Productivity vs. Retention: An Experiment

joan of arcI read somewhere that it’s a good productivity exercise to listen to audio books and podcasts on 2x speed. This, the theory goes, will allow you to consume information twice as fast and therefore be twice as effective. Naturally, an experiment was in order.

Results? Mixed.

I do think podcasts are better twice as fast.  I prefer to read information and am very fast at that, so podcasts often feel  like they take too long for the information they deliver.  I don’t mind in some cases, but in others I feel I’m plodding along.  The only time 2x speed failed me was when a podcast guest had an ex-ter-em-ely thick Southern country accent and was also a fast talker.  I felt I was going to suffer a heart attack if I kept on at that speed so I dropped to 1.5x and that was fine.

Audio books were tougher.  I already have to really focus to follow the arguments in audio books since I’m not an auditory learner.  This is a good exercise for my brain, though, so I press on.  I have gotten better at doing history in this fashion, as long as I don’t mind missing bits here and there.  At 2x speed, I think I started to lose too much. I listened to Helen Castor’s Joan of Arc as my first experiment, and while I enjoyed it and thought I was following along, I can’t really point to any new information I gleaned from the book.  I’ve read about Joan before, and we studied her in our homeschool, so maybe I just had enough exposure already, but I can’t help feeling that I might have gained more from reading the book than listening–at least on double speed.

Your mileage may vary, but I think I will stick to speeding up in smaller increments, or just tough out the longer time investment of audio books in order not to sacrifice the details.

What do you think? Have you experimented with speeding up your listening? How did it work for you?


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7 thoughts on “Productivity vs. Retention: An Experiment

  1. Interesting experiment. I generally do not listen to stuff. Our small house is too small and generally there is a noise overload. I don’t like putting headphones in too often either. If I am on the treadmill or walking outside, I do. So I much prefer print. The trend of videos on blogs and news sites is driving me crazy.

  2. Interesting experiment. I’m familiar with both ends of the speed spectrum. My husband had a old audio reader(supplied by the National Federation for the Blind) that allowed you to set the speed at any rate, but the frequency changed dramatically as well. We listened to two books with the Donald Duck-type voice and it REALLY changed the impression of the material– an account of Alzheimer’s seemed comical. His current audio reader can speed up without changing the reader’s pitch.

    However, at the other end of the spectrum, lectors at my church (as well as public speakers everywhere) are instructed to speak more slowly than usual to be best understood.

  3. I’ve just started listening to some podcasts (probably because my kids are getting older and I can finally have a little more quiet!) and have found that for a 30 minute podcast there just isn’t as much content in it as I was hoping. I haven’t tried speeding up podcasts but did try an audio book and it’s just too stressful and more stress is not what I need. In fact, I read to decrease stress and promote enjoyment so speeding it up is not going to work for me. Now, I can see if I needed to read purely for information’s sake I might change my mind. But, for my physical person, speed listening is too stressful.
    Heather L. recently posted..Mondays are for Grace

    1. The stress is an interesting aspect to consider. I only have a few podcasts that I listen to, and they are ones that consistently give me something encouraging. Some of them are slow so speeding up is ok for me, since I only listen when I’m walking (for exercise) or in the car. I do like audio books for walking and for in the car. However, I definitely don’t listen to books that I want to read for enjoyment OR for serious information that way. I want to savor fiction, and I want to take notes for most non-fiction. But I find that history is a good thing for me to listen to–I don’t need to make notes, and it’s interesting enough to keep me going when I’m walking back and forth in my basement!

  4. I’ve had to figure out what works for me with audio as I’m more of a visual learner. I’m not good at non-fiction, because I like to take notes and go back and re-read things that stuck out to me–impossible to do on audio. Some fiction has worked well for me, and I’ve enjoyed some of Alison Weir’s history that way. As far as speed, I’m usually okay with 1.25 or 1.5. My trick is to do it on 2x for a couple of minutes and then go back to 1.5 and then it “feels” slow… a mind trick I guess. 😉
    Johanna recently posted..January 2016 read alouds

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