Habits life


October 7, 2020

I’ve gotten some questions about the “music” item on my habit tracking list.

“SHU, why would you need to put something that you enjoy on a daily list? Doesn’t that take the fun out? Doesn’t it make listening to music feel like a chore?”

I laughed when I listened to Laura’s recent Before Breakfast episode encouraging listeners not to do what I do, which is put almost everything I want to do on a list of some kind, fun or not. I am sure she is right, for some people or even most people.

I might be weird.

But I love my lists and (generally) enjoy my life!

I also find that if I don’t put certain things on paper and incorporate them into my life in an intentional way, I just forget to do them, or they get crowded out by other things. For me, their presence on a list does not take away from the fun. In fact . . . it may add to it!


Music for me is one of those things. And yet whenever I listen to it — in the car, while walking, while running, while the kids are playing — it really does bring me joy. I have a musical background (many years of piano, violin, singing) and growing up, our house was never silent thanks to a father with a total music obsession — mostly classical, but he will dabble in other genres and at least back then had a particular fondness for Joni Mitchell.

Music is soothing and fun for me. With certain artists (Kacey Musgraves, Aimee Mann, etc) I often sing along (in the car, at home) which is its own brand of therapy.

Where do I find current music?

First of all — I don’t always listen to current music. It’s not like my old favorites have gone bad or anything, and they can be particularly comforting during times of stress (ahem pandemic).

However, I do love the excitement that comes with learning about and discovering new artists. My current primary source for this is NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast. They release at least 2 episodes most weeks – a “New Mix” episode and a “New Release Friday” episode, and I love that they lean Indie but do not stay specific to any one genre. They will showcase everything from country to R&B to Kpop to classical to ambient etc. They also often feature music from other parts of the world (Africa, Caribbean, South America, Middle East, etc).

My tastes tend to line up with the hosts quite often (Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton) and I like how they bring in guest hosts frequently with expertise in various genres.

I usually listen to both episodes and then supplement with Spotify (we pay for premium so can listen to whole albums and no ads).

Whole Albums

Speaking of whole albums . . . yes, I really like playing them rather than making mixes of specific songs. Yes, this may make me sound old. I just enjoy the idea of experiencing a collection of songs in the way a particular artist or band intended. I love to think about the massive amounts of work that go into making an entire album.

I do miss album cover art but not enough to go all analog and buy a record player like the kids are doing

I’d LIKE to do more intentional repeated listening to albums. I may make this a 2021 goal – maybe to pick 3 albums/month and try to listen to them all the way through at least 4 times or something like that. I miss knowing all of my favorites by heart the way I did back in the CD age (or even digital downloads age!) when streaming “something else” wasn’t always just a click away.

Recent favorites

Recently heard & enjoyed on All Songs:

Maren Morris’s new song “Better Than We Found It”

Darlingside — (who got their start at Willams where I went to college!)

Fleet Foxes new album

BLACKPINK “Pretty Savage”

Jonsi (lead singer from Sigur Ros with his own album out – Shiver)

Masego “Passport” – such a fun song I never would have found on my own

Theo Alexander

Kurt Vile with John Prine

Tell me!

How do you like to listen?

What amazing artists am I missing out on?

Am I the only one who enjoys checking ‘fun’ to do items off a list?


  • Reply gwinne October 7, 2020 at 7:41 am

    Sarah, I really appreciate this, and I might need to take your approach. I rarely listen to music of any kind. I used to. But it was a thing I did mostly in the car….and I’m never in the car anymore. When I’m on a walk I’m mostly thinking or talking on the phone. It would be easy for me to put on some music while I do dishes, etc. But it needs to be made an explicit habit or it won’t happen. Thanks for the suggestions!

  • Reply Sarah K October 7, 2020 at 7:57 am

    I’m the same way – I enjoy listening to music but I feel like I’m out of the loop so I never know what to put on. Subscribing to ASC!

  • Reply Rebecca October 7, 2020 at 8:12 am

    I put on the new Fleet Foxes album yesterday morning after you mentioned it here! I try to at least put on some music while we’re getting breakfast ready in the morning (often classical – my toddler likes it and I do to), but I really would like to start listening to music more often + more variety. I like your approach.

  • Reply Krishna October 7, 2020 at 8:15 am

    I love to put fun things also on my list and I look forward to them – somehow not having just chores in my list excites me

  • Reply omdg October 7, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Music lifts my mood as well, but since I don’t spend much time in the car, I also have to be mindful about remembering to play it. I’ve mostly used Pandora and YouTube to find new music, but I have to admit that even those can get repetitive. Thank you for the suggestions!

  • Reply Jen October 7, 2020 at 9:18 am

    i think i can definitely use this suggestion. I also love music but I find my time for consuming it rather limited. I know many children’s songs – i am totally up on everything Descendants, Trolls World Tour, Barbie, whatever they’re into – but nothing really new or even really my own older favourites. And i know i can’t listen to music with words while I work. It’s too distracting for me.
    I do get why people might think its overboard to put it on a to-do list but that might be rebel or questioner types (a la Gretchen Rubin) who don’t like to be told. I get the reason is so you make time for things you like.
    Also, we are the same age so i totally get wanting to listen to an album. I have many i still love and think about the sequence and how they work rolling from one song to another. 😀

  • Reply Amy F October 7, 2020 at 9:23 am

    “Hey Siri – play some upbeat music” or “”Hey Siri play some relaxing music”. One fewer decision I have to make! My kids are now teens and I often pick up some good songs from them!

  • Reply Ellie October 7, 2020 at 9:26 am

    Oh if you like Fleet Foxes and Jonsi, you might like:

    – The Antlers (the old stuff but they also have a new record!)
    – The Tallest Man on Earth
    – Frightened Rabbit (The Modern Leper album should be listened to over and over!)
    – James Blake
    – Beirut
    – Asgeir

    I’m sure I’ll think of more!

    • Reply Elizabeth October 7, 2020 at 11:17 pm

      OH Frightened Rabbit – “Poke” is one song that makes me cry every single time I hear it. So powerful! Very sad about the lead singer though (he went missing a few years ago).

  • Reply Lee October 7, 2020 at 11:18 am

    This has been on my mind lately, too! I have a husband who’s ALWAYS finding/buying new music, and has taste fairly similar to mine, so for nearly 20 years, I’ve gotten really lazy about listening to ‘my’ music. I just enjoy his. HOWEVER, lately I’ve been wanting to return to my old favorites (and some new favorites) and, like you, really get into them. Memorize lyrics, like you said. So I’m trying to. I wouldn’t probably put it on my to-do list, for fear of stressing myself out with something that’s supposed to be relaxing/fun, but I HAVE make a list of albums to remind myself what I want to “study”, in my Apple Notes app. 🙂

  • Reply Eva October 7, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    I used to buy a lot of CDs (and have them all organized alphabetically by artist and per artist chronologically), and now mostly listen on spotify. I listen while I work with noise-cancelling headphones, and I put music on the speaker before and after work if I remember (for breakfast, while cooking, etc).

    Some random things to discover:
    – Jef Neve (from Belgium – he used to teach jazz piano in the music academy of my hometown when I studied there)
    – the album “Muy hermosa es Maria” : recordings of early music from the archives of the cloister of Ibarra in Ecuador. The director of Capella Aeqvator (of which I used to be part before our director moved to Spain) unearthed and transcribed this music. Early-music colleagues in the Netherlands then made this recording.
    – Hexvessel – Kindred (2020 album) from Finland. One song pick: Fire of the mind
    – Myrkur – Folkesange (2020 album) from Denmark. One song pick: Fager som en ros
    – Thy Catafalque – Naiv (2020 album) from Hungary. One song pick: Embersolyom – Kalaka
    – Anneke Van Giersbergen – Let the light in (2020 album) from the Netherlands. One song pick: Waar ben ik meneer?

    Curious to see what you will think of these 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 7, 2020 at 4:14 pm

      Oooooh so interested! Thank goodness for Spotify!!

  • Reply Danielle October 7, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    I absolutely list the “fun” stuff. If I don’t that time will either get taken over by someone else or will get frittered away with my habits that don’t serve me. Without intentional decisions I can easily let my needs fall to the side.

    • Reply Lily October 7, 2020 at 2:45 pm

      I’ve really fallen off the planning wagon lately but I used to include choosing an Album of the Week as part of my weekly review – I think inspired by your lists and also by wanting to ensure I was getting good value from my Apple Music subscription. I also kept a ‘to listen’ long list in a mini notebook but often the choice was based on something I’d read or heard during the previous week (eg this week would likely be an Eddie van Halen album). I recorded the ‘AOTW’ in the left-hand column of the weekly pages in my hobonichi, along with a list of what I was reading and listening to (eg current audiobook or podcast). The goal was to listen to the full album at least once over the course of the week. And then in the weekly review for the following week I’d also record whatever had been my LOTW (love of the week) to that column too.
      Still trying to work out where my planning mojo went…

  • Reply shusda October 7, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    Sarah’s dad here. Just to clarify, my fondness for Joni Mitchell’s artistry continues to this very day! I’m really excited about this month’s first-time-ever CD release of her early pre-album performances (see https://store.jonimitchell.com/products/joni-mitchell-archives-vol-1-the-early-years-1963-1967-5cd). A copy is on order 🙂

    • Reply KC October 30, 2020 at 6:13 pm

      Whoa, sold out. And I love that Shusda is commenting on here! 🙂

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 30, 2020 at 7:51 pm

        SOLD OUT!? wow!

  • Reply Jara C. October 7, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    I also love putting “fun” things on my to-do lists/daily schedules. I find that if I don’t, I end up doing extra work or studying instead of taking much-needed breaks. It’s also nice to be able to check an extra thing off my to-do list after I’ve done something I enjoy.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns October 7, 2020 at 3:34 pm

    I’m like you and putting things on a list and being able to cross them off adds to my happiness/enjoyment. Have you read “Frog and Toad Together”? There is a story called “The List.” Toad is totally like us and writes down everything – he starts by writing ‘wake up’ and then crosses it out. My husband laughed when I read it to my son because it’s just so me. Then he loses his list and Frog says, ‘let’s run after it!’ and Toad says, ‘no, I can’t! It’s not on the list!’. Lol. Ok, so I don’t take things THAT far and you don’t either but it is a funny story to read, especially for lovers of lists! 😉

    My all-time favorite artist is Brandi Carlile. Check her out if you haven’t already. She is incredibly talented!! Admittedly I do not listen to much music these days – if I have my headphones/iPhone playing something, it’s a podcast because I have soooo many I listen to! I do listen to Taylor Swift in the car w/ my son because he is obsessed with her. He asks me to play “Exile” and knows most of the words. I am pretty sure it all goes over his head but he must love her voice! He also has several favorites from her Lover album, too.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 7, 2020 at 4:13 pm

      I love Brandi (and The Highwomen) and I LOVe that frog and toad story 🙂

  • Reply Joy October 7, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    My husband and I have a turntable and do listen to whole albums, but I have developed a habit of listening to playlists and singles digitally. I’m going to try listening to whole albums instead, because I agree that it’s interesting to see what a musician is saying through the album. It would be like reading random chapters in a book, I think. You may miss something important.

    I didn’t know about that podcast but am subscribing. I love hearing about new music. Thanks!

  • Reply Natka October 7, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    When I write for work, I sometimes play something from studio Gibli as background music (zen meditation-type music works pretty well, too) on my computer (thanks, youtube). Helps me focus.

    In college, I played classical music while studying (I still think of organic chemistry any time I hear the Brandenburg Concertos).

    Other than that, I rarely listen to music. I dislike happy music and really gravitate towards angsty, emotion-filled stuff (think Rachmaninoff…. or Sibelius… or Adele). However, listening to depressing dark music at this point in my life is counter-productive (I can’t exactly enjoy my “depths of despair” while I have 3 kids running circles around me… and I can’t afford to be all dark and sad and mysterious because 3 kids).

    Besides, I don’t really have a good way to listen to music outside of my office (don’t like head phones, don’t have radio, hate using smartphone). My kids have CD players that they use to play their music and audio books, so I suppose I could borrow one if I discovered a CD I wanted to listen to. If anyone have suggestions for something that’s easy, doesn’t take up too much space, and doesn’t require a subscription – I am all ears.

    Very rarely (after kids are in bed), I use youtube to find old favorites. If you are curious about non-American music, give Stromae a try (Belgian, I think… he sings in French). Also Splean (Russian). Also Zemfira (Russian). Also Lara Fabian (Je Suis Malade!).

  • Reply Erin October 7, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    I feel like we have somewhat similar taste in music – I loved the new Fleet Foxes album, and my fave artist is Vampire Weekend. This is a really different suggestion that I came upon via my pop-loving husband, but also NPR – the new Dua Lipa album is quite excellent. NPR take on it here: https://www.npr.org/2020/09/23/916112529/how-dua-lipas-day-glo-nostalgia-found-a-home-in-dark-times

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 8, 2020 at 5:19 am

      oooh i’m totally going to check that out today!

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