I Suck At Being Productive

What’s the best way to be productive and get work done? Probably not the way I get things done. The way I get work done is a trademarked method involving tons of procrastination, lots of general incompetence and an obsessive attention to detail that actually gets in the way of completion of said task.

Everyone seems to like pictures of desks with laptops and journals in productivity essays.

I’ve grappled with motivation issues for as long as I can remember; completing assignments on time was never my strong suit, unless my parents were behind me ready to whoop my ass. My phone is littered with dead drafts that never got to see the light of day only because I either lose interest and/or motivation halfway or my internal editor kicks in right when I’m writing.
It’s like another personality inside me that pops up occasionally, but I can’t seem to tune it out. Talk about demonic possessions! Maybe I should see someone about it. Which usually means I won’t.

Now that we’re talking about demonic possessions, I’m proud (and ashamed) to announce that I’m addicted to The Black Tapes Podcast. I’ll admit I’m incredibly late to this party, two seasons too late, and to literally every party I get invited to, which is not much. The Black Tapes is a fictional docu-drama about a reporter who investigates paranormal cases. I won’t spoil the whole thing for you, but binge-listening to podcasts is another reason I haven’t been diligent with regards to my work.

This has always been one on my weaknesses, if you discount the crippling social anxiety, depression, addiction to dank memes and my pathetic athletic abilities ,that is. Any time I’m flooded with work, I indulge myself completely in something totally unrelated, like getting drunk and paying a visit to the coastline. In this case, it was podcasts. Lots and lots of it. Enough to justify me purchasing Pocket Casts.

Anyway, while I was powering through entire seasons of different shows, my work load increased and languished in obscurity. Come to think of it, this whole post is another way for me to avoid thinking of all the work that’s pending. All this is not to say that I a complete mess, I’m not one yet. I do manage to get things done at the last moment, like a true procrastinator. The quality of work that I set upon myself at the outset is miles above the quality of the final product, but I beat myself up so much by the end, that any work done seems good enough.

This is how I look like when I’m trying to get my work done a week after it was due.

I’ll let you in on a little bit of a secret now. This post has been in my drafts for a long long time. But it took me just 30 minutes to get past 50 words and publish this, quality be dammed. 😅
Image: Bram Naus on Unsplash


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Counting Stars While Drunk

Times flies fast when you’re having fun. Or when you’re in shitty situations. Here’s what I’ve been upto of late.

Times aren’t exactly the best right now. Some days depression just ends up getting the best of you, and there isn’t much you can do except wish you were dead. Or in a coma.

What could make it better would be a friend to talk to, someone who can understand you without judging you. Someone who’s there to listen to you, even if they can’t do anything to help you out. I actually prefer people who don’t help me out, but listen to me. The problems I face are entirely my own, and I don’t want anyone else to have to share any part of it. What I do like is someone who puts in the effort to actually listen to me. Is that too much to ask for?

I sometimes hate the fact that I try to look detached from everything around me, but I am in fact very affected by what happens. Maybe I am a pussy after all, and I don’t have what it takes to actually follow the tenets of Buddhism; detachment from everything.

I know I’m incredibly late to the party, but I’ve finally completed listening to S-Town, the new spinoff podcast from Serial and This American Life. Following the void and existential crisis that follows the ending of a show/podcast, I’ve travelled further into the abyss, by adding even more podcasts to my list. Of particular interest, are The Message and Lif-e.af/ter, two fiction podcasts from GE Podcast Theatre and Panoply. The story-telling and narration, along with the sound editing are just off the charts and truly shows the possibilities that podcasts afford in journalism and storytelling. The quality of the sound and the importance they’ve given it remind me of Twenty Thousand Hertz – a podcast inspired by 99% Invisible – which is completely about the different sounds around us and the unseen (and unheard) world behind them.

Some days are just the worst and it’s in those days that you realise the true enemy of us humans is stress. You keep worrying about how things can go south and you start making contingency plans for when shit hits the fan. But then, shit does hit the fan in a completely different way and you have no idea what to do, except maybe take the punches as they come in. The stress and the worrying is like being in a slow pressure cooker, you literally feel your life being wasted away, as you’re crushed by the weight of everything that’s on your mind, you feel your mind turn to mush like an over-boiled potato.

Nothing kills a mind faster than stress, but the true perfection in stress is that nothing shows on the outside, and the actual effects see the light of day long after they’ve manifested in the mind. But enough of this negativity, I guess.

A visit to the beach sure is an escape from the bland reality of the mundane existence we’ve eked out for ourselves on this little planet. It really takes your mind off the fact that every second of your life is slipping past you, never to be recovered or experienced again; that you’re slowly inching towards death, that final sleep that all of us try to avoid and not think about, but which comes for us all. So there I was, on a Sunday evening, long after the sun had set, with six friends of mine. It must have been a glorious sight to behold: seven slightly-drunk 20-somethings, semi nude and playing around in the waves at night.

After a while, I got tired and just sat there at the shore, waves nearly covering me whole, while I counted the stars up in the sky. It’s actually been a long time since I’ve seen some real, literal stars, and it felt great. The whole experience was humbling and relaxing in an eerie way. I was instantly reminded of how small and puny I was in this Universe, but I was also overjoyed by the fact that I had the opportunity to gaze up at this canvas of infinite beauty that no human mind could have conjured up; at least not the minds that I know of.

This wasn’t exactly how it looked like.

At this point I realised that my problems weren’t that big of a deal anyway. They were puny little inconveniences in the greater scheme of things. None of my problems and worries would exist after I die, and none of them would ever matter to the vast infinite void of the Universe, even when I’m alive. So to hell with my problems, I’ve got to life to live. Of course, this feeling only lasted till I reached back home and then the feeling of dread and anxiety and worry all came running back to me, like pet dogs greeting their master after a long day. Conversely, it was at this point that I realised these things are my siblings, with Depression being my conjoined twin.
Anyway, though I haven’t really done anything all month, I’ve been incredibly busy with random things that have popped up on the way. That’s one of the things about being busy – you’re not being productive. But enough of this productivity bullshit, let’s get down to movies. I found Dust, a channel that features great sci-fi short films with amazing visuals, from emerging story writers and directors. There’s loads of short films on the channel, making Dust a binge-watcheable delight. One of the movies I saw was The Decelators

I don’t want to go into much detail and spoil it for you, but the film involves a group of people who feel life is moving too fast, that they’re losing their time. So they try different methods to slow down time and finally create a machine that captures them in one moment. A single moment that they thought was perfect, running in a loop over and over again. That got me thinking, if you were in a moment that made you happy, would you know it? What if there would be a happier moment in your future? You wouldn’t know it and you’d be forever stuck in the single moment. Personally, I’d rather prefer living out my whole life, in hopes that there’d be a more perfect moment in the future, than have a machine that lets me slow or pause time.
Well that’s about it really. It’s been a hectic month and these are all the stupid thoughts I’ve had in the course of that month. If you’ve somehow managed to reach this point and not fall asleep, consider liking my Facebook page. You won’t find any memes or funny videos, but you will find occasional updates and links to all my posts.

Image courtesy: SnapwireSnaps on Pixabay

On Butterflies And Binge Watching

Sometimes I just don’t know what to write about. At those times I try to find just a little bit of humour in even the most shittiest of situations, just to find some semblance of sanity in my life. Sometimes, I try to think of all the people I might have killed without my knowledge, simply because of my action or inaction, one event leading to other, forming a chain, and affecting a person thousands of miles away, maybe a couple of years later. The reach of the Butterfly effect is too vast to even try to comprehend, at least when you’re not high.

Would the world have been the same if I hadn’t done that thing I did last week? Would the Universe even exist today if I had completed my assignment on time yesterday instead of sitting on my lazy ass all day long? Who knows? Thing is, the only constant that would be capable of escaping the long slimy hands of the Butterfly effect would be time. Time would go on regardless of whether the Universe still exists or gets destroyed in a freak chain reaction initiated by my assignment.

But is that really true? Would time really be free from the effects of a Universe-shattering butterfly effect chain of events? What if time itself is destroyed by the events? In that case, there truly is nothing that is constant in the face of the ever-changing status quo created by even the most minor decisions or actions taken by each and every being or object or atom in the Universe. That’s when I zone out and quit seeing things for what they are. Things could have been, things might have been, things wouldn’t have been; it all depends on one small thing and that’s all it takes for the butterfly effect to be initiated.

So why this rant about the butterfly effect? A couple of days ago, I noticed first hand the impact of the butterfly effect: how one friend’s decision to dine at KFC led to another friend going broke two days later. I should probably add that Friend 2 was in no way involved in- or even aware of- the whole KFC Dining Grand Plan. The plot could have been thickened a bit if he was involved, but we’ll just let it go for now.

Being that March is usually a busy month for most of us, and unusually for me, here’s what I’ve been upto recently. Aside from the tons of workload and assignments I’ve been flooded with at college, I’ve been binge-watching Grace Helbig’s videos. Like, a lot. On repeat sometimes. Also, I’m back into the podcasting bandwagon; the listening part, that is. RadioPublic is a great Android app I’ve found that helps me subscribe, manage and find new podcasts. So yeah, 99% Invisible, Reply All, RadioLab are all back in my life now, along with a couple of new entries. You might say all this is in preparation for the release of S-Town, a new podcast from This American Life and Serial, which drops on March 28!

Accurate depiction of me binge watching Grace Helbig’s channel.

So will I be listening to S-Town on March 28? You bet I will! Unless my decision to have lunch at Restaurant A instead of B leads to a complicated chain of events that causes the world to implode on March 27th,that is.


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We Need To Talk About The Future Of Podcasts

As a netizen of the 21st century, it’s hard to not know about podcasts. Those lovable audio on-demand shows that make commutes so much more bearable, while beaming all new information and humor straight into your brains. I’ve been pretty late to the podcasts bandwagon, I began listening to most podcasts in 2015. Yeah, I know, I’m a total noob. Nowadays I’m always on the lookout for great new podcasts to listen to, besides my existing favorite podcasts.

The current podcast scenario is pretty interesting. In a time when attention spans seem to be on the decline (Disclaimer: It’s not), podcasts are growing ever more popular, attracting thousands of devoted fans and millions of downloads. The number of podcasts available has also sky-rocketed, with Gimlet Media rising to the top as possibly the first podcasting unicorn. So how are these podcasts monetizing?

That’s a good question, but the answer is pretty obvious. Ads, specifically sponsorships by websites and companies. It’s not a really clean method and the ads present aren’t really relevant to most listeners. Stamps.com ads for me, a guy in India, is just irrelevant. But sponsorships keep the lights on for now and keeps the content free. The podcast has to have a pretty big audience to even qualify for sponsorships by most companies. But there’s a future problem that everyone is turning a blind eye to, or worse, ignoring.

Call it general human psychology, but when something is available for free, its perceived value decreases in our perception. If, in the future, a podcast creator wants to ask listeners to pay for podcast episodes, users will find it strange and often decline to pay for something that was free until this moment. The same thing happens with freemium Web services, which reserve certain features for paid users. Often times, there isn’t enough incentive to convert free users into paying members. Or worse, most users become habituated to the features that are present in the free version.

Hunter Walk, partner at VC firm Homebrew, laid this out in his recent post on Medium. He points out that the first step the podcasting industry needs to take, for the money to start flowing in, is to stop calling their shows ‘podcasts’. There are several podcasts shows that are high-value, filled with rich information that are essentially ruining their future by using this terminology. He says

We’ve been trained that podcasts are free and highly substitutable. When a term becomes synonymous with “free” it’s very hard to convince people to pay.

What needs to be done, is that these shows need to be marketed just like books are. We naturally tend to associate a value to books, and we are happy to pay for books. One-off, 30 page stories on the other hand, not so much. We attach so much value to books that we even pay for audio narrations of books. Aren’t serialized podcasts like Serial, Welcome To Night Vale and Star Wars Minute a story for our ears? If yes, don’t the creators deserve to be compensated for all the work they are putting in?

Now, let’s talk about the future. The future of podcasts. Moving forward, I think, podcasts should strive to be more interactive. I don’t mean adding in visuals. Most podcasts deal with extra data of some kind, maybe a link to an interview or a news article that was relevant to the episode. Those links are added in as the show notes on the podcast website. But what if those notes were presented exactly when they are referred to, in the episode.

TapeWrite is a startup that is tackling this very problem and it already has a very promising product to offer. Cards of information, called Tapes, are displayed on screen along with the audio. Relevant information is presented on the card, which can be commented upon, or shared with friends. So if you’ve found a great discussion going on in a podcast, you don’t have to pester your friends to download and listen to it anymore. Just send them the card, and the part you wanted them to listen to is made available.

Not only does this increase engagement on podcasts, but it makes it easier for listeners to return to parts they like, by bookmarking the card. TapeWrite already has an amazing roster of podcasts on their site, including the awesome 99 Percent Invisible, hosted by Roman Mars and TED Talks. Through its cards, TapeWrite has opened up a new level of interaction with podcasts, be it links to relevant information or funny side notes from the creators.

A couple of podcasts I listen to, especially Serial provide documents about the story and sometimes flyover maps of areas on their website, which are mentioned on the episode as a generic “You can find them on the Serial website.” Think about how easy it would be if Serial posted its episodes on TapeWrite. Cards would pop up on-screen whenever geographical information was being discussed, with links to those maps. The cards could also be multimedia rich, allowing you to view and navigate those maps. Court and government documents could also be linked to from the cards.

Remember the first problem I mentioned, about monetization? TapeWrite feels the same way and has features that allow podcast creators to be paid for the work they put in. Basically, creators can opt to put their content behind a paywall that only subscribers can access. This keeps TapeWrite in business and also provides a revenue stream for the podcasts, who don’t have to depend on ads or sponsorships anymore. For the listeners, it’s time saved because you don’t have to listen to those ads anymore or even skip them.

Podcasts are a great phenomenon of today’s Web. They provide entertainment, news, discussions, opinions and even offer real gripping narratives that become a part of our outlook on life. Podcasts are very much a part of our current Internet culture and I want them to be around for a long long time. Hopefully most podcasts will start evolving as we move into the future, to become even better and more relevant.

Podcasts I’m Listening To In 2016

Before I begin, let me be honest with you. This draft has been sitting idle since January, longing for my attention, but it’s just now that I actually got around to editing and posting it. I’ve been interested in the world of podcasting since late 2014, when Serial blew up and became the poster child of podcasting. I remember downloading single episodes of Hello Internet and RadioLab and liking them, but not enough to actually revisit them.

In late 2015, however, I got hooked onto listening to podcasts. I would download episodes as soon as they were published, slowly growing my library of audio files with intense reporting and light humor in them. Sure enough, it became an obsession of sorts, waiting for new episodes to be posted, pondering over the discussions in the podcast itself. So 4 months into 2016, here are the podcasts I’m listening to, in 2016.

Serial: Serial is an investigative podcast, with host Sarah Koenig, that involves a true story and discusses every side of it, week after week.  Think of it as True Detective for your ears. For instance, Season 1 looks into the homicide of a high school student Hae Min Lee, in 1999. Her ex-boyfriend was convicted of the murder, but there’s just a whole lot of evidence missing in the case. Over 12 episodes, Serial lays out the whole story, the inconsistencies, the doubts and the people who were involved in this incident. Sure enough, if you go online, you might find a lot of people complaining about Season 2. Compared to Season 1, Season 2 just isn’t there yet, but it might, in the coming episodes. Season 2 is still airing, and it deals with Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in 2009 and rescued in 2014. Now, I won’t spoil everything for you, but do check it out. [UPDATE: Season 2 of Serial is over. You can still download the episodes from their website.]

Welcome To Night Vale:This just might be my favorite podcast soon enough. Welcome To Night Vale is a podcast that’s presented as twice-monthly updates from the sleepy fictitious desert town of Night Vale, somewhere in the USA. It reports on the strange, strange, strange, events taking place in the town, which are sometimes recurring and mostly humorous. Nevertheless, listening to WTNV will definitely have you up at night, creating new conspiracy theories and what not. This podcast debuted in 2012 and new episodes come out every 15 days. I discovered this podcast just this year, so there’s a lot of binge-listening going on right now, to catch up with the latest episodes. Check out WTNV to know more about the dark hooded figures, the lights in the sky and the dog park where dogs aren’t allowed.

TED Radio Hour: A great podcast by NPR that clubs together TED talks on related topics and brings the knowledge straight to you. Add in Guy Raz’s smooth voice that slowly cajoles you to sleep, without boring you, and it’s a great show to listen to, night or day. You have shows dealing with half a dozen talks about open source, creativity, our digital lives and more, keeping you entertained for nearly an hour, filled to the brim with knowledge, wisdom and the occasional TED-talk humor, adapted for audio.

RadioLab: RadioLab is not just science radio at its best, it’s also radio at its best, mostly. Episode topics vary wildly and are mostly about science and topics in philosophy, like morality. It’s just a pleasure to have all that knowledge come in, irrespective of what it’s about. RadioLab has been awarded several times for its audio production style and also the content. If you want new information to just flow into your brain, like when you’re binge-watching Vsauce, choose RadioLab.

Reply All: Reply All is a podcast about the Internet by soon-to-be podcasting unicorn Gimlet Media. It’s a podcast about how we, the people who use the Internet, shape its very existence. Reply All takes the stories and Web culture that most of us are familiar with, and presents the stories of the people behind them.

And now, just for laughs, I’ve included Star Wars Minute, a podcast that discusses each minute of the Star Wars movies in each episode. Starting with Ep IV in the original trilogy, the podcast is now onto minute 90 of Ep I in the prequel trilogy. Whew, that’s quite a lot to catch up! Each episode is about 10 minutes or so long, because let’s be honest, how much can you discuss just one minute of a film?

And well, that’s my list of podcasts that I’ve been listening to. What are your favorite podcasts? Know of any awesome podcasts that I’m not listening to? Let me know in the comments below!