My Overcast Settings & Smart Playlists

Back in the ‘90s and early 2000s, I used to listen to Audible.com pre-podcast-era “podcasts” presented by Robin Williams and Susie Bright. I listened to them while commuting or walking or doing housework, and that’s still how I consume podcasts today. In those days, I listened to maybe two or three half-hour episodes a week before going back to the audiobooks.

But the rise of podcasts and other forms of audio media mean I now spend as much time trying to keep up with my podcast feeds as I do email, RSS feeds, etc. What used to be diversions and snacks have now become the main course.

As problems go, I can’t complain.

I use Overcast as my player of choice. I like its flexibility and features: for example, I’m able to set custom speeds for some podcasts. For slow-talking podcasts, I jack up the speed to 1.4 or even 1.8; for fast-talking podcasts, I keep it at 1.0. Smart Speed — which reduces pauses and long silences — is almost always turned on.

App Settings

  • Continuous Play is On.

  • New Episodes download on wifi only.

  • Delete played episode after 24 hours. (Played episodes are not replayed, but they’re available if you want to go back and listen to a specific passage again. I waffle between deleting immediately and keeping them around for a day.)

  • Nitpicky Details: Seek Back By 30 seconds, Seek Forward By 60 seconds. (This helps me skip through ads; if I overshoot, then I need go back only a little ways. Also useful if I’m listening to something boring.)

  • Nitpicky Details: Smart Resume is On. Love this setting.

  • Nitpicky Details: One-Tap Play is On.

  • Nitpicky Details: Play Next By Priority is On. As it says on the tin: “When an episode in a playlist ends, play the topmost unplayed episode next instead of the following one.” If you keep episodes for 24 hours, this is good; the next unplayed episode will always be next.

  • Nitpicky Details: Icon Badge Number is On. I like to guilt myself.

  • Nitpicky Details: Remote Episode Skip is On. I use this constantly with my Bluetooth headsets and Kinovo receiver in my car.

  • No notifications set for new episodes of any podcast.

  • Keep all unplayed episodes.

My Smart Playlists

I prefer Smart Playlists because they filter by Podcast Name. Manual playlists filter by individual episode, which is not interesting to me; with so many backlogged episodes, that’s a lot of decision-making, scrolling, and tapping.

  • All Episodes. Sorted Newest to Oldest. I exclude 5 podcasts for now (described below), but generally this list includes everything I subscribe to. Here’s where the Play Next By Priority setting does its thing. With it set to On, I’m always listening to the most recent podcast that appears at the top of the list. So if staying current is important to me, that’s good.

  • 1. Sorted Oldest to Newest. All my Doctor Who podcast feeds, which are also included in All Episodes. This list is convenient when new episodes of a series are released. I want to catch all the buzz and comment before going on to my other podcasts.

  • 2. Sorted Oldest to Newest; excluded from All Episodes. My Sleep With Me podcast feed. I don’t listen to Sleep With Me every night, but I listen to it often; since I’m playing it or selecting episodes in the dead of night, I like for this feed to live in its own list. I use Overcast’s Sleep Timer to play an episode for 20 or 30 minutes, depending on how sleepy I feel. I prune this list a lot, since Scoots may recap episodes of The Good Place I haven’t seen yet.

  • 3. Sorted Oldest to Newest; excluded from All Episodes; Smart Speed turned Off. My ambient music podcast feeds, mostly fed from links in Warren Ellis’ newsletter. I’ve taken to listening to them at work when I need to focus on writing or research.

  • 4. Sorted Oldest to Newest. This is a new list I’m auditioning; I’m calling it my “binge list.” I went through a period where I got behind on lots of podcasts: You Must Remember This (now on hiatus), Gilbert Gottfried, Marc Maron’s WTF, Great Lives, Criminal, The Next Track, and others. So for this playlist, I will select one of those podcasts with a large backlog and start listening.

    Another way to do this would be to select the podcast from Overcast’s home screen and play the episodes from there; but that means scrolling, getting distracted by other podcasts, etc. Putting those episodes in a playlist of their own at the top of the list will, I hope, make the choice easier of what to listen to next.

Why do I use numbers to designate my playlists instead of words? I read a study from my information science days of librarians categorizing music scores. They tended to categorize more quickly and have more confidence in their judgments when the categories were numeric rather than semantic. Numbers, while perhaps showing hierarchy, tended not to have the emotional associations and nuances that words did; they quibbled with themselves less often when categorizing the scores by number.

I could certainly name my lists “Doctor Who,” “Sleep With Me,” “Ambient,” and so on. That would work since they’re just for me. But I like the cleanness and simplicity of the numbers.