Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Back on the running wagon
In terms of getting me out the door and putting one foot in front of the other, my iPod Shuffle is one of my most important pieces of gear. I've just started running again this past month and my Shuffle plays a pretty crucial part in that. Here's how my internal should-I-go-run-now? calculus works: (+) indicates a motivator, (-) indicates a demotivator

(+) my favorite shorts don't fit like they used to, (-) but it's hot outside!, (-) I'm already tired from the day, (+) but I know I'll feel better both in the medium and long run if I go, (-) but in the immediate short term I'll feel really poor due to all those hills outside! (-) umm, did I mention that I'm tired, (+) but I'll actually get a better rest tonight if I exercise today, (+) I really want to be able to run around the soccer field with Aidan in 10 years without injuring myself &/or embarassing myself, (-) I'll get all sweaty and have to take a shower before bed, that's a good 20-30 minutes I could be doing other things, (+) oooooh, I wonder which songs will get shuffled up the next time I listen to my shuffle? Let's go see!

Seriously, that's pretty much how it goes. Other observations on my thinking while I'm at it: generally, my reasons for not running (or exercising in general) are short term, and my reasons for doing so are long term. Being interested in the variety of my own music served up is a short term (even if admittedly small) reason, and seems to be enough to push me over the edge in doing it. Funny that. Seems like all the long term reasons are really good ones, but they get trumped by the short term ones, and it takes a short term reason to help me get going.

(Merlin Mann of 43 Folders calls this a Life Hack (e.g. something you do to/for yourself that helps you to do the thing you need to do). He's got lots of them here. And all you productivity geeks like me should be reading his blog anyway.)

I've had a number of different "audio sources" for my runs since High School: the Walkman, basic radio strapped to the arm, Nike flash player, iPod, but the Shuffle beats them all for these reasons:
-- it's super light. I have a back pocket on my running shorts and I don't notice it at all when I drop the shuffle into it.
-- it's easy to operate. The user interface is really straightforward and so easy that I don't even have to take it out of my pocket to play/pause, vol+/-, or <> songs. I can do it by touch through the fabric.
-- it's easy to fill with a robust variety of good music. This takes a little bit of preplanning, but I've rated most of my songs and set up a "Top Rated" playlist that automatically populates itself with all the, you guessed it, top rated songs in my library. I plug the shuffle in, click "Autofill" which is preset to the "Top Rated" list, and the shuffle is filled with 150 songs randomly selected from the playlist, with the filling weighted towards higher rated songs. My library is big enough at this point that I am still surprised at songs that come up ("oh yeah! I forgot I had this one!"), but am guaranteed that the only things in the shuffle are songs that I like.

My previous audio sources failed on at least one of those three criteria and wound up being one more reason not to go running.

When the shuffles first came out, I read an article about how Apple had discovered that most people used the shuffle function on their iPods more than anything else, and enjoyed the random strings of songs it put together. When I read that my reaction was, "well, ok, that seems kind of strange, but whatever." But now I repent and confess that I get it. It really is fun to hear Johnny Cash followed by Green Day followed by Over The Rhine. As songs reach their end, I'm thinking, "what's next? what's next?" And my brain gets distracted from the complaints from various muscle groups by thinking about connections between songs, or the absolute disconnect from one song to another.

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