What if rethinking your playlist could fast-track you to a better, more productive version of yourself? Emma Gunavardhana looks at the ways to maximise your audio...

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If you’d seen me at the gym 10 years ago there’s a fairly good chance I’d have had a scowl on my face. It had nothing to do with muscle fatigue, a high heart-rate or my maxed-out VO2 ; instead it was my gym soundtrack making me look so serious/unapproachable/scary. Back then my keep-it-moving playlist had to be intense because I needed to be angry, and was reliant on the erosion of Axl Rose’s larynx to increase my endurance and set new personal bests.

Fast-forward a decade and the gym-goer I am today, in fact the person I am today, no longer delves into my music catalogue for motivational, meditative or escapist purposes. These days I am all about the podcast, and in my own pursuit of self-development and self-improvement they are crucial.

Podcasts take many forms, but think of them as ‘on-demand radio shows’ you can plug into as and when you please. Be it an interview, conversation, talk show, investigation or lecture they provide instant access to the people and information normally gleaned from hours of Google searching.

Look around you, we’re all plugged-in, white earphones parked in the ears of the people we see on our commute, in the street and at the gym. We’re the generation of sensory overload and doing one thing at a time just doesn’t cut it anymore. Listening to music on the cross-trainer or making your way to work is just a soundtrack, no more useful than elevator music, but a podcast can focus your mind, teach you and ‘pump you up’ mentally. It’s the most passive, yet effective, route to self-improvement.

The passive bit is why they have become so popular. Remember at school when you found out that your brain could still learn when you were sleeping, which prompted you to conjugate French verbs onto a cassette? (Or was that just me?) The same is true for a podcast; you may feel too time-poor to set aside time to read (even though it’s so easy to idly binge-watch an entire box-set in one sitting) especially when surrounded by various pinging devices, but a podcast allows you to absorb information while getting on with other things.

The number of people favouring podcasts over music is on the rise, with recent numbers from Pew indicating that 25% of internet users download or listen to podcasts on a regular basis. In 2013 Apple reached its billionth podcast subscriber and last year the phenomenon of Serial, a podcast reinvestigating a 1999 murder in Baltimore, exceeded 5 million downloads and averaged more than 1.5 million listeners an episode.

But how can the spoken word replace the musical fury I once found so motivating? Call it an age thing, but I had to concede that I’d turned into my mother when I pulled out my earphones during some classic hard rock muttering ‘well, that’s just noise’. I’m also a self-employed businesswoman and keep coming back to ‘time is money’ and who better to learn from than the people who’ve been there, done that and bought the G5? Believe it or not I was so engrossed in an inspiring interview on The Tim Ferriss Show (the author of the best-selling Four Hour Workweek) with WWE wrestler and actor Triple H on the subject of work ethic that I easily smashed my PB for a 5km last week.

While I seek out motivational advice there are tens of thousands of podcasts ranging from comedy to news and parenthood to movies, meaning you can personalise your own multi-tasking playlist. Tuning into a podcast when you’re in the car, at the gym or commuting to and from work is just one way to make better use of otherwise idle time. Let’s face it, we’re all so time pressured that anything that helps us squeeze more out of our day is always welcome.

Here are 10 podcasts to try out today...

1. The Tim Ferriss Show

What’s it about? Tim is the author of the best-selling The 4 Hour Workweek and uses his podcast to analyse the methods, tactics and tricks of the world’s most successful people with the aim of translating those tools for the listener to apply.

What will it do for you? Helps you think like a winner.

Download it here

2. The Tai Lopez Show: Grand Theory of Everything

What’s it about? Short, succinct shows (averaging 10 minutes) on ‘How to find health, wealth, love and happiness’.

What will it do for you? If your mind wanders the short snippets are the perfect bite-size to be able to absorb Tai’s advice.

Download it here

3. The Jillian Michaels Show

What’s it about? Jillian and her co-host Janice leave no stone unturned. Episodes vary from health, fitness, love, marriage, relationships to resting bitch face and everything inbetween.

What will it do for you? If it’s a conversation with the type of friends who make you feel amazing you’re after, this is the podcast for you.

Download it here

4. RuPaul What’s the Tee? With Michelle Visage

What’s it about? You may know them from the sparkle of Drag Race, but there is very grounded wisdom in this lace-front-wig-wearing duo - combined Ru and Michelle are the most ‘real’ life coaches you will find.

What will it do for you? You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, you’ll love.

Download it here

5. 5 Live: Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo Film Review

What’s it about? A destination for anyone who likes movies and enjoys in-depth interviews with actors, producers and directors. It’s one of the BBC’s most popular downloads, plus there’s the crotchety, bickering banter between hosts Mark and Simon.

What will it do for you? You’ll want to watch movies, lots of them.

Download it here

6. Serial - Undisclosed

What’s it about? A reinvestigation of a 1999 murder in Baltimore and the then 19-year-old who went to prison. Hit cult-status last year and the impact has reached as far the appeal courts… Undisclosed, produced by an entirely different team, are also looking at the same case.

What will it do for you? Keep you as riveted as Breaking Bad did without the idle hours in front of the TV.

Download it here  and Undisclosed here

7. Scummy Mummies

What’s it about? A podcast for, as they describe it, ‘less than perfect parents’ covering everything from parenthood, to the news via tricky tea-times.

What will it do for you? Reassure you that you’re actually doing a pretty good job.

Download it here

8. WTF with Marc Maron

What’s it about? A news-based show with comedian Marc Maron - his most recent guest was President Barack Obama.

What will it do for you? Keep you up-to-date and well informed while being entertained.

Download it here

9. Desert Island Discs

What’s it about? Kirsty Young not only explores the life soundtracks of her interviewees she also delves into what makes them tick.

What will it do for you? Jo Malone’s DID will make you think anything is possible and make you cry - twice.

Download it here

10. Motivate Yourself with Richard Nicholls

What’s it about? Averaging around 20 minutes, each episode gives notes, tools and tricks to be more productive and aim higher.

What will it do for you? You’ll get focus and gumption.

Download it here

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