My favorite podcasts

I absolutely love podcasts.  I’ve worked from home almost exclusively for over six years, and one of the few things I miss about a daily commute is the podcast listening time.  As much as I love music and audiobooks, I have to give the edge to podcasts as my preferred soundtrack when I’m doing things like driving, walking the dogs, or doing household chores.

I’ve been an avid podcast listener for about 5 years now.  I’m always looking for recommendations, so in that spirit, here’s my current list of favorites.

Can’t Miss – These are the ones that I listen to every episode, without fail.

  • Hardcore History – Dan Carlin’s fantastic and in-depth examination of different history topics.  This thing is no joke.  His 6-part series on World War I (“Blueprint for Armageddon”) was released over a 2 1/2 year period and is over 23 hours long.  But it’s worth the listen (and the long waits between episodes). Great stuff from a very sharp amateur historian and former journalist.
  • Common Sense – Also from Dan Carlin, this podcast covers current events and politics from a well-informed (if understandably jaded) independent viewpoint.  He conveys a mix of liberal and libertarian philosophies.  I agree with maybe about 50-80% of what he says, depending on the topic, but it’s always interesting to get his take on things.
  • Serial – Yes, I succumbed to Serial mania, too.  ‘Nuff said.  I can’t wait for the next season.

Try Not To Miss – These are ones that I follow closely.  I tend to pick and choose the episodes.  I probably listen to every 3rd or 4th episode of each one, depending on the subject.

  • WTF with Marc Maron – Typically great conversations between comedian Marc Maron and a wide range of people from comedians to actors to musicians to President Obama.
  • You Made It Weird – Long-form interviews with Pete Holmes, covering everything from comedy to the meaning of life.
  • Stuff You Should Know – Two HowStuffWorks.com writers give light and entertaining overviews of all kinds of subjects.  Recent topics have included geothermal energy, police dogs, chili peppers, and pyramids.
  • Girl On Guy – Aisha Tyler interviews mainly entertainers.  Funny and informative.
  • Nerdist – One of the original comedian interview podcasts, hosted by Chris Hardwick.  He gets a lot of great guests and the conversations tend to be fun and engaging.
  • How To Be Amazing – Michael Ian Black interviews accomplished people and learns more about their background and what makes them, well, amazing.
  • Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show – Long, lighthearted talks with mostly actors and comedians.  Kevin Pollak is hysterical and has the gift of gab, so he’s a natural born interviewer/podcaster.

Honorable Mentions – These are ones that I occasionally listen to.  They’re not my go-to podcasts but I enjoy them and will definitely listen in when there’s a topic or interview subject that interests me.

  • Stuff to Blow Your Mind – Another random “stuff you should know” type of podcast.
  • Mohr Stories – Jay Mohr interviews entertainers, mostly comedians and musicians.
  • I Was There Too – This is a unique podcast that features interviews with actors who played small roles in big movies.
  • Doug Loves Movies – Comedian Doug Benson hosts a weird/funny movie trivia show with a live audience and panels of guests ranging from Sarah Silverman to Jon Hamm.

There’s definitely a pattern there… I clearly love to learn about science/history/politics and also enjoy listening to funny and/or smart people having great conversations.

BTW, my favorite Android podcast app is Player FM.  “Free forever with no ads” just as they promise.  Excellent interface, great search feature, all-around rock solid app.

  • Life

The Pomodoro Technique – getting stuff done 25 minutes at a time

MeasuPro TimerHave you heard of the Pomodoro Technique?  I heard about it years ago but never tried it until this week.  Let me tell you… I’ve been missing out.  It’s a fantastic productivity tool.  And all you need is a simple kitchen timer, a piece of paper, and a pen.

Here’s how it works, in a nutshell.  You divide your work into 25 minute tasks, taking short 3-5 minute breaks in between them.  Each 25 minute task is called a Pomodoro (Italian for “tomato”), so named because of the tomato-shaped timer first used by the technique’s creator, Francesco Cirillo.  Then, after 4 Pomodoro tasks, you take a longer 15-30 minute break.  Naturally, there are Pomodoro apps out there with timers and task tracking, but I prefer having a physical timer and task list.

When I first learned about it, I dismissed it as impractical for me due to the near-constant interruptions at work (emails, meetings, IMs, phone calls, etc.) that would have made it impossible to work this way.  However, my current job is unusually (and blissfully!) low on interruptions and meetings.  So, when I stumbled across the Pomdoro Technique again recently, I thought I’d give it a shot.

I used it throughout most of the week, and it definitely made a difference!  I worked with more intensity and focus during those Pomodoros, but I also benefited from the intervening breaks.  They gave my brain a few minutes to recharge and helped encourage me to stretch my legs regularly like we’re supposed to anyway.  For me, just knowing that there was a timer counting down made me push harder to get as much done as I could before the beep.  I use the MeasuPro, a nice little timer with a memory setting (handy for resetting to 25 minutes) and a switch to choose between beep/vibrate/LED alarms.

I’m sure the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t work for everyone, and a lot of jobs and work environments aren’t conducive to this kind of workflow.  But if you have the opportunity and think it might be a good fit, I highly recommend giving it a try.