Prime Time

prime time

Prime Time

Between commuting 30+ minutes to/from work, travel-intensive hobbies, and family that lives on the East Coast, I spend an inordinate amount of time in planes, trains, and automobiles.  Music is great and all, but I almost exclusively listen to audiobooks and podcasts, even when I am not traveling.  However, just because I spend a lot of time commuting does not mean that my time is a commodity.  There are podcasts for every interest, and there’s always something to listen to.  As such, it’s impossible to listen to everything you want to given life and listening constraints.  Or…is it?

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

When I discovered podcasts in 2010, I adopted a completionist attitude towards them and listened to one in its entirety before moving on to the next one.  I soon discovered that was unsustainable.  Once the breadth of podcasts I wanted to listen to grew, so did my time commitment.

“But self, you’re just listening while doing something else! It’s not like you’re wasting time!”

False.  Sure, you multitask, but your commute (or whenever you listen) is listening time.  Without that listening time, you might not listen as much (or at all).  You have finite prime time for uninterrupted interaction with your podcasts and audiobooks, and I feel it’s important to maximize what I call “podcast efficiency.”  It all starts with the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

What is sunk cost?  It’s the amount of non-refundable time, energy, and resources you invested in any given activity or course of action.  The fallacy arises from making decisions based on past investment rather than current standings and future growth.  We fall into this fallacy all the time.  Like that book you keep begrudgingly trying to finish, or that show you let pile up on the DVR while making time for one episode a month.  We say, “Oh well I should just finish it.  I already invested all that time!”

But here’s the thing.  You really don’t have to.  Except to scratch that itch of “completing the whole thing” or “not wasting all the time you spent,” what’s stopping you from, well, stopping?

Be! Aggressive! B-E Aggressive!

Alas, I am not The Doctor, Doc Brown, or Cher.  I cannot turn back time and erase my investment of time in a podcast or audiobook, and you probably can’t either.  What do you really gain from finishing a podcast or audiobook you don’t like?  In my experience, resentment and a bad mood is all you get from finishing something you already hated an hour into listening.

True story: I listened to a podcast for a little over a year, and supported it on Patreon.  Unfortunately, after a while I thought the content went stale and my interest steadily declined.  Ultimately, I realized the only reason I still listened was because of my Patreon donation.  I wanted to get my money’s worth, but that falls into the sunk cost fallacy.  I canceled my support on Patreon, and now I consume maybe 15 minutes of a 60-minute show.

Setting up listening limits is key for podcast efficiency.  For me Audiobooks get 1-2 hours (10-20% of a 10-hour book) before I decide to give it the axe.  Podcasts get 15-20 minutes, roughly 25-30% of an hour-long episode.  After that, I liberally skip forward or nix the content outright.  I am certain that Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is a brilliant book, but I hated the audio version and all 13 hours and 56 minutes I listened to it.  I never want that experience again.  Regina and I had a conversation recently about how I started a 10½-hour book late last Thursday and finished it on Monday evening because I enjoyed it so much.  That is the experience you should have with your audio content.  Forgetting sunk costs frees up time to find engaging books and shows you love to immerse yourself in.  Great content is worth getting lost in.

Listen to Yourself

We all know when we’ve lost interest, stoped paying attention, or straight up don’t like something.  That’s time you can’t get back by barreling forward.  As of October 4, 2017 Stitcher Radio logs my total listening time at 1,673 hours and 33 minutes since June 2011.  That’s roughly 45 minutes of content every day for 6 years, and that’s only the podcasts that I listen to.  Add audiobook content to that and I’m sure my listener minute count skyrockets to 60-75 minutes per day.  If you listened to that much content each day, wouldn’t you want to be sure it’s the stuff you like best?  Forget about sunk costs; they don’t matter.  The only time you’re wasting is your own.

Shameless Plugs

Stuff you should be listening to:

The Geek Embassy Podcast
NW Nerd
Ear Hustle
Freakonomics Radio
Planet Money (I swear it’s not a finance podcast)
Sincerely, X
Playing with Science
99% Invisible

1 Comment

  1. The concept of the sunk cost fallacy is one of those ideas that I’d never known had a name, but vaguely thought “surely this must actually be a thing, I can’t be the only person to give up a book/podcast partway.” I’m glad to know this sensation has a name other than my own personal completionist scratch.

    I am curious as to how far this sunk cost theory spreads, however. Simply put, I’m wondering if specific situations or circumstances are held accountable as reasons of continuing or stopping support of a particular subject. As personal examples, I’m still partially through 2 novels, House of Leaves and The Blood Gospel, and I’m of 2 minds about the pair of them.

    For House of Leaves, the plots themselves are engaging, the layout fascinating, and the entire work phenomenal as far as I’ve read. However, it’s been little over a year since I’ve cracked the pages to continue reading, mostly because even though it’s a fascinating read and its twin narratives are wonderful to ingest, their complexity along with the presence of footnotes made the final third a bit of a slog for me.

    Compared to The Blood Gospel, which is in and of itself another enjoyable read (think more Night Watch than Dracula, ridiculous romance subplot and all), HoL is sublime. And although Blood Gospel is decent enough for what it is, even with airport-fiction-novel tropes playing a large part of the narrative, I don’t feel much of a need to go back to it after reaching the halfway point. To co-opt a particular dirty meme, I’ve read enough novels to see where this is going. But I can understand why I dropped Blood Gospel. It’s formulaic, it’s silly after a point, and feels lazy.

    House of Leaves, on the other hand, feels wonderfully different. It’s engaging, mysterious, and yet dense as hell. And while I’m sure the answer is simply hiding from me as I type this (I am a bit tired), I’m curious as to whether or not enjoyment has a particular factor in the sunk cost hypothesis.

    To somewhat expand on that in my closing point, I’d like to plug The Simply Scary podcast which, though it is in and of itself phenomenal, isn’t something I listen to on a regular basis. Maybe it’s not the right mood, maybe Mock the Week has reruns, but it is a podcast I would fully recommend to any horror fan.

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