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Breaks for busy brains: five favourite short podcasts

I’m a big believer in lifelong learning, and podcasts are a great way to learn new things. They make every topic under the sun available to people, no matter how much (or little) prior knowledge they have about a topic. But sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to devote to listening; you’re busy crushing your work assignments, attending meetings, commuting, or doing the things necessary to stay alive.


I get it, trust me. However, it’s important to remember to take breaks in between work sessions. If you have a hard time getting yourself to turn “off” during these breaks, you can make them a relaxed learning experience: turn on a podcast, make a cup of tea, and give yourself permission to really take in what you’re listening to. Get intentional with your listening!

Listening to podcasts while trying to do deep work probably isn’t a good idea, but with our recommendations, you can take a quick “brain break,” reset mentally for your next work session, and learn something new – all at the same time.


Here are five podcasts, between five minutes and half an hour long, that cover a variety of topics, making them interesting, informative, and fun.


Our Recommendations

Each episode of Retropod is under 10 minutes long, with some as short as five minutes. This podcast has a focus on historical events, figures, and oddities. I recently listened to their episode on the incredible “Night Witches,” a group of around 80 Russian women who served as aviators and bombers against Germany during the Second World War, risking their lives on a nightly basis.


As the name suggests, this podcast, presented by Scientific American, has a focus on delivering bite-sized scientific facts. Their episode from July 7, “Your Brain Does Something Amazing between Bouts of Intense Learning,” presents the importance of periods of rest between learning. It also explains how the brain uses these periods to “sew together” the movements learned while, for example, practicing an instrument, into a seamless whole.


Another podcast where the name tells you exactly what you’re getting, this podcast presents short biographies of historical figures. With 13 seasons, and biographies of people from Alexander the Great to Elizabeth Taylor, there is plenty for listeners to learn. Their episode on Joan of Arc was a fascinating look at a historical figure that I’ve always had a soft spot for.


This NPR podcast usually has a runtime between 15 and 30 minutes and aims to educate listeners about the economy in a way that is accessible and doesn’t induce a boredom nap. The episode “Workin’ 9 to 5” examines how the 1980 comedy film highlighted the challenges that women faced in the workplace at the time – sexual harassment, pay disparity, childcare, and people taking credit for their work – and whether those challenges have changed in any meaningful way. It also shows how a real-life organization of female employees inspired the movie and the Dolly Parton song.


This sometimes-tongue-in-cheek podcast examines the history of specific words in the English language, as well as how language helps uphold certain power structures and dynamics. Hosted by Helen Zaltzman, episodes are between 15 and 30 minutes long. One of her earliest episodes – episode three, if you’re interested – examines the phrase “going viral” and how it has evolved from its original meaning, as well as how modern media organizations use language to try to make content go viral.


This one isn’t exactly a podcast – it’s a paid app that lets you read or listen to 15-minute summaries of nonfiction books and podcasts. If you like to know exactly what you’re getting into before you start a new book or podcast, this app might be perfect for you. Blinkist has a library of summaries of over 4,500 books on topics from politics to philosophy.


Emilie Charette

I’m a full-time university student, part-time Focus Bubbles host, and a part-time D&D dungeon master. When I’m not listening to podcasts, I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, and getting new perspectives on life. I can’t wait to see you in a Bubble!


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