Is Listening to Podcasts Worth It? (#11)

Podcasts have only added to our collective information overload. This is how you can make the most of them

Is Listening to Podcasts Worth It? (#11)

Every Sunday I publish a newsletter featuring the best hacks and insights I discover on my journey as an entrepreneur and investor.

I travelled to Barcelona earlier this week. I find it impossible to sleep on planes and I’d usually take the 12-hour journey from Dubai as an opportunity to read a new book. A weekend of heavy drinking and a 3.30am outbound flight, however, meant listening to podcasts was the only productive thing my brain could handle. 🤯

It got me thinking… is saturating my mind with audio information problematic? Is listening to podcasts worth it, and how much do I even retain?

I first started listening to podcasts in 2017 and they’ve since become an integral part of my life. I listen (sometimes at 2.5x speed) while I’m travelling, commuting, cooking and cleaning. I only resign myself to silence when I’m working, showering, and sleeping. It’s a conscious effort to make the most of every opportunity to learn and be exposed to new ideas, and I’m grateful for it; I’ve discovered so much over the years thanks to my podcast obsession.

🌐 The state of podcasting in 2021

It’s clear I’m not alone! Norayr Djerrahian, the friend who I stayed with in Dubai and Head of Strategy at Hantec Markets, listens to Gary Vaynerchuck while showering every morning. Moreover, according to statistics from Infinite Dial 2020, 55% (155M) of the US population have listened to a podcast and 24% (68M) listen to podcasts weekly.

📈 To highlight growth, there are currently 1,950,000 podcasts and 47 million podcast episodes available for download. Whereas a FastCompany article from 2018 states there were “ 525,000 podcasts and 18 million episodes”.

The popularity of podcasting isn’t exclusive to the US. According to a Statistica survey, South Korea leads the world in the percentage of people who have listened to a podcast in the past month with 58%.

🧠 Our brain on podcasts

Our brain is five times more active when listening to audio stories than when listening to a list of random facts. It activates the parts of our brain that processes sound and language, and that processes sensory information and motor activity.

Audio stories are designed to stress us out. Storytellers use tension to make us empathise with characters and care about their fates. Our body releases the hormones cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin in response to rising action, climax, and resolution. Our brain also imagines imagery just like when we read. But unlike when we read, we must keep up with the pace of the show.

Bottom line? Podcasts are anything but relaxing for our brains!

😵 Multi-tasking is bad for mental and physical tasks

While it’s good for the brain to work hard, it’s not so good for the brain to multitask. Research suggests multitasking is mentally taxing and performance suffers when people try to do two or more things at once.

Juggling multiple tasks is especially detrimental when it comes to creative work. Even if our work isn’t mentally demanding, performance on purely physical tasks also falters. For instance, in a study elite rowers’ ability to row significantly declined when they were asked to perform a mental task at the same time.

🤓 We need downtime to digest information

Downtime replenishes the brain’s ability to focus and be creative. It’s essential for thinking deeply, performing well, and creating lasting memories. Most of us are deluged with data and could benefit from more breaks.

The brain doesn’t go to sleep when we stop concentrating on something. It goes into its default mode where it gathers and processes information and self reflects. If you deny the brain its downtime, you may feel anxious and fatigued, and you may inhibit your ability to learn, remember, and perform at your best.

Michael Grabowski is a neuroscientist and professor of communication at Manhattan College. He says binge-consuming our favourite podcasts may not give our minds enough downtime to absorb and synthesize what we learn.

“Consuming information is just the beginning — our minds need time to absorb and synthesize that information, to critically examine it. That’s something that we do in silence, by actively disengaging from digital technology and focusing on the physical world around us.”

🤫 Silence is golden

Silence is rejuvenating for both the body and the brain. When scientists inserted a two-minute pause into a piece of music in one study, listeners’ heart rates and blood pressure dropped during the silence even more than while listening to relaxing music.

But quiet is more than just the absence of noise. Research suggests silence is beneficial to cell development in the hippocampus, the brain region central to memory, emotion, and the nervous system. In a study of mice, two hours of silence per day increased neuron growth in the hippocampus. Imke Kirste, the study’s lead researcher, suggests silence may be used to treat conditions like dementia and depression if the same results are found in humans.

✅ The best way to enjoy podcasts

Podcasts are enjoyable and educational. A good podcast can alleviate the stresses of daily life and help you connect with others if you discuss them with friends and colleagues. Podcasts may also help keep your brain healthy and alert during extremely monotonous tasks such as commuting.

Saving your podcasts for non-work hours will help you get more done and feel calmer. And next time you finish a good podcast, instead of rushing to the next one, take a pause. Reflect on what you learned, write down your thoughts about it, or simply enjoy the silence. Your brain and nervous system will appreciate the rest, and you’ll probably remember the podcast better tomorrow. Personally, I only listen to podcasts while walking and commuting, and regularly take notes on my phone, often using the Zettlekasten method.

⚙️ My favourite podcast app

I’ve used Overcast on iPhone since 2017. It has an intuitive design and automatically edits out long pauses and makes it easy to speed up the playback without causing hosts to sound like they’re on helium. Depending on the podcast and content, I usually listen at 2.0x speed.

🙉 My favourite podcasts

💹 Economics and Finance

💎 Entrepreneurship

🤔 General Thinking

🔊 Music

I’d love to hear from you

Do you get fatigued from information overload? How do you balance that with your podcast intake? What’re you favourite pods and what’re you listening to now. You can reach me on Twitter or email:

Nomad News This Week

🔮 The next frontier after remote work is async. Peter Levels, the founder of Nomad List, explains why he thinks asynchronous work is at the same place as remote work was just a few years ago. (1,000 words).

🇩🇲 Dominica has launched a new Work-in-Nature digital nomad visa. The Caribbean country is offering a visa called Work in Nature (or WIN) that lets you stay in the country for up to 18 months. The visa is applicable not just for individuals, but families as well. (350 words).

💸 PayPal launches a crypto checkout service. PayPal has started allowing U.S. consumers to use their cryptocurrency holdings to pay at millions of its online merchants globally, a move that could significantly boost the use of digital assets in everyday commerce. (400 words).

🍂 Amazon expects some employees to return to the office this summer, but most will return in the fall. The plans signal that Amazon is betting on a return to office-based work, unlike some of its tech peers which have told employees they can adopt a fully remote or hybrid work schedule. (400 words).

📹 LinkedIn adds Creator mode, video profiles, and in partnership with Microsoft, new career training tools. LinkedIn unveiled a series of new features that it will be rolling out over the coming months to play into that strategy, and also, it hopes, increase engagement on the platform. (1,300 words).

What I’ve Been Reading

✍️Deep History Of Work. Why do we work so much? Blame farming. Our hunter-gatherer forebears toiled little and lived well for 300,000 years until agriculture was invented, and with it came labour, wages, profits, debts. The work-ethic of capitalism seems to have captured our souls, though it is scarcely needed in our current era of "unprecedented abundance". (1,100 words).

🏭 NFTs and Crypto Art: The Sky is not Falling. There are a lot of questions about the environmental effects of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) which are booming in the cross-over world of experimental art and cryptocurrencies. While they do use ample computing power and resources, NFTs might not carry nearly the same environmental impact as traditional forms of art, which also impose carbon costs. (3,500 words).

🌎 Innovation is a Geographically Localized and Temporary Phenomenon. China may now be the most innovative place on earth, but India may soon replace it as the world’s innovation leader. (1,800 words).

🤔 Do Not End the Week with Nothing. Entrepreneur Patrick McKenzie offers practical advice on how to build personal capital (e.g., skill-based “human capital,” social capital, and reputational capital) whether you’re your own boss or a salaried employee working for someone else. (4,000 words).

What I’ve Been Listening To

💰 Scott Galloway interviews Raoul Pal, Global Macro Investor and CEO of Real Vision Group. In this episode, they discuss Cryptos, NFTs, and Blockchain. Coming from a traditional and institutional setting, Raoul offers a forward-thinking and unique perspective. (00:52:59).

📀 Trapital interviews Mick Batyske on how his DJ career led to brand deals, angel investing, and startup advising. As the founder of a music production company, it’s awesome to hear personal stories of the synergies between music and business. (00:46:13).

🧠 Matt Mullenweg interviews Stephen Wolfram, CEO of Wolfram Research, on working remotely for 28 years. In this episode, Stephen shares his perspective on the value of geo-distribution, and the processes his partially distributed company uses to make world-changing software. (00:46:22)

🤑 Kevin Rose interviews Chris Hutchins, the Head of Autonomous Financial Planning at Wealthfront. They discuss credit cards that give Bitcoin instead of cashback, how you can earn interest on your existing crypto, stock evaluation tactics and their 5x picks, hacking discount codes, and more. (01:05:53).

The Tools I’ve Discovered

🎼 Every Noise at Once is a free website that provides an algorithmically generated map of over 5000 musical genres. You click on an individual genre to listen to an audio sample. This is a fantastic resource and a wonderful rabbit hole to explore if you love music.

💹 Ember Fund is a mobile App to easily buy into managed cryptocurrency portfolios. Because it’s a non-custodial DeFi platform, you don’t need to give them access to your private keys, no personal information (aside from email) is stored, and you have access to an open, permissionless, censorship-resistant & decentralized investing experience.

🐦 Excerpts From The Twitterverse

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I want to be able to deliver the best content I can to all of you. To that end, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s working, what isn’t, and what you’d like more of. You can reach me on Twitter or email: