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My Top 5 Must-Listen Podcasts + 3 Podcast Listening Tips

December 18, 2017
AUTHOR: Emilie
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

Did you ever own a walkman? I did. I remember it quite distinctly in fact. I remember carrying around this heavy thing and then finagling the wires and wearing the big bulk headset with mediocre sound quality. sarcasm Oh man, those were the days.

Today, we get to carry a walkman PLUS a phone PLUS a computer PLUS a camera PLUS a lot of other things in our cell phones in the form of an iPhone. Hallelujah! Since my phone has become a permanent staple in my pocket, I’ve been pretty into those white corded headphones (I haven’t graduated to AirPods yet). In college, when I did a lot more walking than I do today, I always had headphones in moving from point A to point B beep bopping along to something.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered that jamming to music all day long isn’t my thing (probably because I’m he kind of person who plays one song on repeat for a week #sorrynotsorry). Soon the music on my walks across campus was replaced by podcasts, which are really nothing more than on-demand radio episodes. If you’re reading this on my site, you probably know what a podcast is, but just in case you don’t, let’s recap really quickly.

What’s a podcast and why you should care?

According to, a podcast (aka the noun form) is

a digital audio file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically.

The word podcast itself is a hybrid of “iPod” (lol, remember those?) and “broadcast”. <– Did I just blow your mind? I hope so.

Whenever I try to explain what a podcast is to a dinosaur member of my family, I usually say it’s an on-demand radio program. Really, that’s what it is. Netflix for your ears. Podcasts are one of my favorite things.

Related: Why You Need to Be Listening to Podcasts

Besides for their on-demand nature, podcasts aren’t really all that different from the radio shows that your grandparents listened to. I’ve started to learn that I am best at and most fulfilled when consuming content that touches one of my senses- reading or listening- not both- watching TV is both watching and listening. When loading or unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry, or driving to the gym, I can get twenty minute of learning or quality storytelling by listening to the podcast that strikes my fancy.

That’s the power of a podcast- you can get a story, a lesson, inspiration, interviews, or banter from it. There’s a podcast of every type, you just have to find the ones that are right for you when you’re looking for them.

How do I get podcasts?

On Android, I can make no suggestions because I have never tried to listen to podcasts on an Android device, but the internet has suggestions. I’ve heard of Stitcher, so maybe give that a try.

iPhones comes with the purple “Podcast” app, which makes it really easy to get started listening to podcasts because the app is already on your phone! I’d suggest instead that you download the Overcast.FM App from the App Store.

Overcast is the best podcast players that I’ve ever used! It has a number of features that make it incredibly powerful in the saturated world of podcast players.

But Emilie, I already have a podcast player on my phone. Why do I need another one?

I’m so glad you asked the question. The bottom line: Overcast is that good.

⭐ TIP #1: Use Overcast to Listen to Podcasts ⭐

Smart Speed

Smart Speed is the first game-changer from Overcast. This is why I first signed up. By default, Smart Speed “removes silences from an episode without distortion or distraction” (Source). What does this mean for your listening experience? With no additional work, no cost to you, and no change in the quality of the podcast, you can listen to the podcasts you’re used to listening to at a faster pace. We’re not talking about listening to it at a faster speed, but just shortening pauses and silences in the episodes. You don’t need to listen to silences, get to the meat of the episode! That’s what Smart Speed makes easy.

For very produced podcasts, like This American Life, there are very few pauses already, so you will gain less time, but you were going to listen to it anyway, right? Exactly. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

You can turn off the Smart Speed setting for any episode you’d like right from the episode itself!

Episode Speed

Besides Smart Speed, you can actually change the speed at which you listen to the episode- both slowing it down and speeding it up. In the evening, I like to listen to storytelling podcasts at .9 speed to help slow me and quiet from the day.

The rest of the time, I listen to podcasts at 2.0 speed. I started by moving to 1.1 and 1.2 in fall 2015. I’ve been slowly ramping up ever since. My default setting is now 2.1 speed for all English podcasts.


Overcast’s basic version is FREEEEEEE. In full disclosure, two weeks ago, I gave myself an Overcast premium subscription for two reasons: 1. I didn’t want to see anymore ads and 2. I wanted to support the development of an app I love. If you’re cool with a couple of ads (actually, only a few, this isn’t Facebook we’re talking about), then the free version will do a phenomenal job. Switching from whatever podcast app you’re using now to Overcast will cost you nothing and rock your world

Dark Theme

I didn’t know how much I would love it BUT OMG I LOVE THE DARK THEME SO MUCH. IT IS SO WONDERFUL AND GREAT. Dark theme is a premium feature, though. The $10 was SO worth it for the dark theme and I didn’t even know I wanted it.

Where do I start listening to podcasts?

Now you know what a podcast is and how to get them, but what podcasts should you start listening to? There are a lot of podcasts out there, and I’ve even mentioned some here on the blog before. In fact, I’m subscribed to EIGHTY podcasts. Some publish daily, some weekly, some in seasons, some whenever it strikes the host’s fancy.

Related: My Top Five Podcasts of Fall 2015

Don’t let that number overwhelm you though because I have sorted through all those podcasts to tell you EXACTLY where to start listening to podcasts. Before I do, though, here’s exactly how I manage my podcasts: playlists.

⭐ TIP #2: Use Playlists to Prioritize and Group Podcasts ⭐

I have eight playlists that I use to manage my feed; some of which are category-based and others which are priority-based. For example, I have one playlist called “Tech” that is mostly technical and engineering podcasts, including Exponent, baseCS, Soft Skills Engineering, and Track Changes. I also have a playlist called “Stories” that highlights, you guessed it, story-telling podcasts; it includes the likes of Criminal, Note to Self, and Planet Money.

Then I have the list that I’m going to be giving you a behind-the-scenes peak into today. This list is called “Daily”, and it’s the first place I go whenever I want to listen to a podcast because it contains my MUST LISTENs. Today, I’ve narrowed down this list to just five which, trust me, was NOT easy. These are my rockstar podcasts, my must-listens, my WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF _? podcasts. These are the podcasts that I adore, that I evangelize, and that have changed my life. I’m sharing them with you today because I’m hoping they can do the same for you.

The Daily

The Daily is a New York Times podcast that gives you the daily news in podcast form. Episodes are roughly 20 minutes. The usually deep-dive into some relevant topic first, but then give a quick overview of the key points of the news that happened the previous day and what you need to know about today. Up First is NPR’s version of a daily podcast. I tried both and liked The Daily better.

Radio Atlantic

Radio Atlantic is weekly podcast with some of the best editorial writers in the country diving into what’s relevant today, usually about an hour long. Episode topics often correlate with whatever is the topic of that month’s edition of the Atlantic (which I am a paid subscriber to!).

RELATED: It’s Okay to Splurge on Principled Spending

Best of Both Worlds

Anyone else obsessed with Laura Vanderkam? I know you said yes. That’s how I first discovered Best of Both Worlds, a weekly podcast hosted by Laura Vanderkam and Sarah Hart Unger on getting the most out of home and life. Episodes are usually less than an hour, and I savor every single minute of every single one.

RELATED: Book Review of Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It

Chasing Excellence

A semi-monthly podcasts by Crossfit coach Ben Bergeron of Crossfit New England, Chasing Excellence talks about athletics, lifestyle, and mindset choices that can help push you to be the best version of yourself. Episodes are usually about an hour, but I’ve found they are best consumed in parts so that the information can stew inside of me.

Live Like a Financial Rockstar

In total disclosure, I met the host Scott Alan Turner standing in line for a cocktail hour at FinCon 2016. Soon after he sent me a copy of his book, 99 Minute Millionaire, and I have been sharing about it ever since! Scott knows his stuff, and I’m always impressed at how much his podcast aims to serve you and me, the listeners. With no ads, Scott’s mission with Live Like a Financial Rockstar is to help you make your financial goals a reality.

Getting to just five podcasts was really hard, so there are two honorable mentions that just barely missed the top five list.

Honorable Mention: The New Washington

From the New York Times’ team behind The Daily comes The New Washington, a podcast profiling influential folks in D.C. and politics today. It was once weekly, but just wrapped up it’s first season. I would strongly suggest binging this one.

Honorable Mention: Startup Season 1

Now in Season 6, Startup is the original Gimlet podcast. I’d suggest binging season 1 though which was made live as Alex Blumberg created Gimlet as a company. It’s so inspiring to listen to.

Wherever on this list you start, here’s the real trick:


Whether you’re a newbie to podcasts or a long-time veteran, pick up a new podcast this week. Let me know what you’re going to listen to!!

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