LibriVox: Never Pay for an Audiobook Again

Audiobooks are great for life hackers who want their time to be productive while driving, jogging, or weeding the garden. It used to be you had to buy or rent CDs to listen to audiobooks. Now you can download them to your laptop or MP3 player from iTunes. currently has over 40,000 titles. If you subscribe to their email updates, you’ll get notices of special pricing on items that may interest you. is the place to turn for books that are still protected by copyright. But now you can listen to works that are in the public domain . . . for free. LibriVox has an ambitious goal—”to make all public domain books available as free audio books.”

Copyrights last for a limited period of time. Original copyrights for books published in the U.S. prior to 1923 have all expired. Unless those copyrights are renewed, the titles are in “the public domain.” That means they can be copied by any means, without permission, and pretty much for any purpose. Project Gutenberg makes titles that are in the public domain available as e-books. Now we can get many of the same titles in audio format from LibriVox.

Volume IV of Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire went online today. G. K. Chesterton’s book of detective stories, The Club of Queer Trades, has been available since Sunday. If you’re into Chesterton, you’ll be glad to know that his justly famous book Orthodoxy is there waiting for you.

The LibriVox website is neatly organized and user-friendly. Searching the catalog is a snap. Pages for specific audiobooks feature a number of useful resources: including written summaries of the book, links to pertinent pages in Wikipedia (for background) and (for the e-book version, if available), RSS feeds, and iTunes subscriptions. The total running time and reader’s name are indicated. Books can be downloaded as a whole or in sections.

Voice actors who aspire to voice-over or audiobook narration may want to get some practice and work on their portfolios. You can volunteer to be a reader for this service.

If You Can’t Hack It, Try This . . .

How are you hacking it? Is some aspect of life too much for you?

A new section of my blog will be devoted to life-hacking skills. It’s called “If You Can’t Hack It, Try This.” I made the first entry yesterday, on why it’s a good idea to leave your email alone first thing in the morning. More posts are on their way. There will be items on information management (now called “information farming” by some), efficient use of the internet for personal productivity, planning and completing projects, productivity tools, recommended websites, book reviews, writing strategies, study tips, and more.

As a university teacher, author, and speaker, my challenges may be different than yours. Let me know through the comments link below if there are topics you’d like to see considered. And if you have suggestions for things to try in some area where it’s hard to hack it, why not post them using the comments link?

Never Check Your Email First Thing in the Morning (Regardless of Your Time Zone)

This advice comes from Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. The bit about the time zone is my little contribution.

This is great advice, but Ferriss doesn’t explain why. You can figure it out in context, but you might not have the book. And some things aren’t there. So here’s my explanation.

1. For many of us, email is a black hole. Once you get in, it’s hard to get out. We know this happens. So we might be starting our day with email just to avoid the really important and productive stuff. Don’t let this happen.

2. If you check your email first thing in the morning, you’re liable to spend more time messaging than you would later in the day, since it may feel like you have more time for email before the day really gets cranking.

3. The impulse to check email first thing every morning is a good indicator of an unhealthy addiction. If you feel like you simply must check your mail, then you have less discipline in your life than you need if you want to be productive.

4. Checking your email early clutters your mind with other people’s business when you want to devote your best hours to your own business. Before you open your mail, you don’t know what’s in there waiting for you. Why take the chance that it will bear tidings of new responsibilities?

5. By deliberately waiting to check your email, you train yourself to estimate more accurately the importance and urgency of email in your life. The bane of email is that it is too convenient and it creates an artificial sense of urgency. Postponing your email fix helps you experience the freedom from email that comes when you realize that very little of it is urgent. If you think it’s urgent, you may feel its bidding during all hours of the day, regardless of how often you check. And checking first thing in the morning feeds that sense of urgency.

6. Checking email first thing may encourage poor email management. Suppose you adopt the policy that you will never leave a message you’ve read in your inbox. Great idea. But to follow through on that policy, you have to have a message management system. The simplest of systems has three bins or folders, one for the archives, one for follow-up tasks, and one for holding items while you wait on someone else to complete a task. The rest can be deleted. So every message that’s opened is immediately handled in one of five ways: (1) it’s trashed, (2) it’s answered, (3) it’s archived, (4) it’s tucked into a follow-up folder, or (5) it’s moved to a folder awaiting someone else’s action. The FOLLOW-UP and WAIT bins will have to be monitored. So you’ll probably want to keep track of them in your task management system. Staying organized this way takes a little extra effort. If you don’t want to tie up your morning with these kinds of activities, and you just want to open your mail to see what’s in there, you will end up doing one of two things, practicing your management protocol when you should be doing something more productive, or leaving read messages in the inbox to be tended to later.

7. It may turn out that simply waiting a few hours to check mail allows just enough time for many messages to become stale. If a message has gone stale, because the urgency of the moment when it was sent has evaporated, then you have one less message to deal with.

And now a word about time zones. I live in California, where it’s three hours later than in the east. So by the time my day starts, other people in my communication loop have already had three hours to post messages. So I might think I owe it to them to jump into my mailbox right away to see if that’s the case. But I owe it to myself not to do this.

I’d like to know about your email headaches, and strategies for getting relief. So please post your comments. Just don’t expect me to reply first thing in the morning.

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