Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.

 

Productivity tip for podcast listeners

I listen to a lot of podcasts during my commute, while traveling, and while running or walking.  For me, this is a crucial activity to "feed my head" with data about topics I care about.  If you like podcasts, but feel like you don't have enough time to keep up, I have a tip to make it more productive:  Variable Speed Playback

Back in the day, I began listening to audio books on my iPod and discovered that the iPod had a built-in setting to allow me to adjust the playback speed of the books (you could slow it down, as well as speed it up).  I began to enjoy the time-compression advantages of listening to the audiobooks faster (typically 1.5x) - after all, a 30-hour book suddenly became a 20-hour book - what's not to love?

Since then, Variable Speed Playback is a must-have feature for any podcast player I use.

Here are some additional tips and things I've learned about this:

  • Not all time-compression algorithms are created equal.  All of the variable-speed algorithms attempt to speed up the playback while maintaining the pitch of the voice so people don't sound like chipmunks.  Some players use algorithms that are good at this, others suck at it - you have to try them out to find one that sounds 'natural enough' to you.
  • If you are bothered by the faster voice rate, give it 3-5 minutes to settle in.  Your brain will adjust and it will sound normal after a few minutes.
  • My default playback rate is 1.5x, but there isn't a "one speed fits all" option.  Some podcasters talk very slow, so you might need to go to 1.75x or 2x.  Others talk very quickly, so you may not be able to speed them up at all - no biggie, you're being productive enough because they are loading you up with high-density information.
  • Some podcasts are not well-suited for speedups - for example, those with a lot of music, or being presented by people with strong accents, or by groups of people with at least one "fast talker" in the bunch.  You'll get to know which of your podcasts are accelerate able, and which aren't.
  • Along the same lines, I prefer podcast players that can maintain a speed setting for each podcast so you don't have to adjust any time a new one starts.
    • On iOS, I love Downcast (image on the left at the end of this post) - it has a default setting that works globally, as well as making it easy to define a local setting for each podcast.  It also has a great variable speed algorithm that works well for a variety of podcast types.
    • On Android, I like BeyondPod (image on the right at the end of this post) - it has a default setting globally, an easy way to adjust the playback speed on the fly (with pre-set rates, or an variable slider), as well as a great algorithm for variable speed playback.  The only thing is lacks is the ability to remember the speed setting for each podcast individually - still on the hunt for that on Android in a player that isn't fatally flawed in some other way.

I've had a few folks who thought I was crazy when I recommended this, but several of them have come back telling me they are believers.  By the way, I use sped-up playback with the Audible player for audiobooks - also a huge time saver.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

 

Downcast for iOS
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BeyondPod for Android
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Positive productivity: How increasing your energy maximizes your efficiency

The traditional concept of time management focuses on the practice of ardently planning and mastering conscious control over the time allocated to specific tasks.  It sure sounds hard, described that way, doesn't it?  In real lifeespecially business settingstime management requires tools, skills and processes all laced together by the ultimate goal of increasing efficiency and productivity. Frankly, time management takes a lot of time. 

But what if increasing productivity was much simpler than that? What if instead of involving project management software, schedules, graphs and apps, the process required a decent pair of walking shoes and a fluffy pillow?

Master your energy

Based on the assertions of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their bestseller, "The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal," our most precious resource is energy, not time. Certainly making the best use of your time is critical to your success but, if your energy levels are depleted, your productivity takes a dive regardless of what the clock reads.

Of course, managing your energy in a world abuzz with communication gizmos is no easy task. Energy replenishment takes effort. Think about it:  how many times during your workweek lunch breaks—an hour that should be devoted to refueling and recharging—have you allowed the chatter of texts and emails to further drain your energy?

Build your energy on 4 strong pillars

According to the ideas in "The Power of Full Engagement" as well as those on Tony Schwartz's blog, "The Energy Project," physical energy is the foundation to our overall efficiency. While emotional, mental and spiritual energy are also critical components of high performance, when our physical bucket is empty, all heck breaks loose. By incorporating these four key pillars of physical fulfillment into your typical day, you can elevate your energy levels and in turn, take a major step toward positive productivity.

1. Nutrition: Eat small, high-protein, low-carbohydrate meals throughout the day.  You've likely heard this before but eating mini meals throughout the day is a simple way to sustain your energy. For busy professionals who spend long days at the office, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends keeping single-serve packages of crackers, fruit, peanut butter, low-sodium soup or canned tuna in your desk. Tuck snacks in your travel bag for a quick refueling between meetings (I always have a couple of Kind bars stashed in my backpack). If remembering to eat  at the right times is a challenge for you, download an app such as the Temple Hydration, Food, Fitness and More iPhone app (TheTempleApp.com), which comes with customizable reminders that kick in when it has been too long since you last ate.

2. Fitness: Make regular exercise a habit.  According to the MayoClinic, regular exercise not only controls weight and helps you avoid a slew of health conditions and diseases, it improves your mood and boosts energy levels. If hitting the gym is not your style, buy a pedometer and record the number of steps you take every day. The Energy Project blog recommends shooting for 10,000 steps per day.  (By the way: I love my pedometer — I have a new one that is fantastic and will be reviewing it next week)

3. Sleep: Get an average of 8 hours of sleep every night.  To aid in developing a sleep-conducive cycle, the National Sleep Foundation suggests sticking to a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends. They also recommend creating an environment that is cool, quiet, comfortable and dark. If light is spoiling your sleep space, invest in room darkening or blackout cellular shades to block out the light. Finally, keep the gadgets out of the bedroom as much as possible. Computers, tablets and cell phones distract you from the task at hand: a good night's sleep.

4. Renewal: Plan regular vacations, social outings and personal time. Whether it's a massage, Frisbee golf with the guys or a week-long camping trip, detaching from the daily grind altogether for substantial pockets of time is key to replenishing your physical and mental energy. In the "The Power of Full Engagement," the authors redefine the old paradigm of "downtime is wasted time" to "downtime is productive time." Use your downtime wisely by doing something fun.

Bottom line, don't throw away your precious time management tools and apps just yet. But do make your physical well-being a top priority and start to take note of how your energy levels impact your focus and productivity. It's worth the time.

Got any tips that work for you?  I'd love to hear them.

Your Digital Personal Assistant: 5 Apps to Improve Productivity

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“Work smarter, not harder” may be a worn cliché, but until the earth slows its orbit and we all get that 30-hour day, any tool that can improve productivity is worth looking into. There are plenty of apps that claim to increase efficiency but wading through the sea of useless products to find a few truly helpful ones is one more chore to add to your never-ending to-do list.

Lifehack.org recently posted an article on Bob Parsons' 16 rules for survival. As the founder and CEO of GoDaddy, the largest registrar of domain names in the world, businessman Parsons knows a thing or two about productivity. His rules centralize on the importance of advancement and management. What better way to help with that than some of the best personal assistant apps available?

Dragon Mobile Assistant

How much more could you accomplish in a day if you had an assistant? Especially one that worked for free and was available 24/7? Dragon Mobile Assistant, compatible with Android and iPhone, is the next best thing. It lets you schedule appointments, speak to text, make calls and update your social media accounts all with voice command. The app will also read aloud your incoming messages and calls. Dragon Mobile Assistant has been updated with several new features including Driver Mode Auto Detect which automatically switches to hands-free and eye-free mode when it detects you’re in a moving vehicle.

Expensify

Expense reports are one of the most dreaded, time consuming and necessary tasks an entrepreneur needs to stay on top of. Expensify makes it easy to capture and organize receipts, mileage and all your billable expenses without the hassle of paperwork. With Expensify you won’t waste one more minute tracking down misplaced receipts. The app is free and available for Windows Phone, BlackBerry, iPad and iPhone.

My Sticky Note

No pen? No paper? No problem if you’ve got My Sticky Note for BlackBerry. My Sticky Note is free and keeps track of all your million-dollar ideas, random reminders and last minute schedule changes. No more time wasted because you forgot an important detail. This app lets you place a note directly on your home screen so there’s no way you can miss it. You can also customize the font, color and size to make it most functional for you.

LastPass

Nothing slows down productivity like waiting for the email that will allow you to change a forgotten password, again. LastPass is a free app that securely and automatically stores passwords for all of your accounts, and as a busy entrepreneur, that can be a lot. It’s safe, easy to access, and according to the LastPass site, the app gets top ratings from companies like Lifehacker, PC Mag and CNET. LastPass works with Windows, Linux and Mac.

Coffee Break

Sometimes you get so busy you forget to have lunch, but that doesn't automatically equal productivity. U.S. News reports that taking short breaks approximately every two hours can actually make you more productive. After a quick walk, a healthy snack or a drink of water you can return to your work with a fresh mind and actually get more done during the day. For $3, Mac users can be reminded when it’s time for a short break or to take lunch with the Coffee Break app.

It’s up to you to make little decisions that ensure the success of your business. Using technology to improve productivity is one of the smartest decisions you can make. Apps that increase efficiency and improve production are like money in your pocket.

 

Seeing the World With a Backpack

I've traveled a lot on business, but have always been intrigued by the idea of traveling the world for fun.  A couple of sets of friends of mine have done just that:

  • Tom Andrus took his whole family around the world on a very reasonable budget, which you can read about on his  "Six In The World" site;
  • Warren and Betsy Talbot not only did the same thing, they have written books about how to go about it, which you can find out more about via their "Married With Luggage" site.
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When you think about international travel - even on a smaller scale than that of Tom, Warren, and Betsy - one of the big questions is how to travel affordably. After all, anyone who has been on vacation recently knows it can be an extremely pricey experience.

In order to see the world in a more budget-friendly way, many people are intrigued by the idea of embarking on a backpacking adventure. Instead of staying at hotels, urban backpacking trips typically involve staying in hostels, which can save travelers thousands of dollars. But before you call the airlines and book your flight to Europe or wherever your case of wanderlust inspires you to go, it’s a good idea to take a little time beforehand and consider how backpacking and hostel vacations are different from a suitcase and hotel excursion.

Traveling Suggestions

The first thing to decide is if you want to travel alone or with a group. While having the freedom to go where you want and see what you want is appealing, there's also safety in numbers. Speaking of which, travelers should make it a point to protect their identity while they're away; for example, signing up with Life Lock before heading on vacation is a good idea, as is investing in a money belt and keeping your passport well-protected.

Most hostels will have lockers, but it doesn't hurt to pack some security accessories. Pacsafe Locks both cover and secure your pack to keep it from being stolen or tampered with.

Packing a Backpack

Packing a backpack for a vacation takes time and preplanning. As an article on the Wild Backpacker website noted, the first order of business is to purchase a backpack that'll fit all of the clothing, supplies and other gear you'll need. Even if, you already have an older backpack that will hold a lot of items, the article suggests investing in a newer, more lightweight model that will still hold a ton of stuff while also saving your back.

In order to pack everything properly, travelers should lay out everything they intend to bring in one spot. For instance, if you're going outside of the United States, you’ll probably want to bring a travel adapter, as well as a headlamp, at least one pair of extremely comfortable yet sturdy shoes, and the correct kind of clothing, for the climate you’ll be visiting. Once you have everything you need gathered together, the Wild Backpacker article suggests loading your pack with the lightweight items at the bottom, than medium-weight, and then finally the heaviest items. Fill all empty spaces with your smaller items like a GPS, snack foods, bug spray and toiletries.

For anyone who is unsure about what to expect, an article that appeared in the Huffington Post offers a first-hand account about the many benefits of staying in such affordable accommodations. In the author’s experience, hostels are clean, welcoming and hospitable places to stay, filled with friendly staff and guests. Many hostels tend to have staff on-site 24 hours a day, which helps with security. Hostels are also extremely easy on the wallet, costing as little as a few dollars a night.

With a little preplanning and a sense of adventure, it's certainly possible to get out and see the world for far less than a typical vacation.

Temptation and strengthening your will

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I was just reading an interesting article by Peter Bregman on the Harvard Business Review blogs, called "How to Use Temptation to Strengthen Your Willpower."  It first caught my eye because he was writing about a retreat at a place near where I live in Oregon.

But what really got my attention was the notion of "always wanting more" phenomenon (aka the Hedonic Treadmill) that he describes:

We relentlessly pursue things and experiences that we think will make us happier. But once we acquire them, we quickly return to our previous level of happiness. So then we look for the next thing.

This sounds familiar to me, as my love for gadgets is kind of like this, to name one of my "vices."  Another thing in his article resonated with me, as well:

Maybe getting the object of our desire isn't what we really desire. Maybe it's the desire itself which we desire. In other words, maybe it's more pleasurable to want things than to have them.

In other words, maybe the quest for what we want is worth more than getting it.  In some cases, I think that is certainly true, but we also need to obtain enough of our desired outcomes to drive our sense of progress, as well as to allow us allow us to move to the next phase of our journey.

The big question:  when does our questing become detrimental?  From my experience, there is a fine line between healthy focus and obsessive / compulsive pursuit, or even an addiction.  This is where I find that an objective coach or mentor can be a huge ally - whether it is a friend, coworker, roommate, spouse, or someone else you can trust to be straight with you (like a "sponsor" in a 12-step program).

The other aspect that I really liked about Bregman's article is the notion of using delayed gratification to make the experience more pleasant once you release the tension.  I encourage you to read what Bregman has to say - it is really good.