The Podcast Playlist Overhaul: How to Systemize your Listening
Since publishing my last post (16 Must-Listen Business Podcasts), I have received a handful of emails and messages asking how to keep up: so many shows, so many episodes, so many amazing topics to explore. Today, let’s chat about ways to keep from getting overwhelmed. My playlist currently sits at 28 podcast subscriptions, which is admittedly too much; however, even two shows can be a lot to keep up with sometimes. How do you keep your head above water and stay afloat? It’s all about the right shows at the right time, taking control of your experience, and sometimes letting go.
I have written several posts this year about podcasts; most of them are in support of specific shows, episodes, or genres that I think you will enjoy and learn from. This post, however, is all about the listeners. If you are a podcast host, you might not dig everything that I say here, but put your audience-cap on, and I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
Let’s start with the obvious. If you are listening to podcasts for any reason other than that you actually want to, it’s going to be hard to keep up. If it’s a chore, you might feel the need to just opt out entirely. Before you do, however, I’d encourage you to find your podcast-zen: find the right shows, limit your subscriptions, and stay in control of your listening habits. Keeping up with an ever-growing list of podcasts takes want, not work.
If you can’t wait to hear the latest episode of [best podcast ever], you will find the time. However, if you find that listening into [not best ever] is a chore, you’re doing it wrong. Find what speaks to you, and you’ll be hooked. And once you’re hooked, the rest is all about management.
Find your ideal listening time. Driving, exercising, and doing chores are ideal times to consume podcasts. Bonus: I will often exercise longer or run a few more errands if I’m all-in on a specific show. Also, experiment to find the right shows for the right times. I focus much better while walking, so I keep my “smart” podcasts for then. Entertainment shows are my favorites while driving, and storytelling is best for me during chores or while shopping. You’ll have your own breakdown, but try different shows at different times. Once you find your fit, keeping up with your favorite shows will feel much more natural.
There are numerous ways to consume podcasts, including several mobile apps, websites, and even car integrations. Depending on how you are listening, find the buttons; they are an important part when taking control of your listening experience. I particular, get familiar with the skip buttons (forward and rewind). Sure, no podcaster wants to hear that you are skipping the ads, but we’re all adults here; it happens.
Personally, I find the backward button to be the most helpful. There are constant distractions, and sometimes you’ll find yourself lost during your listening. If you’re rewinding incessantly, don’t get discouraged; either save the show until later or pause it until you are able to focus. The marker of a great podcast is that you want to hear every word. If you just missed 9 minutes and you don’t really care, there’s your clear sign to move on.
It would be great to be able to start and finish every podcast in one sitting, but it’s very rare to time it perfectly. And when you add someone like Joe Rogan or Dan Carlin to the mix, it’s near impossible. So get comfortable pausing your listening experience. Hit the rewind button a couple of times to get back into the flow, and pick up where you left off.
Bonus: Sometimes you’ll unpause a show and find out that you’re just not into it anymore. That can be an added benefit of taking a break. If you fire the podcast up an hour or a day later and you’re still excited, perfect; if not, delete it and find something else. Sometimes a break is just what you need to seek out something that’s a better fit for you and your time.
I rarely unsubscribe from a podcast, but it’s about time for some curation. And you need to be open to it, too. When something newer or more interesting comes along, you likely will need to lose a show or two to make room. It happens. If you aren’t super passionate about the shows you are listening to, move on.
Also, the OCD among us will freak out as we watch our playlist grow and grow, unable to keep up. Sometimes, unsubscribing is your best option. If it’s particularly hard for you, keep the podcast in your library, and when you have more time, download the shows that you have missed and catch up. Yes, podcasters will absolutely want you to subscribe, but do what’s best for you and your time. If you need to unhook for a bit, do so. Then see which shows you come back to. Those hosts will have a listener for life, and they will be appreciative to have you back.
I am not going to spend time here reviewing all of the podcast apps that are available, but just know that you have choices. Me? I have stuck with the standard iPhone Podcasts app. But I’d encourage you to shop around and find the tool that works best for you. My guess is that new ones will continue to be released with additional features, functions, etc., so keep your options open. We have yet to see a truly social app dedicated to podcasts; my guess is that will win the day if it is created well. In the meantime, podcasts will continue to be a 1:1 experience ,for the most part. (Note: if you are a podcaster, I am creating a couple of resources around podcast marketing; hit me up on Twitter, if you are interested: @mhollowell.)
This is another tip that podcasters might not appreciate, but every podcast isn’t for every person. If you aren’t sure if you will be hooked or not (and how can you be before you sample), download a limited number of episodes first. Listen through three or four, and then decide if you are in for the long haul. There is no such thing as “must-listen” or “should” when it comes to your own playlist, so be choosy. You’ll be happier with your show line-up, and the hosts will be happy to have you as a passionate listener.
Being choosy also applies to individual podcasts. There are some shows that I will not miss a single episode of; others, I pick and choose. That’s okay. Again, in order to keep up and not be overwhelmed, you need to be in control of your listening experience. Be choosy, and you are much less likely to disappear entirely.
If you can handle having a backlog of shows on your device, embrace binge-listening. Every now and again, I hit the road for a solo road-trip or a long plane ride, and I look forward to having the time and space to get caught up on my favorite shows. The same can be true for a day of mindless tasks. I am much more likely to volunteer for chores or run errands knowing that I have the space to listen, learn, and get lost in my playlist. Embrace the binge, when you are afforded the time to do so.
I rarely listen to a podcast at 1.5x or 2x speed, but it can be done. If you have the brain and focus for it, try speeding up a couple of shows to maximize your time. I find that this works better with solo or interview shows than with highly-produced storytelling shows, but you’ll find your own peace with speed. If you can master the tactic, you can essentially double your intake. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on the show and your purpose, but it’s worth a shot if you are feeling behind.
Hopefully, some of these nine suggestions will help you keep your head above water if you feel that you are drowning in the podcast ocean. Regardless of what tactics you subscribe to, I’d encourage you to try to find your zen with the medium. Podcasting is rapidly growing in popularity, and learning to manage your time/playlist now is the best way to set yourself up for success. Remember to keep your options open, your podcasts fresh, and cheat when necessary.
Similar to books or TV shows, we tend to get behind quickly. And that’s okay as long as you have the tools to manage it. Just don’t get overwhelmed or stressed, and be open to new shows as you navigate the waters. Sometimes you need find more time, sometimes you need to speed things up, and sometimes you simply need to let go.
And all of that is okay.
How do you manage your podcast listening? What tips do you suggest? Or on the flip side, what are your pain points around keeping up with your podcasts?