Reading More Without Living Less

Finding Time You Already Have:: Audiobooks: Part 1

October 12, 2012

One of the best ways to read more without “living less” is to make use of the seemingly “dead time” you already have. The availablity of audiobooks provides an easy means to do this, although different people process visual and audio information at different rates and in different ways. (But if you think that you’re a visual-only learner, don’t give up on audiobooks quite yet!)

Collect the tools.

First, the audiobook lifestyle requires some basic equipment. You will need a device that plays digital audio like an iPod or other MP3 player, and likely a pair of headphones. This is the basic building block for the audiobook lifestyle.

It’s also possible to do this without a portable MP3 player or headphones. Simply play the audio from your computer, but this will limit you in how, when, and where you can listen.

Find your the time.

Next, you’ll need some time to listen to your audiobooks. Don’t stress out over trying to find more time in your busy schedule. You already have it.

I feel strongly about moving toward a more simple lifestyle, particularly in comparison with the culture in which I find myself placed. I try to live counter-culturally to the message that sees busyness is a status symbol or sign of worth. But I don’t just avoid busyness so that I can sit around twiddling my thumbs or spend my time floating around a pool. Simplicity and minimalism of time has the aim of making room for what is most important.

As Laura Vanderkam states in 168 Hours, “You have time for what you make time for.” The key is to make time work for you, rather than being a slave to it.

You may have to do some rearranging, configuring, and looking at your lifestyle, but if you’re like most people, you probably have time in there that you didn’t realize you had.

Multitasking can be good and bad. 

Beware of multitasking that overloads the brain. There are numerous studies that show that multitasking actually slows you down at all your tasks, impairs judgment, and confuses the brain. (In fact, you can take a quick 3-question test here to see how well you multitask. The studies also show that as we get older, we grow worse at multitasking, so if you’re “older” and listen to audiobooks, I’d love to hear your opinion on this. :))

You might be trying to watch TV, chat online with a friend, and sort through your tax files. This is bad multitasking, because each of these requires active brain activity to accomplish these tasks. (This may be arguable in regards to watching TV, but if it is a show with a verbal storyline you are trying to follow, you’ll need to pay attention to some degree.) On the other hand, if you’ve been knitting for years, knitting and watching a TV show are a bit more feasible.

There are simply some things that cannot be done while listening to audiobooks.

Don’t try to multitask tasks that require intense concentration or tasks or that are new.

For instance, if you are breastfeeding a baby for the first time, you will likely get distracted from what you are listening to; once you have it down, though, you will probably usually be able to listen to an audiobook.

Or, if you are putting together a brand new piece of furniture from Ikea and trying to follow the instructions, that’s not a good time to try to concentrate on listening to an audiobook. Putting it together for the 500th time, and you do this as almost as an assembly line job? You might be able to do both quite well. (Lose a screw, though, and your concentration on the one will probably be lost momentarily.)

Don’t try to listen to audiobooks while composing e-mails, purchasing stocks, or performing surgery. 🙂

I also try not to listen to audiobooks while I am with my children and it is a time when my attention should be devoted to them. I don’t want them to grow up remembering that Mommy was always distracted, checking texts at the dinner table, or usually didn’t hear them until the 5th time because I was in the middle of a really good book. I rarely take or make phone calls during my time with them, so it is no different with audiobooks. But there are plenty of times to squeeze both in during the daytimes (and audiobooks are much easier to push “pause” on than is an important phone call): naptimes, free-play times (I’m a strong believer in this), while children are otherwise preoccupied.

Do use your time well. Listen to audiobooks while performing tasks that require low mental concentration.

Good opportunities to listen to audiobooks:

  • Chores and manual labor. While doing chores sans children’s involvement (cleaning floors, dusting, folding laundry are all examples of tasks that would otherwise seem mindless)
  • Waiting for an appointment or meeting
  • Walking
  • Getting dressed, putting on make-up (or shaving if you’re not a make-up wearing male), etc…
One benefit to listening to audiobooks during this time is that it also helps to pass the time, reduce stress, and perhaps maybe even allow you to enjoy or look forward to these tasks. You might even do them faster!
Possible good opportunities: 
  • Driving. (Just be careful that it is not a time that requires intense concentration, such as in a new city or trying to navigate a tricky section of town.)
  • Exercising. In Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, the authors share evidence that the optimal time for learning and taking in new information is immediately following the period of sustained peak heart-rate activity. However, during the time of high-heart-rate activity, the brain does not do as well
  • Anytime you happen to be in an unproductive or mundane moment (and are not otherwise purposefully resting or refreshing from the silence). Maybe you’re having trouble sleeping, but want to lay in bed in the dark still (the Audible app has a sleep mode that you can set to automatically shut off), or maybe you showed up for a friend’s bridal shower too early and are waiting in the driveway, and need some time to kill.
If you have a set time every day at which you perform a mundane task or routine, this is an easy way to turn that time into an audiobook listening habit. Once you do, you’ll likely begin to look forward to those times and get through more books more quickly.


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  • Johanna Hanson October 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I haven’t found a lot of time during my regular day to listen (though audio books are still new to me, so I expect that will change).

    However, I do find that in the evening when I am doing my final cleanup of the day, or dishes, etc, is a great time. I am usually so tired that I am tempted to put that off especially if my husband is studying and can’t help me do it, but listening makes the time enjoyable. My house just might be cleaner since listening to audio books. 🙂