Classic Audiobooks – With a Soundtrack

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We, like you, love classic literature, and wanted to compile a library of audiobooks to listen to in the car, while working at home, or just out and about on our mp3 players. However, listening to an audiobook can get somewhat monotonous after a while.

The Creation – An Audio Book with a Soundtrack

We decided to create a more immersive experience. Why not include the music we love so much as well? We gathered some of the best instrumental music ever made and created ‘soundtracks’ for all of our books, including them as musical ‘interludes’ for a much more dramatic and enjoyable listening experience.

To date, the project includes:

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Sense and Sensibility

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

More to be added soon!

Visit J&B Audiobooks to hear samples and download any book you like!

Piano Practice – How vs. How Much

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As the course in European History progressed, one of my classmates became increasingly frustrated with a fellow student.  A conscientious, focused and determined worker, she was spending nearly six hours a night completing daily assignments.  Her fellow student was devoting approximately fifteen minutes to the same work, and achieving similar grades.  My classmate, while obviously bright herself, only seemed capable of processing this difference as superior intellect, or ‘genius’.  The actual reason eluded her: method.

In a culture that rewards time spent, not results, the notion that more effort, more time and more talent may not produce the best outcome is completely mystifying.  The arbitrary 40-hour work week is a good example of this.  Most people complete their actual work in far less than 40 hours, but are still required to put in the ‘time’.  Those who have negotiated remote work agreements can produce results:hours orders of magnitude greater than many confined to a cubicle, but this is beyond the grasp of many employers who are still under the impression that most of the world requires exactly eight hours a day to complete their ‘work’.

If success depended exclusively on effort, time and ‘natural ability’ (I include this phrase in the ‘nurture’ rather than ‘nature’ sense), then there surely would be more concert-level musicians.  It is more likely that the concert pianist, whose approach to the instrument often transcends what ‘normal humans’ deem possible, simply has a superior practice method.  Piano students who are equipped with highly efficient practice methods can learn in minutes what it takes others months to learn.  For the diligent student, playing masterpieces becomes feasible in just a few years, rather than the arbitrary decade normally allowed for such endeavours.

Regrettably, many teachers pass on questionable principles that were given to them from their teacher, and from their teacher, and so on, each new generation enjoying a renaissance of mediocrity.  Of course, master educators typically found in renowned institutions are equipping students with the real thing, and I owe most of what I’ve learned to a few ‘giants’ at the Royal Conservatory including Andrew Markow and Boris Berlin.  I also appreciate the excellent work of Chuan C. Chang, who has collected efficient practice principles in his book ‘Fundamentals of Piano Practice’.

Generally speaking, students who make rapid progress in the first year are more likely to continue.  Hearing and enjoying the results of their practice creates a feedback loop that takes care of most motivation issues, and allows us as teachers to focus, not on persuading, but on teaching.

Piano vs. Hockey

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Credit: National Geographic

Credit: National Geographic

I knew I would have my work cut out for me.  I’ve recently moved to Cochrane, Ontario, birthplace of Tim Horton, and breeding ground for hockey greats.  Endeavouring to promote music education in a town where most kids want to be the next Sidney Crosby will be a challenge – but one I am looking forward to meeting head on.

The ice is finally gone from the event centre, and young ones are looking elsewhere for profitable occupation.  Hopefully, they’ll find a musical instrument.

I honestly don’t know how many pianos are left in this town.  Acoustic instruments have become more of a liability than an asset to many, with the local classified regularly advertising the ‘Free Piano If You’ll Take It Away’.  There is generally more demand for tuning and repair than for lessons, so I should have a pretty good idea of what exists here by the end of the month.  My flyer goes up tomorrow.

Have you started a studio in a small rural town?  How did you approach it?

Your Smartphone – Friend and Enemy of Productivity

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I put off the seemingly inevitable adoption of a smartphone for years.  When I finally did succumb, in no small part to an incomprehensible offer from my provider, I mused how incomprehensible it was to have delayed this long.  After the obligatory initial fascination with downloading apps that were more useless than a chocolate teapot, I hunkered down and converted my newly procured triumph of technology into the productivity tool I hoped it could become.    Using the new Wunderlist 2 (with subtasks!) and the native Voice Memo app to implement my hacked GTD system, my iPhone has, in itself, become all I need to stay organized and get things done.  There is just one problem:  It’s desperate for attention.

Between push notifications, and our obsession with knowing now, our lives have become more fractured than ever.  A productive approach to any task requires absolute focus.  Smartphone-induced interruption can drastically lengthen completion times, and drastically reduce quality of work.  Some configuration ideas:

  • Turn off email push notifications
  • Limit audio alerts to alarms or calendar items
  • Check email, social at scheduled times; if possible, once a day
  • Refuse to curate ANY content (weather, news, sports, stocks) that is not absolutely necessary
  • Refuse to play games that send alerts or push notifications

The inherent danger is not so much that we are not as productive as we could be, but that our capacity for concentration and reflection becomes severely impaired or irrevocably damaged.  That is too high a price to pay.

Continuous Partial Attention – Stressful Unproductivity

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Many of us use Continuous Partial Attention as our default mental state.  From Linda Stone:

‘It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment.  We pay continuous partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING. It is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention.’

While ‘high alert’ may seem like a state that improves productivity, constant crisis decreases our ability to get things done.  Always-on behavior will only add stress and anxiety.  That is in direct conflict to David Allen’s ‘mind like water’, the default mental state of relaxed productivity.

Castration of creativity

Perhaps even more costly, Continuous Partial Attention strikes a deadly blow to creativity.  ‘Inspiration’, that flash of brilliance that occurs in a moment of time, is usually the product of extended reflective thought.  How will we arrive at that destination if we can’t stay on the bus long enough to get there?  Our world is increasingly rewarding inventiveness and empathy – “right-brain” qualities that depend on conceptual thought constructed during  deliberate reflection.  We simply can’t be creative when we’re afraid of missing something.

Retrain your brain

In Your Smartphone – Friend and Enemy of Productivity, I discuss how reducing the frequency we access our mobile devices is a starting point in configuring or re-configuring our mental state.  Tim Ferriss’ one week media fast may also give us a head start.  But curing Continuous Partial Attention goes beyond subtracting the noise, we must also add the right things.  For example, scheduling a set period of time, perhaps 15 minutes to start, where we attempt to devote focused thought to a project or a person.  We may be pleasantly surprised with the results:  Inventiveness.  Empathy.

Have you been afflicted by Continuous Partial Attention? Share your story with us!