It’s Time to Cull Your Podcast Subscriptions

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The podcast revolution has led to many of us subscribing to dozens of podcasts — and if you’re anything like me, you found yourself with a buffet problem: You’ve put way too much on your plate. More than you could possibly consume. Our feeds are bloated with series we no longer listen to and incoming episodes add to a growing sense of dread. It’s the same feeling that was so precisely illustrated on NBC’s The Good Place when Shawn, an evil demon, punished someone by putting them in an empty room with a New Yorker subscription that will keep piling up for the rest of eternity. The victim will never read them, “but they’ll just… keep… coming.”

Podcasts have fallen prey to content overload, with new, high-quality shows starting all the time and auto-downloads reminding you just how far behind you are on your listening. But this is a fixable problem, once you acknowledge it. Here are a few suggestions for Marie Kondo-ing your podcast feed and determining which series to keep and which feeds to delete.

Group your podcasts by category

Do you need Vox’s Today Explained, NPR’s UpFirst and the New York Times’ The Daily, all at the same time? Since most podcasts can be lumped into pretty basic categories — in this case, “daily 15-minute news podcast” — narrow your list to your one or two favourites, and unsubscribe from the rest. Rest assured the same content will be covered; maybe not the exact same day, but likely the same week. This goes for most review podcasts as well: pick your favourite host personalities or the opinions you trust most, as opposed to the topics they choose. Their topics will generally overlap, and unless you really want to you don’t need to waste time hearing seven different groups of people talking about the same bad movie or good book. (Author interviews are especially egregious. They’re like a politician’s stump speech… if you heard one or two, you’ve heard them all.)

Delete your backlog

Sure, you want to listen to the entire run of Lifehacker’s The Upgrade (a worthy endeavour), but be realistic: You aren’t going to. Being reasonable about catching up on the back catalogues means keeping in mind that new episodes will keep coming, too. Instead of committing to a full series run, start by downloading a small number — say, three episodes whose titles pique your interest most — and only download more after you’ve completed them. This is most relevant to shows with standalone episodes, but if you’re a fan of true crime or other longer-form formats, then apply the same principle accordingly — but be even stricter, like so:

Subscribe to one miniseries at a time

You might watch more than one TV series at a time or read multiple books simultaneously, but your podcast feed is far more unwieldy than a beautiful bookshelf, and we’re in cleanup mode here. If you’re listening to a long true-crime podcast, finish it before you subscribe to another. And I know what you’re thinking, “but what if I forget?,” but you won’t. When you’re all caught up on your podcast feed — the podcast equivalent of inbox zero, a truly euphoric state — you’ll go looking for new ones and remember that series you wanted to hear. Or you’ll stumble on something newer that may be even better! There’s no need for a scarcity mindset here; there’s plenty of great content, and you’ll get what you need.

Unsubscribe from finished miniseries

Once a series is done, feel free to unsubscribe. Their now-defunct feeds will only serve as an advertising funnel to commercials for other network podcasts or, even worse, the cross-posting of full episodes of a show you don’t want to hear. You already get enough of that from your daily news podcast (NPR’s UpFirst, for example, delivers a non-UpFirst podcast every Sunday). While some might find this useful (“I’ve been looking for a red suede podcast!”), most of us already know what we like and how to find it, or have trusted sources for recommendations. You already get enough ads within your podcast episodes — you don’t need them in your feed as well.

Define your abandonment benchmark

On a recent episode of The Upgrade called How to Be a Better Reader, one of the questions we discussed was when to abandon a book. This question can apply more broadly to any entertainment that takes a commitment longer than two hours — including most podcast runs. So ask yourself: How many episodes should I listen before I commit to a series? How long am I willing to struggle before I abandon?

I recommend giving a series no more than three episodes to hook you into its hosts, topics and format. If you’re sold, great, hit that subscribe button. But if not, don’t subscribe at all, or unsubscribe immediately. You can always find the podcast later if you want to check their feed, but chances are you won’t, because they weren’t a good fit for you anyway.

And now, with your new, clean podcast feed, the goal is to keep it that way. Keep the podcasts you love and allow yourself the freedom to unsubscribe from ones you don’t. Your listening will feel a little more like a pleasure again, and less like a chore.

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