio.
Why does that work? Introspectively: it seems
to have to do with having too much spare brainpower when listening at
normal speed. My brain gets antsy, and wants to use all of itself. It
tries to think about other things in the gaps between the speakers'
words. In doing so, it loses focus. By speeding it up almost to the
point where you can't keep up anymore, you can eliminate those gaps. It forces
you to concentrate on the input. There's some loss of information this
way, but what can you do? It's way better than having to go back
The above is just speculation. I don't know why it works. The important thing is that it does.
Needless to say, by doing this you can also listen to more things in less time.
In case you're convinced it is worth a try, here are some recommendations:
podcatcher I use. I tried a few, and it was the best. Crucially, it has
the ability to speed up what you're listening to, with gradations of
0.1. I usually listen to things at around 1.7x speed. The exact speed
isn't important, but speeding it up to the point where you have to spend
effort to keep up, is. Most people who use the lifehack listen at
higher speeds than I do.
is my favorite podcast. It is educational, often droll, and true to its
name covers its entire subject matter! As of this writing it has
hundreds of episodes and I'm almost caught up. Speeding this up is
especially important because the host talks very slowly; I listen at
1.9x. It's also important to realize that you should skip episodes that
bore you. There is no virtue in letting air waves beat against your
eardrums if they stop before entering your brain. The whole point of the
lifehack is preventing boredom. Boredom is the enemy. Slay it at great
cost. I've skipped several interview episodes, and probably should have
skipped a couple of the non-interview episodes.
emphasis: you don't want to build a habit of not paying attention to the
podcasts you listen to. That is the whole thing we are here to fix.
Don't keep trying to listen if it's not working. Skip episodes if you
hesitate to recommend this, because while the actual content is
informative and entertaining, it commits the sins of charging for most
episodes and having advertisements within them. Episodes only come out
once every couple years or so. So it's a good thing podcatchers can
auto-update when new free episodes arrive.
All the books are read by volunteers, so the reading varies widely in quality,
but the selection is enormous. Anything in the public domain, they
either have or eventually will. Literary classics, old works of history,
economics, philosophy... It's impossible to ever run out of good stuff
to listen to. Every book has its own RSS feed, so it's easy to add them
to podcast addict and listen to them like any other podcast. Podcast
addict's search doesn't always find them, so make sure to use LibriVox's
other educational podcasts
EconTalk, You Are Not So Smart, and Rationally Speaking
are the only other decent ones I've found. For various reasons they are
not as good as the above ones, but still better than all the
competition I've seen. I welcome new educational podcast recommendations.
non-educational spoken word prose
I don't listen to any of this, but there's a lot of it. LibriVox again has a lot to offer. Welcome to Night Vale is a popular fiction podcast. Lots of podcasts are of the form "two guys chatting about whatever", and those can be fun.
But it doesn't end there
your mind is limited, and so you may not have realized another use for
the lifehack. You may have a reading list whose items have been
languishing for years. Many of these items will have audiobook editions.
Do you see it now? Perhaps not. Things that you want to read, but which
are especially difficult to get yourself to read, benefit from the
double stimulus of reading and high-speed listening at the same time. This takes up even more of your spare brainpower. This is how I read Superintelligence; I used podcast addict to listen to the audiobook while using the android kindle app to read the book. It worked splendidly.
Not only did I find it much easier to stay focused and engaged, I think
the extra stimulus helped me remember the content better. An unexpected benefit was that having to close two apps made it inconvenient to stop, which made me more able to continue.
encountered knee-jerk skepticism about the idea of reading something
and listening to it at the same time. I encourage you to try it and see
if it works for you.
Allow me some more worthless speculation. Reading is an unnatural
activity, requiring eye movements foreign to our ancestors. Beginning
readers read line-by-line, very slowly learning to associate the strange
shapes on the page with words they know, stored until then only as
sounds. Once they do that, they still read line-by-line and only slowly
learn to look at pages like a picture, eyes darting around for pieces of
structure and still somehow reading the words, often accidentally
skipping them. As a way of gaining information, it is less (to speak
very loosely) "inherent" than listening is. Listening to other humans is
something that humans have been doing since the dawn of humans.
Learning to listen to speech that is much faster is merely
quantitatively different from something you already know how to do. I've
heard that some blind people learn to listen to speech at insane speeds
like 6x. That's impressive, and makes perfect sense if listening is
"easier" than reading. Another observation is: you are constantly
blinking, but your ears are never "shut off".
 In addition,
unfortunately, most larger works are read by multiple readers, so if you
get to the middle of a book and there's a reader you can't understand,
you have to turn to the original text to continue where that reader left
you off. But that obviates LibriVox for that section. They are terribly
'understaffed' and have no ability to do anything about this. I assure
you that plenty of the readers have good voices and good audio quality.
There are plenty of works with solo readers as well.
podcasts are absent from this list simply because I haven't listened to
them. Sometimes I haven't listened to them because I haven't gotten
around to them. Sometimes it's because I'm not interested in the subject
matter. I know this isn't fair. But it's not like my recommendations
are the end-all.
 It had downsides. Plowing
through passages that would have been better digested slowly and
pondered. Infeasibly difficult to look at the endnotes (this is true
with the ebook alone, let alone ebook+audio). But the realistic
alternative was not reading it at all.
 Reading Katja Grace's summaries and external links after each chapter also helped.
I probably lean toward explaining myself too much with pointless
digressions. To me it seems everyone else leans toward not explaining
themselves enough. Humans don't live anymore in a world where everyone
knows everyone else really well from a lifetime of interaction.