Tag Archives: Reading

Listen Like a Pro: My Best Tips for Mastering Audiobooks and Podcasts

Listen Like a Pro: My Best Tips for Mastering Audiobooks and Podcasts

Listening to audio content is one of the great joys of my life. It all started with Adventures in Odyssey. Many of my favorite childhood memories involved Odyssey in some way, whether that was laughing to Odyssey in the car on family road trips or listening to one tape—yes, tape!—after another while I worked on personal crafts in my bedroom. (Proof that even as a child I enjoyed my Introvert time.)

I never fully outgrew Odyssey, but as I got older I added audiobooks into the mix, regularly heading to my local library where I filled my arms with as many Books on Tape as I could carry. When we got married, Luke introduced me to the wonderful world of podcasts and the rest is history! 

These days I balance my listening time fairly evenly between podcasts and audiobooks—though blessedly I no longer rely on Books on Tape (or even require physical trips to the library) to get my audiobook fill. I have logged many, MANY hours with my earbuds and learned a few tricks along the way. People are always asking me how I am able to consume as much audio content as I do, so today I thought I’d share a few of the tricks I’ve discovered along the way. 

Choose Your Tools Wisely

Before you can begin listening to audiobooks and podcasts, you’ll need to determine the platform that works best for you. You have quite a few options.

Audiobooks: Though I personally find it inconvenient, you can still listen to audiobooks the old fashioned way, on CD. (<— I never thought I’d see the day when CDs were considered passé!) You can buy Books on CD at the store or on Amazon, or you can borrow them from the library. 

Smart phones offer us many more audiobook options. With services like Audible and Audiobooks.com, you can pay a flat fee that allows you to listen to a specified number of books per month. You can also purchase individual audiobooks from sites like Amazon and even the Apple iBooks store. This article outlines the best places to download, buy and rent audiobooks. 

I prefer not to pay for audiobooks and instead access all of mine through the OverDrive app, which allows me to check out audiobooks and eBooks from my local library. This limits my reading options to titles available through my library, and there is often a long queue to check out recent releases, but the financial savings more than makes up for the inconvenience. I can’t say enough good things about OverDrive: it has truly transformed my reading life. If you aren’t already using the service, a library card is all you need! 

Podcasts: To get started with podcasts, you’ll need to pick a podcast player. If you have an iPhone, this app comes built into your phone and is the easiest place to begin. The same goes for Google Play on Android phones. Each of these players will give you immediate (free) access to podcasts, but if you are looking for additional player features or a cleaner interface, you might want to try another service. There are a lot to choose from: Overcast, Stitcher, and Downcast (my player of preference) are a few of the more popular ones. Deciding on a podcast player is a very personal choice, so try a few out before committing. If you need some help settling on a favorite, this helpful guide outlines the merits of the most popular players.


Determine Your Listening Personality

I have Anne Bogel to thank for the realization that we have different purposes for reading: some of us read to escape, others to learn, and some read as a point of connection with friends or coworkers. I believe we all approach audio content for different reasons, too. You might choose to listen for entertainment, to stay up to date on current events, to learn about a new subject, to be inspired, or simply to occupy your mind while you are doing everyday tasks. Your reason for listening will determine the content you choose to listen to, whether that’s a politics podcast, a sermon recording, an autobiography, a comedy show, or the latest bestseller. 

A few things to keep in mind when considering your listening personality: 

  1. Your audiobook style might not match your podcast style. Podcasts and audiobooks tend to meet very different listening needs; it’s okay to listen exclusively to romance novels and religious podcasts!
  2. Similarly, your audiobook preferences might be very different from the types of books you choose to read the traditional way. (I’m much more likely to listen to breezy chic lit than read it with my eyes; on the flip side, I love reading books filled with inspirational quotes, but don’t like listening to them because I need to be able to take notes and that’s too difficult on audio).
  3. Your listening personality can change over time, or even from day to day. You might also have different styles depending on when and how you are listening (discussed more in the next two sections).
  4. It’s okay to have a different listening personality than your friends. Don’t feel like you have to listen to a certain podcast just because it’s popular; you do you! 

If you’ve tried audiobooks or podcasts in the past, and didn’t enjoy them, it might not be the medium that’s the problem; it could just be that you were listening outside of your preferred style. (Or maybe you simply had a touch of bad luck: a narrator can make or break an audiobook experience, and one bad podcast episode doesn’t mean you won’t like other episodes of the show.) Before you give up entirely, give a few different podcasts or audiobooks a chance. We all have to kiss a few frogs—or audiobook narrators—before we find our prince.


Make the Most of Your Listening Time <<Productive>>

My listening personality is fairly broad in that I listen to and enjoy a wide variety of genres (both in podcasts and audiobooks). One thing that is consistent is that I like to consume as much content as possible. One way I do this is by listening at a higher speed: usually 1.5x speed for books and 2x speed for podcast, though I sometimes need to slow things down if the narrator or podcaster reads/speaks especially fast.

The other way I am able to plow through so many books and shows is that I have my earbuds in at every possible opportunity. This allows me to get through a lot of content, and also makes everyday tasks more enjoyable. Below is a list of mostly-mindless activities that work well for listening-multitasking:

  • Driving (I often put music on the radio for Charleston while I listen to a podcast through my earbuds.)
  • Folding Laundry/Ironing (I don’t iron but imagine a good audiobook would make this task more palatable.) 
  • Cleaning the House or Car
  • Making Dinner/Doing Weekly Meal Prep/Doing Dishes
  • Mowing the Lawn (This is Luke’s prime podcast-listening time.)
  • Getting Ready in the Morning
  • Running/Walking/Exercising
  • Grocery Shopping
  • Editing or Organizing Photos
  • Online Shopping
  • Eating (Only if you happen to be eating alone, of course.)
  • Nursing a Baby (I have lots of experience with this one.)

Make the Most of Your Listening Time <<Fun>>

While audio content is a great secondary activity, it doesn’t have to be used as a diversion while doing other things: it can also be the main event. However, if you’re like me, it might hard to just sit and listen; I find that my mind wanders if I’m not doing something with my hands at the same time. Here are a few fun fun ways to occupy your hands while you listen. (Note that most of these are hypothetical, as I generally listen while doing other things [see above] instead of doing other things while I listen.):

  • Jigsaw Puzzles
  • Sewing/Knitting
  • Scrapbooking 
  • Word Searches
  • Painting/Drawing/Doodling/Sculpting (or any other form of art project)
  • Jewelry Making/Flower Arranging (or any other craft)
  • Walking/Roller Blading/Riding a Bike (or any other fun form of physical activity)
  • iPhone Games (The key is to stick to games that don’t require a lot of thinking; my favorites include puzzle games like this one or card games like FreeCell.)
  • Coloring (there are SO MANY awesome coloring book options out there right now! You can also color digitally.)
Colored while catching up on my podcast queue!

Get Started!

Once you’ve settled on the right platforms, nailed down your listening style, and figured out when you’ll listen, all that’s left is to pick the right content. I won’t pretend to know which shows or books you’ll love, but I can tell you a few of my personal top picks.

I’ve highlighted several wonderful podcasts in my Spotlight posts. A few shows currently topping my list of favorites are Sorta Awesome, The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivy, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Young House Love Has a Podcast, and Vox Podcast with Mike Erre.

As for audiobooks, I love the Harry Potter books narrated by Jim Dale (though if you aren’t familiar with the series, I would recommend reading before listening, as the sheer number of characters and magical terms is hard to keep track of on audio). I enjoyed all of Lian Moriarty’s books on audio, and I always love listening to memoirs read by the authors, especially comedic ones like Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants and Betty White’s If You Ask Me.

Another great place to start with audiobooks is by going back and listening to a book you’ve previously read—it makes for a very different and eye-opening reading experience. Along these lines, there’s been a  recent trend of A-List celebrities reading classics, which is a lot of fun. 


If you’re already a podcast and audiobook enthusiast, I’m so glad that you, too, have come to appreciate the wonders of audio content. If you’re not on board yet, I hope that this tutorial has helped. If you have any other questions—either technical ones, or specific content questions—I would be more than happy to help! Leave me a Comment with your question, or shoot me an email (kendra@kendranicole.net). I especially love giving customized podcast and audiobook recommendations, so let me know what you’re looking for and I can help steer you in the right direction!  

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