Getting listening done

After years of working in the tech industry, I finally broke down and read that most fashionable of time management tomes, Getting Things Done by David Allen. Spend any amount of time around tech types, and they’ll mention some tool or other used to track their various GTD lists.

I don’t lead as cluttered a life as it seems most of my friends do, so I’ve never felt the compulsion to read Allen’s book. I get things done, and I don’t feel too stressed about it. I’ve read about and heard of GTD so much, I didn’t really learn anything new by the time I did read the book.

Still, I didn’t want to dismiss the concept out of hand. It seems to have a lot of practitioners, and it seems to work. So why not try it out?

As it turns out, GTD has finally gotten me listening to stuff I’ve had on a back-burner for too long a time.

For me, anything out of sight is out of mind. That means if I don’t visit my various Amazon wish lists or look at my web albums on, I won’t remember the myriad of things I’ve been intending to check out. Even my "Saved for Later" list on eMusic is no guarantee I’ll actually download what I save.

With GTD, I took everything I’ve been meaning to consume — books, DVDs, music — and put it on a reference list, something to check on from time to time in between getting everything else finished. I’m currently using Remember the Milk as my GTD platform.

My reference list has 129 items on it. I’ve created various "contexts" to make that list manageable, and one of them is called "mp3" — it’s where I’ve dumped my various wish lists and Lala web albums.

In the past week, I’ve listened to more varied stuff than I have in months. I’ve been catching up on catalog titles, checking out previously-owned albums and figuring out what albums I may want to own in the future.

I’ve eschewed my desktop player for, using the one free listen to get a sense of how attached I may be something. If I want to explore something further, I pay for the web album. If not, I just mark the title off my list and move on.

Right now, I’m listening to Reckless Nights and Turkish Delights: The Music of Raymond Scott. I was prompted when I loaded The Carl Stalling Project. I’ve passed on Adam Cohen’s self-titled album from 1998. (He’s Leonard Cohen’s son), and I may just get the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Sessions from eMusic, even though it didn’t really wow me.

I’m becoming more curious about Darren Hayes, and I remember why I wasn’t terribly impressed with Dan Welcher’s Haleakala: How Maui Snared the Sun. (It has to do with Richard Chamberlain.) I’m also closer to getting Alarm Will Sound’s a/rhythmia, Steve Reich’s Early Works and Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show on CD. (The Nonesuch 33 1/3 sale ends on Jan. 4. Hmmm …)

As I go through this exercise, I’m reminded of my transition from analog to digital in the early ’90s. At first, I collected vinyl because I didn’t have a Walkman. Then I got a Walkman, and the prerecorded cassette tape became my format of choice. The Walkman turned into a Discman, and that’s when analog fell by the wayside.

It was portability that forced my adoption of a format, despite my intentions otherwise. When CDs started taking over market share, I defended vinyl. But then the market won out, especially when I couldn’t find imported anime soundtracks on analog formats.

At one point, I tried to keep my vinyl collection growing by borrowing cassettes and CDs from the library. If I liked what I heard, I would buy it — on vinyl. That option grew scarce, and my priorities changed.

The same thing is happening again, but this time, the relationship between digital files and compact disc is tightly woven. Compact discs beget digital files. Vinyl records do not beget compact discs. (Although today, it can with lots of intermediate devices.)

Now I find myself discriminating. I’ll listen to an album on Lala, then ask myself a series of questions: How moved do I feel about what I just heard? Not much? A lot? Can I picture myself selling this album in the future to make room for something else? Do I like it enough to rip to FLAC? Do I want to listen to this album during my rush-hour commute?

These are the questions I ask myself before I commit to buy a CD, which has become the premium format for me. Physical storage issues these days drive my adoption to digital, so I really have to like something to occupy the dwindling personal shelf space.

I wouldn’t have thought about these things if GTD hadn’t gotten me on a listening binge. My reference list has really affected how I approach acquiring items for my collection, and it emphasizes just how important Lala should have been in these kinds of decisions. (Man, I hope Apple doesn’t fuck the site up.)

Of course, the last thing I need is a bigger back log. Huh.