Productivity Hacking and The Return of Audiobooks
How To Read More While “Filling Your Cup”, Destressing, And Removing Negativity — With No Time Added To Your Days
Being far, far overdue for actually organizing and categorizing my hundreds of books into a bookshelf, obviously so I could take myriad #shelfies…
…but also because I had gotten full bore back into reading, thus buying more books.
But also, I was having more and more trouble finding books that I was looking for as they were in multiple locations and unable to find some altogether.
This pursuit of bookshelf organizing, turns out to be quite the catalyst.
AKA The Quest For a Perfect “Shelfie” Ah-Ha’s
There were multiple initial discoveries as I set forth on the project of aggregating all the books and organizing them into their new, organized home.
The draconian depth and detail that people go into in how to organize a bookshelf is a Google rabbit hole. Reassuring in the fact that there are also fellow crazy people like me, yet terrifying nonetheless.
Did you know there are savages (could also read “people who are more normal than me”) who organize their books exclusively by color?
Beautiful aesthetic? Absolutely.
But what a horrid system for actually finding anything. And what do you do with weird multi-colored, multi-theme and formatted ones? Just throw them out? Anyway, there is more in the rabbit hole but we won’t unpack that.
Relating to that bookshelf organization rabbit hole, I was unprepared for how much time my OCD tendencies and I would spend in the pontification of how we would be organizing said bookshelf. Council was sought and interviews were had.
Super smart human and fellow continuing education whore, Mark Fisher’s advice was helpful in terms of taking into account the adding of new books and “organizing it some, but not too much” as per “What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing” by Ed Finn. So you are easily able to find things but not waste an absurd amount of time organizing to an unnecessary depth that doesn’t actually help anything.
The amount of books I have bought but do not know where they currently are is in the dozens.
How am I (or as I write this, how was I) missing at least 5 Chuck Palahniuk books? As well as over 10 other books I can name without any thought and multiple more with some thought effort?
(Fact - I caved and had to re-buy most of them. Don’t judge. I’m not a true crazy person because I acknowledge I am a crazy person.)
The amount of books “I have bought TWICE but do not know where either copy currently are” is mid-to-high single digits.
Since the acceptable amount range for a category such as this is 0, maybe 1, this is atrocious.
The amount of books I have either read that I have no recollection of when or how since I cannot locate the books, but don’t fall into number three (because I know I bought those) is a number I am currently unaware of, but at least exceeds single digits.
(Foreshadowing, dun dun dun)
Dan Ariely and AJ Jacobs and pretty much all of their books, at least up until 2015, fell into this category.
This category was the largest and most genuine hindrance to my obsessive compulsions. I had learned a lot from and enjoyed the books of both authors but couldn’t remember when (or now in hindsight, also how) I read them or where the books could possibly be.
The Seed Planted — Audiobook “Ah-Ha”
My business partner aka non-sexual life partner, Geoff upon inspecting my newly organized, fucking beautiful bookshelf…
(Which for those with similar compulsions as I, is organized into fiction and non-fiction. Then… Fiction by author, then by series, then by size. Non-fiction by genre, then by size.)
…spotted David Sedaris’s newest book, “The Best of Me” and mentioned that he was almost done with that one on audiobook.
He had had similar audiobook struggles as I in the past with the primary struggle revolving around not really absorbing them. My having been “off audiobooks”, now for years, this piqued my interest.
Geoff found that it wasn’t audiobooking in general that was the issue as much as the type of book ‘audiobooked’.
He noted Sedaris’s engaging narrative style combined with being in the genre of essay/memoir opposed to straight non-fiction, made it an enjoyable, easy to absorb and thus productive ‘reading with the ears’ experience.
Also worth noting, another ‘back of my mind’ reason I had avoided audiobooking after the initial reprieve, was because the iPod I had previously listened to audiobooks on had long since passed away, (RIP my long-time friend) and I had assumed that I had just lost all of the audiobooks I had previously purchased and listened to.
This doesn’t really make sense logically, but I’ve long ago given up being normal.
The Initial Return of Ear Consumption
Productivity Hack 1.0
Ear Consumption, of course, being consuming information or reading with one’s ears, not the eating of one’s ears.
You know those 5 to 15 minute chunks of ‘in between time’ or time during the week where you are in between appointments, sessions, or projects but have an upcoming appointment, departure, etc, that makes it simultaneously too little time to start a project but also too much time to not do anything?
I imagine a lot of people scroll social media or something similar during those times. But due to a new habit and the discovery of Kindle/e-reader devices, I had been getting in some reading during those times.
That had been a great and effective solution that dual-benefitted by easily…
Removing possible unintentional social media scroll time, but for me more specifically just time being wasted.
While bumping up my reading time without adding anything to my schedule, which depending on the week could add up to being 1–3 hours in a week.
Also worth noting that not only did it not add any time to my schedule and noticeably bump reading time. It also added in some rejuvenation or “fill the cup up” time, while also eliminating minor stressors of “not feeling productive” or consuming negativity on social media.
Productivity Hack 2.0
But then… I got an “Adult Coloring Book”. Which seems to genuinely have a positive impact on my stress management and parasympathetic nervous system management.
The dilemma this raised, whether legitimate or not, was that coloring was “not a very productive use of my time”.
Whether a lie or not, my compromise was that in some of those ‘quadruple whammy system’ times, typically the longer ones, I could color thus destress a little but also listen to a podcast while I do it so it’s more work-like and productive.
And make some aesthetically pleasing visuals in the process.
Thus my “Podcast and Color, Learn and Destress” system was born. Though I hadn’t tentatively named it that until just now.
In those 5 to 15 minute segments described above, I alternated between listening to a podcast while coloring and reading.
The Evolution of Ear Consumption
It did not take long to realize the absorption and easy ability to listen to podcasts while coloring was highly effective.
I was able to focus on the podcast similar to how I could while driving. Which were both far more effective than listening to them while doing nothing else.
One couldn’t be doing something too complex that took away concentration from the audio absorbing, but also couldn’t be doing “just nothing” with all the easy distractions, squirrels, and shiny objects.
Coloring was perfect.
This, combined with epiphanological thoughts from the Sedaris audiobook conversation with Geoff, in addition to a conversation with Fisher about how he has developed the habit of simultaneously listening to an audiobook while reading along on the physical copy of the same book, evolved into the thought that maybe I can get back into audiobooks because I can listen to them while I color and destress but also absorb the audiobooks.
This lead me to looking back into Audible. So what if my old ones were gone, just move on.
In logging into Audible with my Amazon account, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the audiobooks I had previously bought were in there.
One couldn’t tell which ones I had listened to by the interface showing them all as unread, but memories of Jocko Willink’s “Extreme Ownership”, Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism”, Colin Cowherd’s “You Herd Me!” alongside Matthew Berry’s “The Fantasy Life”, “Be Obsessed or Be Average” “Sell Or Be Sold” and other books written by Grant Cardone, myriad others, and then finally every book written by Dan Ariely and all the aforementioned books by AJ Jacobs pre-2015.
With that came realizations that the majority of my “category 5” above were all right there. Mystery solved.
This is a relief, both in that I found them and also that my memory is only slightly terrible, not completely flawed.
Productivity Hack 3.0
The “Podcast and Color, Learn and Destress” System evolved into the “Audiobook and Color, Learn and Destress” System. And audiobooks have officially entered back, and effectively, into my learning fun.
Reading significantly more non-fiction plus adding some rejuvenation time as well as relaxation, parasympathetic goodness time.
While removing potential “not being productive” time or mindlessly social media scroll time. And not adding any time into one’s day to do this?
Perfect productivity hack for the busy parent and/or business owner.
Epilogue — Random Thoughts From Hacking Productivity and The Return to Audiobooks
AJ Jacobs wise, I know I had read “Life As An Experiment” and “Drop Dead Healthy”. I was 99% sure I had read “The Year Of Living Biblically”.
I am 99% sure I started reading, “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World” but didn’t finish.
Possibly because it just wasn’t as interesting or engaging as the others, but more likely because it was almost 16 hours long, more than double most audiobooks.
So “The Know-It-All” became the first book I was going to indoctrinate into the “Audiobook and Color, Learn and Destress” System.
“The Know-It-All” immediately reminded me of my interest in “Immersion Journalism”, to which AJ is known.
This lead to January’s non-fiction consumption including the 4 aforementioned AJ Jacobs books; The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, The Guinea Pig Diaries (which apparently “My Life As An Experiment was renamed to sometime between when I first read it and now), and Drop Dead Healthy.
As well as a theme of learning all the immersion journalism knowledge. And the informal thoughts while planning goals for 2021 turning into formally wanting to put together some documentation, “immersion journalism” and tracking of experiment articles ala AJ Jacobs, Tim Ferriss, etc.
As it turns out I was incorrect about “The Year of Living Biblically” as it would seem after re-reading that I started it but had not finished it. Resulting in the first 4 in the return to audiobooks including 2.5 re-reads.
While the absorption of them was an issue at the time, and a bigger issue long term, it was interesting to me how much I was reminded or remembered where I was, how I felt or what I was doing, random specific moments, at the point in my life when I was reading or listening to those books, while not remembering the books themselves.
Random example. There was a part in “My Life As An Experiment” that reminded me an argument two college friends were having over what Van Halen is saying in the song, “Panama.” Morelli argued it was ‘cannonball’ and Drew argued it was ‘manimal’. My insistence it was ‘panama’ wasn’t even considered.