The right music can ramp up your productivity. As Inc.'s Nicholas Cole recently talked about, classical, instrumentals and other genres are scientifically proven to make you sharper.
I found another way to make myself mentally stronger, though: Podcasts. I used to put music on, say, 90 percent of the time and put on podcasts in the background 10 percent of the time. Now, it is closer to 20 percent music and 80 percent podcasts. I can already tell the difference.
Music is a serious pleasure of mine, but most of the time I find it distracting when I'm working. The often soothing voices in a podcast, though, allow me to absorb knowledge and focus on my tasks at hand. Recent work hours have been my own little workshops with Tim Ferriss, Tara Gentile, Srinivas Rao and other innovative thinkers.
Here's why it works for me:
It is more peaceful than music: I listen to my share of raucous podcasts (I'm looking at you, Combat Jack), but most are just simple, in-depth conversations between two people. It is the hum of the coffeeshop. For better or worse, my music interests range from experimental Miles to hardcore hip-hop to drum-and-bass. My music tastes lack the consistency science recommends for serious focus. If I'm in the mood for Bitches' Brew, then I save it for my breaks.
It saves time: I have kids. I'm sure you have other needs, too. I love YouTube and love books even more (obviously), but the amount of time I have to sit and watch or read has exponentially shrunk over the past few years - just at the time when, as a new entrepreneur, I needed to learn the most. Podcasts are soothing enough to listen to as my child takes a nap, as I manage my household and as I get a brief resting of my eyes.
It is a different, easier type of learning: In a recent podcasts (irony noted), master marketer Seth Godin talked about the difference between audiobooks and reading. To paraphrase, while he loved reading, Godin considered audio a way to seep ideas into your brain easily. Those interesting thoughts you hear during a podcast require less effort than physically reading the material. I tend to agree, and the learning is gentle enough so that I can continue to do other things while I listen.
It is the Director's Cut of a creative life: My favorite aspect of podcasts is the amount of gems you can catch during a conversation. In fact, one of the reasons why I got into journalism was to ask people questions about their work. Grab a good podcast and you get an often-uncensored insight into someone's craft. As an author, I know how many much of my insight ends up on the cutting room floor. Podcasts are a peek at that floor.