The Productive Podcaster: Hindenburg First Impressions

I’m gong to be honest with you, when it comes to podcasting (and most things in general) I like to cut corners on my expenses. As mentioned in my previous Productive Podcaster post, I spent hours of my time working on subpar graphics for my old show just to save on money. Once I realized that my time was more than my money, I decided it was time to delegate that work to a friend of mine who’s a professional graphic designer. This corner-cutting behavior is true with my editing tools as well, until this year when I switched from Audacity to Hindenburg.

Audacity is the de facto editing and recording program for amateur and new podcasters, if you’re on Windows. It is a free, open source audio editing program with a great community built around it. However the thing with free is that it means what you save in money, you make up in time. Audcacit’s UI for example is very menu based and has limited keyboard shortcuts.

 A look into Audacity

It’s not a bad system, and the UI has improved significantly since I first started using it. Audacity has all the features you need to start podcasting: multi-track editing, label tracks for keeping tabs on every section, hundreds of custom plug-ins for features you’re missing and so on. But it also lacks many other important features you will have to get around by installing plugins and using other programs, such as the most important one: a native MP3 export (you will have to install LAME in order to export to MP3), and a built in auto leveling function (I used Levelator for leveling all my tracks, it’s great but no longer supported). Finally Audacity also lacks in fun optional features as well as exporting podcast chapters. There are solutions to all these issues with Audacity, but if you’re willing to invest a $100 to make your podcast production process smoother and much more enjoyable, I would recommend Hindenburg Journalist.

Hindenburg Journalist is an audio editing program mostly geared towards audio journalist, which means you will be getting everything you need pre-installed. There are two tiers, the Journalist, and the Journalist Pro, but when it comes for home production the Journalist edition has everything you need, for starters Journalist has a native MP3 export function, and auto leveling, not to mention the UI is just great looking (UI aesthetics are very important for me, if you haven’t noticed).

There are so useful many features Hindenburg Journalist has that Audacity lacks that make it worth it, from:

  • Labeling each track individually, instead of having a separate label track in Audactiy you can split each track and label each section.

  • Muting audio, instead of deleting it. In Audacity whenever you mute a section it automatically replaces it with a silent track, making that old audio irrecoverable. In Hindenburg you can simply select your audio then hitting Ctrl+M, which will tell the program to not play that portion. The effects can be undone at any time.

  • Non-destructive editing. In audacity whenever you delete a portion of a track it is gone forever, not in Hindenburg.

  • Audio chapters. This is a feature I haven’t used just yet, but I plan to once Mark and I begin rolling out The Productivity Lab. Chapters make it super simple for your listeners to know what topic you’re covering and makes it simple to navigate between each one so they can easily relisten to what you discussed.

  • Syncing tracks. The ability to sync tracks is so important that I had no idea how much I needed it until I swapped to Hindenburg. With synced tracks it makes it way more easier to delete and rearrange portions of a track since you know that other tracks synced to it will alter with it. This was an issue with multi-track editing in Audacity that would cost me minutes of time whenever I forgot delete a portion of another to keep it lined up, or moving the tracks around to line up with the music.

Just having the peace of mind that everything I need is within one program has made the editing of my new show so much more relaxing. No more juggling between programs. And if I’m every curious about how to use or find a feature Hindenburg has a very helpful and searchable help section on their website.

Since I’ve only used Hindenburg for editing two episodes this post only covers my first impressions. Audacity is a terrific starting program, but if you have $100 to spend I would recommend Hindenburg any day over Audacity.

The Productive Podcaster: Time Tracking and Your Podcast

As I’ve posted about before, I am avid (some would even say chronic) time tracker. I track everything useful to me from time spent on individual projects at work, all the way to break and non-productive time at work. This habit extends out of the office as well to keep myself in check for how much time I’ve put into different side projects and even some chores around the apartment. To me time tracking is an excellent tool for learning what part of the process needs to change, making an accurate prediction on how to go about your projects, how productive you really are. Today I want to talk to you about time tracking in the context of your podcast production.

Presently I am working on a new show that will be premiered sometime in June called The Productivity Lab. In that show my cohost, Mark Askew, and I test out different methods, tools and apps in our daily lives for two weeks to see how they affect us. The show is still early in production, but we will use it as an example in this post.

There are many tools for time tracking, but the best by far I’ve used is Toggl. It is a manual time tracker, meaning that you will have to click start and stop every time you begin a task or work on a project, but its manual features allow it to be easily to be modified.

Toggl’s set up is based on a Client -> Project -> Tags system. Ever project has a client, and each project can be designated whatever works best for you. The tags are universal between all clients and projects, which makes them great for tracking more general things like admin work, email, or meetings. Below is a report showing my time on The Productivity Lab since we officially kicked off the project in late April.

As you can see, my “client” is The Productivity Lab. If we compare the time spent with The Productivity Lab with my other active side projects within that same time frame we can get a better picture on how I’m splitting my hours. This view is great for figuring out what projects you’ve spent a lot of time on and which ones you’ve neglected. If you’re struggling to juggle so many projects at once, taking a look at the actual data for time spent on each project is extremely valuable. According to this chart, if I feel over whelmed I should just ax the blog. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Next we’ll take a deeper look into my time on The Productivity Lab and how I spend it across different “projects.” Let’s take a look.

I’ve broken my time tracking down into four major categories: audio editing, show prep, recording, and The Productivity Lab itself. You can go more granular than this if you choose too, especially if you’re working on music, graphics or blog posts, but I prefer to keep it somewhat simple. The first three “projects” are pretty self explanatory, but what does the final tautological one mean? In my workflow anything that goes towards working on the back end, administrative side, or misc tasks that don’t quite fit into the other categories gets tossed into this meta category that is then sub divided into different tags. Depending on what you need to focus on for your show I recommend adding or subtracting more categories.

So what can we learn from this data? Well a good start would be the ratio of editing to recording. If I want to sit down and edit a new episode I should account for how long the recording is to know how much time to block off. Since I have a ratio of 1.55 I should at least plan for each editing session to be 1.55 times longer than the file I’m sitting down to record. Or I can change my editing process to speed it up (for example I am a huge stickler for removing “umms” and other filler words when they don’t work, this can be a very tedious process usually taking the most time).

Show prep is a very important category as well. If you want to keep yourself accountable of how much research goes into each episode then I recommend keeping a timer for this. At this moment we’ve recorded two episodes and I’ve spent roughly two and a half hours of prep in total, so I should at least expect each episode to take an hour of prep time or more (notice: prep time doesn’t mean the actual experiment we’re doing, as it can be nebulous, but the research into the methods and writing up the show notes).

Additionally if you are co-producing a show like Mark and myself, then time tracking is great for figuring out if somebody needs a little help in off loading tasks and processes on the project. If you feel like you’re not doing enough editing you can check your timer against your co-producer’s and take the load off of their work schedule.

Finally time tracking can help with general out sourcing. In a previous podcasting project of mine, Everyday Superhumans, I could have used a time tracker in its early days. At the inception of the project I was working on the show as a produce, host and graphic designer. And truth be told my graphic design skills are far from good. I was spending hours trying to get logos and graphics together for the show before we kicked off, to a point where I was spending more time on graphic design than actual podcast production (or so I think, I was unaware of the existence of Toggl at the time). Not only was I spending so much time working on the show’s graphics, but each graphic I made ended up being far below sub-par and wasn’t a good face for the show. We eventually handed off the design process to a friend of mine who we more than happily compensated for his work, and subsequently cleared up my schedule to work on the work that matters: the audio content. If I had been time tracking then I would have had a better understand on where my time was going, and how valuable it really was to me. You can see the difference between the rough design of my original idea (on the left) compared to the clean and simple design our graphic designer did (on the right). Off loading the work made a huge difference and built a better brand because of that.

Time tracking is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal of apps and methods when it comes to podcasting. When used properly you can use the data as a feedback loop to help you evolve your production methods, develop a production schedule that matches your workflow, and finding tasks that need to be off-loaded (or on-boarded). Trust me if you begin time tracking today I guarantee you that you will find yourself being more productive and spending time on what matters most for your show.

Three Tools for Balancing Work, Life, and Side Projects

If you’re like me, you can get easily excited by new and novel projects. It can feel like there’s so much to do, and if you only had a few more hours a day you can fit a new project into it. If your day job is also full of projects you have to take on, then that’s just more head space that will get filled. On one hand, having so much to do can feel great, it means you have tons of ideas and energy, but on the other hand you risk a major trade off: you are at risk of burnout, a sensation of being overwhelmed and unable to prioritize properly, neglecting other important aspects of life such as loved ones, your health, and your sleep, and finally spreading yourself too thin can lead to mediocre performance on all tasks.

These are all problems that people with busy work lives, or side-project-a-holics like myself will encounter. There are no one sized fit all solutions, but I will be covering a few techniques that can be used to help you manage your time and projects better.

Tool #1: Cutting the Nonessential

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown argues that it is not what you say yes to that matters, but what you say no too that can make the biggest difference of all in work and life. The ability to say no and cutting out nonessential tasks and projects clears up your calendar, and head space to fit more room and energy towards things that matter.

Essentialism is all about your goals and priorities. If a project seems fun, like say starting a movie review podcast, but you’re working over forty hours a week on other projects that you have to do for work, and you have a relationship you want to maintain, then starting that podcast might not be the best option.

Tool #2: Prioritizing & Scheduling

Ranking and scheduling ahead of time is another great way to work on that project balance. On your list of projects, especially ones you can eliminate, rank them on their importance. How you weight that importance is up to you. Next setting premeditated time aside ahead of time for only the tasks associated with it a la time blocking will allow you to “bucket” up those tasks to dedicated hours. Time blocking is a powerful tool, especially for busy people with many projects to focus on.

Tool #3: Offloading

Some projects might be accomplished through offloading tasks to others, especially remedial tasks. Perhaps you can afford to have somebody come by and clean your place while you’re at work, sign up for grocery services like InstaCart or Blue Apron. For side projects hiring small freelancers will take the load off the most stressful parts of the project. As fun as it is to be the creator, it is just as important to know when to step back and become a manager.

Conclusion

There is no one size fit all solution to project management, however there are proven techniques when it comes to knowing what to do and what to cut (or hand off). Using tools like knowing when to say no, time and task management, and task delegation will help you manage yourself better and free up that head space to work on what matters.

What techniques do you use to manage your projects and your time?

Moving the Baseline

Everything has a ground floor, a baseline. The baseline drives everything, it functions as the core status quo in which everything is compared to. Without it comparisons would be harder to find. A baseline is nothing more than a defined set of standards that everybody can agree on is acceptable. For the sake of this essay I will define the baseline as the simply the average.

Think of a bell curve, it’s a simple bell shaped graph increasing from right to left until it hits a certain value, then it proceeds to decrease from that value downwards in perfect symmetry.

 A normal distribution, aka a bell curve
A normal distribution, aka a bell curve

Sitting the middle is the average, the baseline in which everything is measured relative to. If you fall on the right side of the baseline you are under performing, if you’re on the left you’re over performing. The x-axis shows the measured value, the y-axis is the frequency. If you’re a runner and you typically run at an average pace of 9 miles those 9 miles sit directly in the middle of the curve. When you have an off day and run 7 miles you’re performing on the right side of the graph, and on days when you have enough stamina to go for a half marathon you’re on the right.

The baseline isn’t static, in fact it moves all the time, a common way that you can move it is by setting goals. A goal is a new baseline you’re trying to reach.


When a goal is set you begin incrementally moving the bell curve towards this new desired baseline. In the case of running let’s say you plan on increasing you average distance to 15 miles. So you begin incrementally growing it, day by day. First you increase your stamina by running ten miles more often, then eleven, then twelve, all the way until you hit your desired average of fifteen. Once it becomes easy for you, you developed a new baseline, a new average in which to measure all things with.

 I apologize for the graphic, all I had to work with was MS Paint
I apologize for the graphic, all I had to work with was MS Paint

However a strange thing happens when you move this baseline. What is not illustrated in these graphics is that everybody has their own baseline, you have your own average, but there are also global averages and community averages. If you push yourself further away from the global average you know you’re doing pretty well, however in that case you will end up entering a new tier, a new community in which you are compared to.

When running you used to be compared to the 10k runners a lot, there you were a top dog running three more miles compared to them, but you were below average for the half marathon runners. Well now you’ve hit fifteen miles, you’re doing roughly two more miles than the half marathoners out there, you’re looking pretty good, but yet fifteen miles is now eleven miles shorter than a marathon. On average you’re better than the global average of all runners, you’re better than the community averages in the 10k and half marathon communities, but your still far behind the averages of the marathon runners.

It can be easy to get blinded by the fact that you’re not doing your best when compared to the marathon runners, pride is a powerful emotion, but that’s fine. What matters is that you moved the baseline and that you’re already outperforming your old baseline. It could be hard to accept that you’re not there yet, but don’t let that hold you back, you’ve already increased your baseline once before, you can do it again. After all, progress is progress.


Day 18

Word Count: 595

Cost per Post: $8.66

The Attention Ecosystem

Inside your phone is a lies an garden of apps, an ecosystem curated to you by you, but an ecosystem that has one singular source of nourishment: you. Your time, your engagement, your information are all valuable resources for each and every one of those apps, without you they wouldn’t exist.

Like the sun shining down and providing the energy needed to sustain life on Earth, your face is a beacon of light and primary energy source for each of these apps. However, unlike the sun, your time with them is limited and can mostly be used on a one by one basis, and sometimes neglected all together when you’re spending time away from the screen. In short, unlike the sun, you are a scarce resource, and whenever an ecosystem can only survive on a singular scarce resource competition is inevitable.

Through competition these apps are forced to evolve and develop new tactics to hold your attention as long as possible. Each and every single one of them must adapt or perish, creating an arms race. Maybe the app begins filling your phone with notifications to remind you of a new status update, or by consolidating all your communications to one messenger, or create reward systems via refreshing the page to show you new things that you’re guaranteed to like. Like biology each one has developed a means to survive in a an every growing ecosystem.

Think of the apps on your phone, which ones take most of your time? Are they necessary? And if so are they needed to the extent of which you use them? Do you enjoy using the ones that aren’t necessary? How often do you use them? Apps are like food, you can eat whatever you want but it’s great to keep your diet well balanced.

Think of your phone as a garden and you are the gardener, you have complete control over what you plant in it and what you decide to eat. It is your job to maintain a healthy information diet, and I don’t doubt that you do, however at times it can be easy to over indulge in less healthy meals. They taste good, that’s fine, but like sweets if you consume too much you might be happy in the moment, but not in the long run. So maintain your garden and your meals to support a more balance diet. Perhaps you set up apps like BlockSite or Cold Turkey to prevent yourself from accidentally indulging during pre-determined hours, or maybe you only access one service through the web browser only instead of providing a space in your garden for it to grow. Maybe you see your indulgence might be getting out of hand and it’s time for a fast or diet plan.

Your phone is a wonderful ecosystem of amazing apps developed by brilliant people to give you the experience you want. However, like all ecosystems competition is inevitable, especially when given a singular scarce resource like your own attention. Be the gardener of your own ecosystem, but beware that if you don’t attempt to take control of it, your garden will become overrun and taking you with it.

We only have so much time in the day, make sure you’re the one deciding how you want to spend it.

This essay was inspired by CGP Grey’s video essay “Thinking About Attention”, Hello Internet Episode 108 “Project Cyclops.” If you are interested in ways to tend to your garden in a healthy manner, or are worried you’re over indulging on certain apps, I highly recommend you check out Time Well Spent. Time Well Spent is an ongoing project to promote human centered design and make your phone work for you in a symbiotic relationship, instead of competing for you.


Day 17

Word Count: 629

Cost per Post: $9.17

Meal Prepping: Saving Time in Bulk

I’ve written about the importance of weekly planning and why time tracking is important, now I want to write about something that combines the philosophy of those two: meal prepping. Meal prepping sits at the cross section of planning and time saving, the entire philosophy behind the action of meal prepping is that you plan out your meals for the upcoming week, and instead of cooking them individually each day, you cook it all at once, add it into some handy Tupperware containers then refrigerate and reheat when ready to eat.

As you can save by buying in bulk, you save time by cooking in bulk. No longer is it needed to cook every night after a long day of work, or give into the temptation of fast food when you’re too exhausted to cook a meal on the grill. All it takes is an hour or two in the kitchen every Sunday and you’re set until the upcoming weekend.

A common practice of meal prepping is to cook in bulk and eat the same meal over and over again throughout the week. This saves you in time (less clean up between meals) and money (you buy in bulk instead of five different sets of ingredients). If eating the same thing over and over again doesn’t appeal to you, it is possible to prepare each meal individually, at the cost of a more expensive bill and more time in the kitchen, but at the very least you will have your meals done and ready to do by the time you’re ready to eat.

If you’re interested in meal prepping I highly recommend you checking out the subreddit /r/MealPrepSunday. Meal Prep Sunday is a community of people who love the practice of meal prepping and is full of terrific recipes, and tips.

So if the idea of cooking in bulk to save time during the work week, or save you money form giving into fast food temptations, I highly cannot recommend meal prepping enough.


Day 16

Word Count: 333

Cost per Post: $9.74

Thank the Artist

Art is a hard career. In every career the superstar effect is always present, but in some careers more than others the superstar effect makes or breaks who can just get by to keep their lights on. Art, of most kinds, is one of these.

Art is the ultimate form of self expression, when an artist makes something they are making it for themselves, and if it catches on and people love it, the artist can make a career out of it. There is a famous essay by Kevin Kelly titled A Thousand True Fans, in which he argues that in order to have a sustainable lifestyle as an artist or content creator you shouldn’t focus on going big or going home, but instead focus on building a narrow but deep community of around a thousand people. All you need is a thousand people who love your work and want to help you succeed to keep your lights on as long as you keep producing great content.

I strongly believe that if you find an artist you love, especially ones that speak to you, you should make an effort to let them know how much you appreciate their work. It’s one thing to get paid, but it’s another to personally tell somebody how you feel about their work. One of my favorite pastimes is discovering new musicians and albums, especially small time artists who probably only get a few hundred in income from Spotify or Google Play listens outside of live shows. When I find these artists that really speak to me I not only will share their music across communities like reddit’s Listen to This, but I will personally reach out to them on social media to let them know that their work has personally spoken to somebody today.

Letting somebody know that their work, the work that they put hours, days, weeks or months into has connected to a stranger on a personal level is a reward every creator and artist out there wants. You are letting them know that they are appreciated, and that they have one more fan to add to their thousand true fans. If you find a song you like, a painting you love, a story you just can’t stop thinking of, always remember: thank the artist.


Day 15

Word Count: 383

Cost per Post: $10.39