The Joy of Speed Listening | Productivity Hacks

It was January 2020. I had resolved, in an overly-ambitious New Year’s Resolution, to read more. It was such a generic goal, compared to my more realistic desires this year, but I set it because I knew that it would do me good. Plus, I love reading, so setting aside time to do it more often could only be a positive thing, right?

I wasn’t wrong. Unfortunately, I wasn’t dedicated either. I hadn’t set any SMART targets for reaching my goal of 25 books, tracked over on Goodreads, so failed. I think I reached about 10 books in total. Not good. I was so desperate to read more because it’s such a great medium for story-telling and learning, and yet I simply hadn’t.

Let’s fast forward to early 2021, and I’ve already exceeded last year’s total, well on the way to exceeding this year’s goal. What’s my secret for making so much progress this year?

Speed up your life

I’ve loved listening to podcasts for years now. The ones that I’d listen to would be around an hour or two long so, with the commute to work, placement or Uni everyday, each episode would last around a week, which would take me up to the release of the following week’s episode.

That was fine. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that method, aside from the fact that it seriously limited the amount of content that I was exposed to. Either that, or it would take me an excruciatingly long time to catch up with all of the content creators I was interested in.

Fast forward to late 2020, and I’ve finally bought a car. I’m getting tired of the same radio shows every morning and evening on my commute, so I decide to stick on an audio book. Around the same time, I watch this video by Ali Abdaal, productivity YouTuber and Doctor, who advocates for the joy of speed listening:

Slowly but surely, I cycle my way through different playback speeds. First: 1.25x regular speed. Then: 1.5x speed. At 2x the speed, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm are read to me twice as quickly, yet at maximum comprehension. For some texts I even approach 3x normal speed, such as Michelle Obama’s Becoming, whose life story is cut from 18 hours to 6. She’s a slow reader, so this makes my decision all the more easy.

These days, I hover at 2.5x normal playback speed – for podcasts and audiobooks – and can still understand every bit of content. If anyone hosts a particularly quick talker, then I still have the option of slowing down to 1.5 or even regular playback speed. I’m consuming so much more content in the same amount of time, it’s brilliant.

I’ve actually applied this time-saving tip to scouring through Youtube videos to quickly assess whether they’re suitable for the kids I’m teaching, and what kind of comprehension questions I can ask them. Then, if I need a bit more time to work out what they need to pick up, I can slow it up to normal playback speed. It’s really helped with the work-life balance while lesson-planning. This is really important to me, because I’m all about efficiency without sacrificing the quality of my pedagogy.

Facing down the opposition

I’ve faced quite a bit of opposition from people I know, which often centres around the idea that it’s so much better to slow down, smell the roses, and enjoy the track I’m listening to. I’ve countered with “what’s the point, if I can still understand absolutely everything being said? Would you have the same attitude towards speed reading?”

It’s such a good argument – who would, in their right mind, tell quick readers to stop reading so fast? Lots of readers, myself included, try to focus on just the middle of the piece of text, letting our peripheral vision absorb the surrounding text for us. Is anyone really going around, saying that reading more is a bad thing?

My go-to platform

I could plug Audible so well right now if I were sponsored but, alas, I am not. Plus, I’d be lying: I’ve not used Audible a day in my life. I’ve heard great things about it and – from my research – it appears to grant users greater control over their playback speed, but it’s an unnecessary expense at the moment.

What I use is completely free. It’s a service called BorrowBox, and it’s offered without charge by your local library. So far, I’ve used it for all of the above books that have been mentioned, as well as the Noughts and Crosses series; The President is Missing – a thriller by James Patterson and Bill Clinton; The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells; Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek; Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy and a few more romantic tales: The Flatshare, by Beth O’Leary, and Lucy Dawson’s The One That Got Away.

I try to have an audiobook and a physical book on the go at the same time to fuel my desire for stories and reading wherever I am, and doing so – coupled with speed listening and actively pursuing speed-reading – as magnified the rate at which I finish texts. It’s looking like I’ll not only meet, but also smash through my end-of-year reading targets. I can’t see any world in which that is a bad thing.

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