Saturday, November 19, 2022

Stuck waiting? Doing mindless chores? Don't be frustrated or bored: Fire up a podcast & learn or just be entertained.

When your body must be present, but your mind isn't engaged... 

Not everything we do requires our full mental engagement. Whether it's a "mindless" chore or an unavoidable waiting period, it can be boring or downright frustrating to find yourself stuck "killing time" with your brain disengaged. What's the solution? For me, it's podcasts! 

Here are some perfect opportunities to tamp down your boredom or impatience and crank up your mental engagement with podcasts: 
  • Waiting in line at the bank or shopping
  • Waiting for a ride
  • Travelling on a bus, train or plane
  • Slogging through traffic while driving to work, running errands or on a road trip
  • Exercising
  • Showering, shaving, putting on makeup and generally getting ready for your day
  • Doing household chores or yard work 
  • Cooking or cleaning up after the meal
I find that doing any of the above while listening to podcasts makes the time pass much more quickly. And since most podcasts are designed as pure listening experiences (no video screen needed), I'm free to use my eyes to pay attention to traffic or shaving or my tool/chores or whatever.  Best of all, depending on the podcast I'm listening to, I come away from the otherwise boring experience having learned something new or useful. 

Say "No" to YouTube, TikTok, Facebook and other algorithm-driven time wasters.

A typical response to mindless work or waiting is to click through Facebook posts or the algorithm-driven freak shows that are served up by TikTok or YouTube. Sure, these can help you pass the time. But they are a kind of mental candy, engaging your brain in a quick and often stimulating way, but leaving you hungry when the engagement is over. Wouldn't it be better to spend these little bursts of down time learning something useful or digging deeper into one of your interests?

Who's in charge: A mindless algorithm or your own conscious choices?

Say "Yes" to your podcasts & your content stream on your schedule.

Podcasts are the answer to dealing with mental "downtime." They give you your own custom-tailored content stream which you can access at your own pace and on your own schedule. Specifically: 
  • You can pause them when you need to switch your attention to your otherwise boring chore and then pick them up later. 
  • If you miss something because your chore needs you for a few minutes, you can easily "rewind" the podcast and go back and repeat what you missed.
  • You can listen to them at high speed, without chipmunk voices, but with the pauses and spaces squeezed out. (See the settings in your podcast player or this on Google Podcasts' "Podcast Controls" from PC Mag, for details.)
  • You can save them for later and even binge listen to a whole series you may have missed.  
  • With today's smart speakers (Google Home, Amazon Echo, etc.) you can do all of the above completely hands free while you move around your house. 
  • Using Android Auto or Apple CarPlay you can start or continue listening to your Google Podcasts (and most other podcast apps) while you drive. 

How to Get Started 

Are you new to podcasts? Here's an easy way to get started: 
  1. Get the Google Podcasts app. It's easy to use, it's free and it leverages Google's powerful search capabilities to unearth all kinds of brilliant and crazy podcasts. Get it here: 
  2. Decide on one or more topics you want to learn about or subject areas you might find simply find entertaining. For example, comedy podcasts are among the most popular. But so are podcasts that provide "how to"  info, political analysis, tech updates/analyses and business/market news.  
  3. Search your chosen topic using Google Podcasts' search function and see what comes up.
  4. Review the brief descriptions of the podcasts that turned up in the search. 
  5. If something looks good you can either subscribe (almost always for free) to get automatic updates of that podcast or "test drive" the podcast by playing a few episodes to see if you want to commit to the subscription.
    (Note: Most podcasts are free and supported by ads. Rarely, I'm told, a podcast is only available behind a paywall. I can't confirm that, since I've never paid for a podcast. Re: ads... it's easy to fast forward through the ads if they are obnoxious.)
Pro Tip: One of my favorite features of Google Podcasts is the ability to download podcasts and store them, then sequence them in a custom playlist. This way when you're offline you can play these without incurring any data charges for downloads. This can be especially useful when you're waiting for an appointment somewhere deep within a building or some other location where there is no cell service.

For your consideration: That's a actually a podcast?!?

Podcasts: Plenty of topics to choose from...

To show you the wide range of podcasts that are available, I did a quick Google Podcasts search using a bunch of different search terms. Here's a sample of what I found: 

A Few of My Favorite Podcasts

Here are my six absolute favorite podcasts: 
  • Up First from NPR - Provides context for major news you'll hear about later in the day
  • NPR News Now - A quick, 5 minute summary of the latest news, updated hourly, 24/7
  • This Week in Google (Audio) A huge, rambling discussion (2 - 3 hours!) about Google and all things related to the web and smart home with Leo Laporte and my favorite feisty tech geeks
  • Marketplace - An interesting daily summary of business & marketplace news for regular people
  • Left, Right & Center - A balanced analysis/debate of the week's top political topics
  • PBS Newshour - Segments - A collection of brief, individual segments (audio only) from PBS' nightly Newshour [Also available: PBS NewsHour - Full Show]
And I also enjoy these podcasts:
  • This Week in Tech (Audio) "...  top tech journalists and pundits in a roundtable discussion of the latest trends in tech." 
  • The Audio Long Read "... a selection of the Guardian’s long reads... including in-depth writing from around the world on immigration, crime, business, the arts and much more."
  • Marketplace Tech "... demystifies the digital economy in less than 10 minutes."
  • On the Media "... [This] Peabody Award-winning... podcast is your guide to examining how the media sausage is made."
  • The Good News Podcast "... your thrice weekly reminder that not all news is bad."
  • The New Yorker Radio Hour "... The New Yorker’s award-winning writers, editors and artists ... present a weekly mix of profiles, storytelling, and insightful conversations about the issues that matter."

Actually, just about everybody's got a podcast!

It's amazing how many television shows, radio shows and YouTube programs, which would normally  require you to sit and stare at a screen, are also available as in-your-ears, downloadable podcasts to use on-the-go! In addition to the PBS NewsHour (as noted above), many regular ABC, NBC, and CBS news programs are available as audio podcasts. Even such venerable network offerings as Face the Nation, Meet the PressThis Week with George Stephanopoulos and 60 Minutes can be downloaded to your podcast player.  And if you are a regular NPR listener, like I am, you'll be pleased to know that almost all NPR programs, even some of your local station content, are available as discrete podcasts.

What I've shared above are just examples. And they might not interest you. But you need only name a topic and there's probably a podcast out there that deals with it. See for yourself: Just go to Google Podcasts and search for topic, subject or whatever that might interest you. You'll be surprised what you find. 


Remember: When you're faced with mental downtime, the choice is yours. Will you get sucked into mindlessly thumbing through Facebook posts or the algorithm-driven freak shows served up by TikTok, YouTube and the like? Or will you make the decision to listen to stuff that you hand pick for yourself to enlighten or entertain you on your own terms? 

Take charge! And enjoy.

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Thanks, DALL-E! 

This image of a smart speaker, which I used in the intro graphic in this article, was generated by the DALL-E AI art generator which is now available for free for anyone to use. While I don't remember exactly what I asked DALL-E to generate, it went something like this: "smiley face, smart speaker, cartoon." I got several results and finally settled on the one above. Pretty cool, eh? AndI owe ZERO ROYALTIES for using it!  You can learn more about DALL-E here