My Best Time-Saving Hack: Audiobooks

How listening to audiobooks has allowed me to squeeze in an extra 720 hours of reading per year.

Jamie Todd Rubin

There was a time, not that long ago, when I believed I could never listen to an audiobook. I told myself that hearing someone read the book would not be the same experience as reading the book itself. I also believed that my own internal narrator was better than any narrator that I might hear in an audiobook. Finally, I had this crazy idea that listening to a book, as opposed to reading it, was lazy.

I can think of few instances where I have been more wrong.

I listened to my first audiobook back in February 2013. Since then, I’ve listened to 75 audiobooks. They have made up the vast majority of my “reading.” And they have also become my best time-saving hack, allowing me to read more than I’ve ever been able to read in the past.

Is Listening Reading?

I’ve noticed that when I refer to listening to an audiobook as “reading” the book, it seems to raise ire in some people. I get it. I’m not actually reading the book. My eyes are not scanning the words on a page. Instead, I’m listening to those words being read by someone else.

On the other hand, the words that I hear are the same words that are on the page. The voice actor is not changing the words, although he or she may add their own inflection to them, giving voices to the characters or people. This adds a dimension that I wouldn’t get by reading alone. The important point for me is that the text is the same. If I listen to an audiobook, and a friend reads the book, we can discuss it together and each will have the same background.

I call it “reading” to simplify things. It makes it easier in conversation to say, “Oh yeah, I read that last month.” Saying, “Oh yeah, I listened to that last month,” just doesn’t sound right to me.

My Best Time-Saving Hack

Audiobooks have done one thing that traditional books have never been able to do: I’ve been able to read more than ever before. In 2013, I read a total of 54 books, more than any year since I’ve been keeping track of my reading (all the way back to 1996). The vast majority of those books were audiobooks.

First, I can listen to an audiobook while commuting. My commute is short, but I can still make progress on a book. This wouldn’t be possible if I was reading the book.

Second, I can listen to an audiobook during my daily walks. My schedule is such that there isn’t much time for exercise. In order to get in some reasonable activity each day, I walk. I walk about 2 miles at 10 am, 3–4 miles at noon, and 2 miles at 3 pm. I listen to audiobooks while walking. This allows me to kill two birds with one stone, something I wouldn’t be able to do if I were reading the books on paper or e-books.

Third, I can listen to an audiobook while doing chores around the house. Doing dishes, vacuuming floors, scrubbing toilets are all made more pleasant by the fact that I know I can listen to a book while performing these tasks.

That I can multitask in each of these activities every day, allows me to read much more than I would otherwise be able to read, even though listening to an audiobook tends to be slower than reading the book.

Better Retention with Audiobooks

One side-benefit I’ve discovered is that I remember more about the books I read when I listen to them. I don’t think this has anything to do with reading ability or comprehension. I think it has everything to do with speed.

Often, when I am reading a book, I will skim some passages. Then, too, as I approach the climax of the book, I speed up, reading faster and faster, and thus, missing elements of what I am reading, simply because I want to find out what happens next. But with audiobooks, I don’t have this problem. While I might be just as eager to learn what happens next, the book is read at the same, steady pace. Because of this, I find that I get more out of the book than if I speed through it.

How Much Time Have Audiobooks Saved Me?

I rarely listen to audiobooks when I am not doing anything else. I average about 2 hours of listening per day, during which I am usually doing something else, walking, doing chores around the house, or driving somewhere. This is time that I would not be able to use for reading if not for audiobooks. So I think it is safe to say that this time-saving hack of mine saves me about 2 hours per day. Put another way, it allows me to get in two hours of reading where I otherwise would not be able to get if the book was not an audiobook.

That’s 14 hours per week. Or 60 hours per month. Or 720 hours per year!

Anything that allows me to get in an extra 720 hours of “reading” per year without sacrificing other activities is a big a time-savings win in my mind.

    Jamie Todd Rubin

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    Writer | Blogger | Coder | Paperless Guy | @sfwa Member

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