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An audiophile’s guide to efficiency

Get more done with the help of your smartphone and earbuds.

January 11, 2016

Lindsay Oden recently graduated with an MA in History from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. You can listen to his podcast and read his website.



Am I living in hyperreality? I don’t know yet, I have to finish this podcast about Baudrillard.


We all know that time is our most valuable resource. No matter how much we get done in a day, there is always more to do: grade papers, work on a prospectus, walk the dog, go grocery shopping, etc. Fortunately, there is a digital means, easily accessible to anyone with a smartphone and earbuds, that can maximize our efficiency when studying for exams or working our way through school. We already know the benefits of listening to classical music, but you can also exploit free and cheap audio resources to increase productivity. My post will cover audiobooks, podcasts, iTunes U, language learning services, and recording playback, which you can then use to help get you through school.



Audiobooks are excellent resources that can be rented through many libraries or purchased cheaply through services like Audible.com or Audiobooks.com. Not only are they a great way to catch up on pleasure reading, as suggested by Natascha Chtena, but they also allow us to multitask, meaning we use time more efficiently (something that Joshua Kim says has changed his life). You can catch up on a book in your field while commuting or doing household chores. I love to listen to audiobooks while doing the dishes or getting ready in the morning.

The downside to listening to audiobooks is that, when multitasking, you probably go through a book with your highlighter or taking detailed notes. But you also probably aren’t listening to that kind of book anyway: audiobooks should be the kind of literature that you can get the gist of without having to use them like a normal, physical book. They can be used as primers or introductory materials that can help you get familiar with current work, and they can inspire you to search out more books that you do want to concentrate fully on.



We might be living in the golden age of podcasting, and an estimated 2.6 billion episodes of approximately 22,000 podcasts were downloaded in 2014. This virtual explosion of content has presented prospective academics with a wealth of freely available knowledge and research. Podcasts like Freakonomics, Hardcore History, the Panoply Network, National Public Radio, Cracked, Philosophy Bites, and Partially Examined Life are all well-researched podcasts that offer free content to subscribers that can help you find avenues of research or familiarize yourself with new concepts. They might even broaden your horizons on subjects you know nothing about. They offer compelling interviews, interesting studies, and deep analysis on myriad subjects, including contemporary issues and newsworthy topics, which may inspire us to explore resources to investigate our current research projects.

Moreover, you don’t even have to use podcasts that are directly related to your academic endeavors. I use podcasts to take care of some of my own basic needs so I can save time for writing and researching. For example, I use podcasts from the Panoply Network, NPR, and WNYC to listen to the news, and I listen to Hot Takedown and Effectively Wild for sports coverage. This frees me to do other tasks at home instead of catching up on current events on my computer or TV.


iTunes U

iTunes U is a free app that functions like podcasts but comes separately in iTunes. iTunes U provides access to free lectures and teaching materials from top universities, including Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, and includes courses on subjects as diverse as biology and philosophy. What I found most helpful about iTunes U was how many history courses they offered, which allowed me to introduce myself to topics with which I had no familiarity before stepping into a graduate colloquium so I wouldn’t embarrass myself. Perhaps you need to re-acquaint yourself with basic statistics or colonial America, or you need to be introduced to Plato or Foucault. iTunes U has partnered with the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Libraries, NASA, and many others to help you.


Learn a new language

Most—if not all—PhD programs in the humanities require students to learn at least one foreign language. For many of us, this is quite a cumbersome requirement given the limited second-language instruction most of us get in high school and undergrad. Luckily, iTunes U and other services can help you learn a new language. Open Culture offers links to resources that can teach you 48 languages online for free, including Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. Duolingo is a free app for your phone that teaches you languages through games, which you can play on the train or bus or while your students take an exam, and it has a desktop version you can use at home too. These resources are far superior to trying to teach yourself with a book because the audio recordings allow you to hear correct pronunciations and get feedback in real time about your progress.


Voice recording

This is definitely the strangest suggestion I have, and it may take some getting used to, but I found it very helpful to record myself and then play it back while I was commuting to help me recall important lessons. Some people are aural learners and ingest information best when they hear it. Try recording yourself reading your notes or reading an important passage from a textbook. You can use apps as rudimentary as the Voice Memos app on iPhone, or you can use a microphone and record yourself using Reaper or Audacity on your computer. You can come up with mnemonic devices that help you remember information or you can rehearse descriptions of books you’ve read or notes you’ve taken.

Online audio resources are something you can take advantage of in order to increase efficiency. Save precious minutes in the day by exploiting your inborn ability to multitask. Broaden your knowledge, find new information, and experience new perspectives with audiobooks, podcasts, lectures, and the sound of your own voice. Hopefully you’ll see dramatic improvements in your readiness and productivity.


How do you use audio resources? Are there other ways to improve time efficiency? Let us know in the comments.

[Image from Flickr user Sascha Kohlmann, used under Creative Commons license]


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