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.
Stuff you should be listening to: