Last week I shared my deep tale of woe when it comes to listening to podcasts.
In a nutshell, my new lifestyle no longer allows me time to consume all the podcasts that I’ve enjoyed over the past several years.1
Based on this realization, I’ve made the choice to cut my podcast consumption from 13 shows down to only 5.
It’s time to see how Operation Podcast Reduction played out this past week.
Thanks for the Feedback
Before I begin, I want to say thank you to everyone who provided feedback and thoughts on how to help me cull the list.
Many of the comments were super helpful as I tried to wrap my brain around this challenge.
Some even suggested awesome new podcasts I should check out, which I really appreciate, but was not exactly in line with my stated goal. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Andrew. 😜)
Thomas even suggested I start training for a marathon to boost my available podcast time. Unfortunately, I get winded just trying to figure out how to turn on subtitles in the horrendously designed Hulu TV app, so I’m guessing marathons are not in my immediate future, but thanks for the suggestion.2
And to everyone who chimed in, thank you for your feedback. You’re thoughts and insights really helped me figure out how to approach this daunting task.
Cutting by New Episode Frequency
As several of you suggested, since time was my biggest constraint, those podcasts with more frequent new episodes would logically consume more time than those producing new episodes at a slower clip.
Therefore, axing the highest producing podcasts would go the longest way toward trimming down my podcast queue.
The podcasts I enjoy with the highest new episode frequency include:
- Choose FI: 1 episode per day (This higher frequency schedule just started in early March. Their past schedule was 2 episodes per week, though that would still put this podcast at the top of the frequency list.)
- The Bill Simmons Podcast: 3 episodes per week
- Planet Money: 2 episodes per week
Simply axing all high-frequency podcasts would certainly make a healthy dent in my podcast queue, but would this approach leave me with the most valuable and enjoyable 5 podcasts to listen to?
Cutting by Personal Value
Measuring the value I get from each podcast is a soft science, to say the least.
Some podcasts are incredibly insightful and I learn so many interesting things by listening to them.
Others are simply fun, entertaining, and put a smile on my face while listening. I’m not exactly sure how I would even start to put a “value score” on those podcasts.
Some of the podcasts that I enjoy the most include:
- Hardcore History
- The Bill Simmons Podcast
- The Talk Show with John Gruber
A Solution in the Middle
Ultimately, I realized that there wasn’t going to be just one method to perfectly reduce my podcasts. The type of podcasts I listen to and the value I get from each varies too wildly for such a simple approach.
This exercise was going to require some gut-level instincts.
As I started to unsubscribe from a podcast, if I got a sad or uncomfortable feeling about it, I had to dig a little deeper to find out why. What about that podcast made me want to keep listening to it, and was that reason good enough.
In some cases I found the emotional pull justified, but in others, it was simply a hard choice that had to be made. If I was only going to keep 5 out of 13 podcasts, that meant some podcasts I really love were going to get tossed aside.
Ultimately I was going to have to make some hard choices.
Hard Choices Suck, So I Cheated
Before I get into the list, I have a confession to make.
It turns out going from 13 podcasts down to 5 in one fell swoop proved too daunting a task. I’m a weak, undisciplined humanoid deserving of all your anger and disappointment.
As a small baby step towards my goal, I got the list down to 8 podcasts, but not the 5 that I intended.
BUT, I’ve decided that I will delete the backlog of episodes from those 8 podcasts and simply start listening to them as each new episode shows up.
Over time, some episodes or perhaps entire podcasts will start to get backlogged again, and that will be my indicator that for some reason those podcasts simply aren’t as valuable to me as I thought, and I will unsubscribe from them as that happens.
It’s likely not a perfect plan, but it’s what I’ve got at the moment, so feel free to share your thoughts, disappointment, or general disdain for my existence in the comments below. 😫
But now, on to the list.
Podcasts I’m Keeping
1. Hardcore History
If you’re looking for 4-hour episodes about Julius Ceasar, the Mongolian Empire, or the Battle of Midway, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is for you.
For any history fans, or those just intrigued by history in general, Hardcore History by Dan Carlin is one of the most in-depth breakdowns of just about any topic you can think of.
Known for his extremely long episodes, sometimes climbing to over 4 hours long, each episode is packed with enough detailed information, analysis, and commentary to fill several books.
But because the episodes are packed with such a trove of information and analysis often requiring hundreds of hours of research, it’s impossible for Dan to crank them out at a common podcasting pace, and he makes no attempt to.
New episodes are often 6 months apart, making a new 4-hour episode average out to just 10 minutes of content per week.
That’s a pace I can easily handle, so this podcast was easy to justify keeping.
New Episode Frequency: 1 every 4 to 6 months.
2. The Bill Simmons Podcast
After being unceremoniously ousted from ESPN, Bill Simmons started a podcast that is a fantastic blend of sports, tv, movies, music, technology, and all things pop culture.
This is largely a sports podcast, which is interesting because I don’t really watch sports.
I used to watch sports back in high school and college, but even then, because I’ve never had cable tv, what I was able to watch dwindled as sports eschewed network television for big cable contracts with ESPN and TNT.
Then, starting in 2010, we had our first kid. Then our second. Then a third. And now a fourth.
At this point, I can’t even remember the last time I sat down and actually watched a sport on TV.
So choosing to keep The Bill Simmons Podcast probably seems counterintuitive, but the truth is, I still really enjoy sports.
I may not be able to watch the games, but I like keeping up with what’s going on. I appreciate the talent and skill and stories behind these players performing incredibly athletic feats at the highest level.
And now, more than when I was growing up, I appreciate the business side of sports as well. I appreciate how challenging it is to build up a sports franchise to be successful not just for one year or two, but for 5 years or 10 or even longer. The San Antonio Spurs and New England Patriots (love them or hate them) have been fascinating to watch for nearly 20 years.
But The Bill Simmons Podcast goes way beyond sports. He does some truly wonderful interviews with athletes for sure, but also actors, comedians, tv and movie producers, writers, CEO’s, and music artists.
From Disney CEO Bob Iger, to comedy legend Julia Louis-Dreyfus, to NBA star Kevin Durant, to Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, to prolific author Malcolm Gladwell, Bill gets to chat with so many people who are truly the best of the best in their area of expertise.
These interviews contain some fantastic real stories and behind the scenes looks at so many different industries, from how they are structured, what it takes to succeed in that structure, and even how some have broken the existing structure to make their own success.
For me, the Bill Simmons podcast is a one-stop-shop for some really high-quality content that tickles so many of my areas of interest that I simply couldn’t abandon it, even if it pushes the limits by being a high-frequency podcast.
New Episode Frequency: 3 per week
3. The Talk Show with John Gruber
The ambiguously named show where John Gruber (daringfireball.net) and his guests discuss Apple, technology, and a light sprinkling of whatever rabbit hole they go down.
I’ve been reading John’s website Daringfireball.net since the mid 2000’s. I find him to be incredibly thoughtful and measured in his technology and design opinions, which seems to be a rare attribute (and becoming even more rare) in today’s culture.
Those opinions are mainly structured around Apple and technology in general, but on The Talk Show, they can stray into movies, music, design, human behavior, politics, sports, or any number of tangential subjects. I often find these tangents just as entertaining, topical, and insightful as the core technology stuff.
I also find his podcast to be pleasantly unpolished and unstructured.
In a day where many podcasters try to sound professional with a trove of musical intros and transitions, John’s podcast dispenses with all the pomp, sounding more like a simple chat around the kitchen table among friends than a “show” produced for hundreds of thousands of weekly listeners.
I find the in-depth knowledge of the topics and jovial spirit of camaraderie with his guests more than enough to make this podcast extremely engaging.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week – approximately. (Unstructured, remember.)
4. Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP)
Three tech nerds started a car podcast. Twelve episodes in, they were discussing technology more than cars and the Accidental Tech Podcast was born.
Like The Talk Show, ATP is another Apple-centric technology podcast that is carried by the personalities and genuine friendship between hosts Casey Liss, Marco Arment, and John Siracusa.
Shows with more than one or two regular hosts are hard to get right. The back-and-forth requires authenticity, but also a measure of structure to keep everyone from jumping in and mangling the conversation.
ATP has mastered that balance.
While generally a show about Apple, its technology products, and business structure, it’s also just as much about the hosts’ real lives and how technology products affect their day-to-day activities.
In that regard, they aren’t that much different than the average person, albeit with a much better understanding of what’s going on inside their tech gadgets.
John Siracusa, in particular, is quite popular, showing up on several podcasts beyond ATP, with his peculiar humor and hypercritical view of all products beyond just technology.
With the rare exception, the show has no guests, meaning it’s just Casey, Marco and John hanging out and chatting, which makes for a much more intimate and engaging show. Like The Talk Show, the listener feels like they’ve been invited to sit at the kitchen table to participate in the conversation, which I think is one of the highest compliments for a show like this.
Ultimately, I decided that if I’m going to keep connected with the personal computing and technology space, I’d much prefer to do it through the authentic and engaging stories provided by these three guys.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week
5. 99% Invisible (99PI)
Roman Mars diving into the everyday design of the world all around us.
I spent most of my career as a web designer, immersing myself in the behavioral patterns of how people interacted with computers and eventually smartphones.
But I was always interested in the design of just about everything. From cars to buildings to roads to ships to sports stadiums, I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay between design and engineering to not only develop a useful product but a joyful experience.
To me, 99% Invisible is the podcasting manifestation of that fascination. At its core, the show simply asks the question “why is it like that” about every subject it tackles.
Why are malls dying? Why are bus routes mapped like that? Why was Atari’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the worst game ever made? Why is Vantablack pigment so upsettingly dark?
The world is a weird place, and 99PI does a fantastic job of highlighting the human side of all the strangeness.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week
Pastor Erwin McManus sharing the love of God from the heart of Hollywood, California.
As a follower of Jesus, I’ve enjoyed experiencing the evolution of Sunday sermons into podcasts.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the teachings of several different pastors through their podcasts, but in the last few years I’ve whittled them all down to just this one.
On the Mosaic podcast, I find Erwin’s brand of rational, passionate, and authentic preaching to be a powerful message for both my heart and my head.
His sermons are a healthy reminder that our purpose in this world is far bigger than whatever ailment of the moment afflicts us – and there will always be some ailment attempting to distract or frighten us.
This was an easy keeper.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week
7. Reply All
A podcast “about the internet” that dives deep into the strange intersections between the real world and the online world.
I went back and forth on this one mainly because the value of each episode varies so much for me. The really good episodes are pure gold while the bad episodes are plain forgettable.
The hook of the show is that unlike The Talk Show or ATP, Reply All isn’t simply talking about technology or explaining some new gadget or app. Instead, they attempt to explain some of the stranger parts of the online world as they relate to everyday people.
Like how 16-year-olds in France can steal your Snapchat account and the real world chaos that ensues.
Or how to find the secret Twitter accounts politicians use to say all kinds of crazy stuff anonymously.
Or the dark patterns used by companies like Turbo Tax to hide their legally required free services from customers so they can make more money.
Reply All, at its best, are stories about the internet told through the experiences of people IRL, and I learn something new and valuable, not just about technology but about people, from just about every episode.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week
8. Planet Money
NPR’s award-winning podcast that takes a micro look at the world to understand the macro world of money.
This decision came down to the wire between Planet Money and Freakanomics. While not entirely the same concept, I felt like they were both in the same category, and I had to ask myself if I was really OK trying to keep both.
I was not.
While Freakanomics covers a wider variety of topics, which I generally enjoy, what put Planet Money over the top was their ability to provide valuable and insightful economic analysis in relatively short episodes of about 20 minutes. That’s less than 10 minutes at 2x speed.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Freakanomics and all the incredibly interesting topics Stephen Dubner chooses to tackle, but committing to longer 1-hour episodes each week was ultimately too much for me.
Planet Money wins by being deep but concise.
New Episode Frequency: 2 per week on average
Podcasts That Didn’t Make the Cut
1. How I Built This with Guy Raz
Founders of some of the best-known companies sharing how it all started.
Stories about a founder’s tumultuous journey to launch their company are always going to be fascinating. I’m generally in awe of those who have the courage and tenacity to build a company from scratch.
While I find the stories on How I Built This extremely interesting and well-told, I have no desire to personally start a company, be a founder, raise venture capital, or manage troves of employees.
Therefore this podcast provides high entertainment, but low value.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week
2. Choose FI
Brad and Jonathan bringing the best of the financial independence community together to help us all grow and make smarter money decisions.
Yep, you can go ahead and yank my “personal finance blogger” membership club ID card right now. This should have been the #1 keeper on my list, right?
Full transparency, I’ve only listened to a few Choose FI podcasts since our return from Costa Rica last summer, and those were specific episodes with guests that I really wanted to hear from like Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner, Jesse Meacham from YNAB, and the highly anticipated discussion with A Purple Life.
I was over 40 episodes behind before they transitioned to a daily episode format at the beginning of March. Now the episodes are filling up my queue faster than ever. That may be the right move for their core audience but only reinforces that I’m no longer part of that core audience. And that’s ok.
As someone who has achieved FI and was able to retire at the age of 40, I’m not entirely the target demographic for most of the episodes. Brad and Jonathan, along with their guests, do an amazing job of providing relevant education and inspiration for those on their FI journey – and that was me for the past several years – but today my focus and my personal goals are very different.
I’ll continue to follow Choose FI on Twitter and Facebook, so I can always jump in and listen if I see an episode that catches my eye, but I no longer need to subscribe to get every single episode in my podcast queue.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per day
Stephen Dubner interviews…well, everyone…on a quest to truly understand the economics behind everything.
As I mentioned above in my Planet Money rationale, Freakanomics is largely a casualty of time.
I feel like I get just enough analysis from Planet Money’s 20-minute episodes, and while the analysis in Freakanomics is much deeper and generally covers a broader range of topics, the full hour-long time commitment was something I am simply no longer willing to bite off.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week
Powerful stories of the unseen forces that shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions.
Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin have created a truly one of a kind show with Invisibilia. The stories, and the storytelling, are as high quality as you’d expect from an NPR backed production.
The topics are truly all over the map, which is one thing I love about this show. You definitely never know what you’re going to get from episode to episode.
So why didn’t it make the cut?
Low relational value.
While these types of shows are powerful and entertaining, I find them somewhat sterile in that I learn very little about the recurring characters of the show – the hosts.
But in this show, and dozens of shows like it, the hosts are never intended to be the main characters. Instead, the show is formatted in a way that makes the stories powerful and engaging, but the hosts are moved to the background so the story can shine above all else.
That can certainly make for a fantastic show, which Invisbilia is, but with limited time on my hands, I’ve learned I’d rather spend time hanging out with my podcast friends than listen to awesome stories from strangers.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week during the season
Co-hosts Ben Thompson (Stratechery.com) and James Allworth (Cloudfare, Inc.) provide lively and poignant discussions about today’s technology companies, solutions, business models, and strategies and how they affect us and the larger world around us.
This was probably the hardest podcast to cut. With my already spineless strategy of keeping 8 podcasts instead of the 5 I committed to, I could have easily just kept 9.
Ben Thompson’s Stratechery.com blog and his synonymous email newsletter are arguably some of the smartest business and technology writing on the internet.
His podcast, Exponent, with James Allworth is an opportunity for him to dive even deeper into his weekly written topic, providing even deeper insight into his reasoning while opening up regarding his own misgivings about things he’s written recently or in the past.
I thoroughly enjoy the podcast, but ultimately realize that it suffers the same fate as Invisibilia.
More interesting than the topics he is discussing is the life of Ben himself, but his podcast is not structured for sharing personal stories and anecdotes.
Being an American living in Taiwan, he does occasionally share insights from his personal life to show how they shape his thinking of different cultural business practices around the world, but that’s only on rare occasions.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Ben as a guest multiple times on both The Talk Show with John Gruber and The Bill Simmons Podcast (Ben is a diehard NBA and Milwaukee Bucks fan), and both of those shows lend themselves to sharing more fun personal stories, and I find Ben to be much more engaging on those podcasts than his own.
Ultimately, following Ben on social media and occasionally encountering him on other shows that I like is a more efficient use of my time, therefore, I had to nudge Exponent ever so gently into the unsubscribe bin.
New Episode Frequency: 1 per week
Through this exercise, I actually learned something interesting about myself.
I tend to like podcasts where it feels like the show is just a group of friends chatting, more so than a highly produced procedural involving in-depth investigative style reporting.
Not that I dislike those more investigative style shows, but when push comes to shove, I’m drawn more to the low budget personality-driven shows than the big-budget high production value shows.
Neither style is better than the other. I, for some reason, just prefer the former over the latter.
That was an interesting discovery for me.
As much as I love high concept shows like Invisibilia and Freakanomics, I chose to let those shows go in favor of more low concept fare like Hardcore History (literally Dan talking alone for 4 hours), ATP, (3 guys talking for 2 hours), and The Bill Simmons Podcast (Bill sounds like he’s sitting at a restaurant shooting the bull with friends.)
That I prefer these types of shows probably says something about me, but I have no idea what.
For now, all I know is that my podcast queue is empty and I’m ready to start the day fresh. Let’s see how long that lasts.
How did I do? Are there any podcasts you think I should have kept? Which 3 do you think I should have cut to actually get down to 5? Let me know in the comments.