The Optimal Setup for Listening to Talks at 2x Playback Speed
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If you’re an avid podcast listener and online courseware consumer like I am, odds are you’ve gotten frustrated with how long it takes to listen to a single lecture. An hour-long podcast on Bulletproof Executive? 20 minutes listening to a TEDTalk from a HackDesign lesson? No offense to these awesome content creators, but ain’t nobody got time for that.
Thankfully, you can listen to Youtube videos and mp3’s at 2x speed pretty easily. While processing speech at twice the speed may seem intimidating, with a little preparation and a simple biohack, you can absorb information from 2x playback speed as well as you do at 1x.
So how do you actually take all these talks and listen to them at 2x playback speed? Currently, I rely on either finding the talk on Youtube or getting a downloadable mp3 version. Most podcasts I’ve seen link to downloadable mp3 versions, and most TED talks are pretty easy to find on Youtube, so I haven’t found this limitation to be significant.
To listen to Youtube videos at 2x, opt-in to using Youtube’s html5 player here. Obviously, you need an html5-enabled browser, but if you’re using a recent version of Chrome, Firefox, or Opera like a civilized human being, you should be fine. Once you’ve opted in, you should see the below cog icon on Youtube videos. As a first experiment, try watching Andrew Stanton’s excellent TEDTalk about storytelling at 2x.
Listening to mp3’s at 2x is also extremely simple. My preferred approach uses VLC media player, but, if you’re willing to take the questionable risk of allowing Apple products on your computer, Quicktime player works just as well. In VLC’s top menu bar, Playback -> Speed -> Faster increases the current playback speed by 50%. Make sure you do this twice to get to our desired 2x playback speed.
One of the obvious difficulties inherent to listening to 2x playback speed audio is you miss more when you lose focus. You can get away with distractions when listening to talks with a lot of fluff, like the storytelling TEDTalk above, but if you lose focus for 30 seconds when listening to a Bulletproof Exec podcast because of a gchat notification, you’re going to be lost. When listening to 2x audio, you should channel the guy from My New Haircut and don’t let anything or anyone interrupt you while you’re in the zone. Here’s a couple tips to cut down on your distractions:
1) Exit out of all email tabs, IM clients, Facebook, and any other notification-generating apps. This includes putting your phone on silent.
2) Don’t actually watch the corresponding video. Unless somebody’s drawing a diagram, the visuals of the talk don’t contribute much to the actual content, and can be a source of distraction. Instead, point your browser to a very static and very boring page, like my personal favorite, this-page-intentionally-left-blank.org.
3) Binaural beats are a simple and powerful biohack that really help get your mind in the proper state for absorbing information. At a high level, binaural beats consist of two tones played at slightly different frequencies through your headphones. For example, one ear hears a 310 Hz tone, the other a 300 Hz tone, which helps entrain 10 Hz brain waves, i.e. alpha and mu waves. The theory is simple enough, so I recommend you head over to this Youtube channel and try it!
Personally, I usually start a 12 Hz binaural beat shortly before listening to a talk or podcast at 2x and keep it playing throughout. Not only do binaural beats help optimize your mental state, but they also provide a consistent baseline of sound to block out extraneous noise from your home, office, or crowded commuter train. Conventional wisdom around binaural beats usually says that a 8-10 Hz beat is optimal for learning new information, but 12 Hz works better in my own highly unquantified N=1 experiment.
I hope this information helps you get started in optimizing your information consumption. As a developer, I’m all about efficiency. And after starting this routine, I’ve been able to regularly digest my favorite online audio content in half the time, which has been a huge win.