Audio books: the best way to improve your commute (besides making it shorter)
Audio books are one of the best ways to recover a lot of otherwise wasted time each and every day. I live in Washington, D.C., where almost every one I know has a one-way commute of at least 30 minutes, and if you tell someone your commute is under an hour they will usually say “Oh, that’s pretty good.” So if you multiply 30 minutes by two drives per day, times 5 days per week, times 48 weeks per year (assuming about 4 weeks for holidays and vacations), that is 240 hours per year, or ten full days! Or you could also say thirty 8-hour working days, which is approximately how much time you spend at work in a full month. If you’re not doing something productive like listening to audio books, that is a tremendous amount of time wasted. Some people claim that their evening commute is when they wind down each day, but I also treat it as my wind-down time and still get to listen to some great books! It does not take long to become accustomed to listening to audio books on a regular basis, and you soon get to the point where you really look forward to listening to your book each morning and evening commute. Imagine that! Looking forward to your commute! Ha!
I was first exposed to the concept of regularly listening to audio books while driving with my dad. His commute to work is only six minutes one way, yet he still listens to audio books almost every day because it is such a valuable habit to have. It may take quite a while to get through an audio book if your commute is only 6 minutes, but you will still get through it! Those 6 minutes add up.
I have been able to read so many books that I would not normally have had the time to read otherwise because of audio books. I would say over the past year I have probably read at least 20 audio books, with 4.5 hours in the car each working week. For example, I’m currently reading “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. I am also currently working on a presentation for technical conference in a couple of weeks, and as I was driving home one day recently I heard something that helped my presentation in exactly the way that I wanted. They present a great idea: ask a question that gets the audience curious about the answer at the beginning of the presentation, and then lead them through the journey to the final answer at the end. This is a powerful method to keep the audience engaged and interested through the entire presentation, and after I used it in a practice run several people noted that it was a good approach. This is the kind of serendipitous improvement in your life that audio books can bring on a regular basis.
Another great feature of listening to audio books rather than the radio is that you don’t waste hours of your life listening to commercials. Radio commercials are in my opinion among the most obnoxious things a person can listen to, so by eliminating these from my life I would estimate I am approximately 23.5% less irritated with life in general.
Libraries are an awesome source of audio books. While they usually don’t have the best selection on the shelves, most libraries allow you to place an order online for a particular book and when it arrives they will hold it for you at the front desk to pick it up. At the same time, you may still want to check out what is on the shelves, especially if you’re not too picky. I found some real gems by picking up some books I found when I walked in. And it doesn’t cost you anything if you get a book that you don’t like, just return it! There are a massive number of books online as well, both free and non-free. There are also a ton of podcasts and other audio shows out there, which are great as well, but I prefer audio books due to their higher quality (usually professionally edited and recorded) and deeper, more complete content. But I still mix it up with other audio content every once in a while.
I also highly recommend ripping audio books onto your computer and putting them onto an MP3 player of some kind (I use my old iPhone), noting any copyright issues before you do this of course. That way you always have a queue of books to go to when you finish one, or if you are on a long trip and need several books. It is much easier to carry around and keep track of a single small MP3 player than all those CDs (or cassette tapes if you have an old cassette tape deck). If your car is old like mine and doesn’t have an audio port or CD player, you can use a tape adapter that converts the digital signal from an MP3 player headphone jack into a signal that your tape player can understand. It’s basically a plastic cassette that has a cord running out of it that you plug into your MP3 player.
Audio books are fantastic for traveling when you want something to do but can’t read for whatever reason (like if you get motion sick). Examples include airplane rides, bus rides, train rides, boat rides, etc. And they are really great for road trips – they make the hours fly by, especially if you’re listening to a really interesting book. Long trips are the best times to listen to fiction books, because they tend to keep and hold your attention the best. It is also nice to alternate between audio books and music when driving for many hours, as it gives you a nice change of pace on a regular basis. While I’m on the music tangent, I highly recommend using something like Pandora through your smartphone if you have one, to prevent excessive commercials (or no commercials if you have Pandora One).
A very important tip that took me a while to figure out: don’t worry about catching every little thing while you’re listening. As you are driving, there will be events that take your full attention away from the book, and thus you will completely tune out the book. This is perfectly fine, and is why listening to audio books is much safer than talking on the phone with someone, as you have the ability to completely ignore the book for an extended period of time if needed. Most people feel they cannot do this when talking to someone on the phone. Even with the hands-free bluetooth devices this holds true, because it has been proven that they do not significantly reduce accidents over handheld phones. It is the distraction of talking to someone who is not in the car with you that makes it so dangerous, not the fact that you are using one of your hands. In fact, I have found that listening to audio books has made me a SAFER driver. Why? Because I am no longer so impatient to get to my destination, and thus I am far less aggressive when I drive (though this might get me run over in LA).
Coming back to the content that you missed: The vast majority of the time you will be able to pick up any critical information you missed as you listen more – this is even more the case with non-fiction books than fiction books. And even if you don’t, who cares? You are not going to remember 90+ percent of all of the details in a particular book a few weeks after you read it, so if you miss a tiny bit of information in a long book, it’s not really a big deal. I tend to like non-fiction better than fiction for audio books on my commute because they lend themselves better to listening to bits and pieces at a time and are easier to pick up after not listening for an extended period of time (like the weekend or a trip, etc.)
And if you feel like the audio book is distracting you too much as you drive, I recommend just turning it off for a while. I also notice that I’m not bothered as much by silence while driving since I started listening to audio books. It can be a nice break, just having silence and your thoughts (though you still have all those crazy drivers around you). I also like to pause the book after I’ve heard a particularly interesting passage of a book, to let my brain process what I just heard. Often I’ll use my new iPhone to verbally record ideas I have based on what I hear from the book. You have to use good judgement when doing this obviously, because this can be pretty distracting while driving, but sometimes I have to get something recorded so badly that I record a note as soon as I safely can.
You may notice that you miss more turns when you start listening to audio books, especially in unfamiliar places. This is a small disadvantage compared to the relatively huge gains provided by audio books, but easy enough to resolve: just turn it off until you are in a more familiar area or you know you’ll be on a particular road for a while.
Now that you’re all pumped about the greatness of audio books, run down to your library or jump online and soon you’ll be bugging all your friends and family about how great audio books are. :-)