The age of interconnectivity on the internet has created a black hole that sucks away at our productivity.
I spend approximately of 30% of my time on actual focused work and the other 70% being distracted and completely unproductive. And it’s not as if I was much better before the internet anyway.
As an ambitious millennial, this inability to focus is supremely annoying.
Hypothesis: It was while I was working at home one evening (having wasted the day away) that I recalled seeing YouTube videos of what was dubbed ‘focusing music’.
Intrigued, my research down led me down the path of neuroscience research, particularly involving music. Some think that music doesn’t work at all. Others have provided different theories to why music works, and even the specific genres better suited for different tasks.
Some methods should work better than others, so I embarked on a journey to discover which.
Methodology: I decided to test out the different methods laid, using one type of music a day for a 5-day work week to gauge my productivity, especially on my ability to continuously focus on a task.
Day 1: The Control—No Sound At All
Since there are quite a few studies among the neuroscience circles concluding that music hinders performance, and it’s usually the earphones (silence) that helps with focus, I spent a day at the office with noise-cancelling earphones plugged in, but with no sounds playing.
Conclusion: The earphones definitely helped me tune out the usual newsroom noises to focus on work, but other than that results were not promising. Complete silence was a jarring experience. I was too often distracted by the absence of any familiar, muted sounds to be able to concentrate on work. This method might work better if given a few days to acclimatise to the absence of sound.
Try It If: You prefer quiet environments, or if ambient noises (Rainymood, Cafe noises, etc.) do nothing for your productivity. You can also try it if in school, you study/studied better in silence.
Day 2: Specially Designed ‘Brainwave-Focusing’ Music
Some sites offering these types of music requires payment, but even a cursory search on Youtube for ‘focusing music’ yields some results. Naturally, I chose the free option. One of such videos can be found here, complete with the arguments as to why it works in the description.
Conclusion: Some worked better than others, but overall the results didn’t impress me. The strangeness of the noncommital, lukewarm sounds distracted me quite a bit from my tasks, and there were quite a few moments were I noticed that I had subconsciously taken my earphones out so that I could focus better on my work. There may be merit in the research that claims productivity music only works if you enjoy it.
Try It If: You like weird music. Or, strangely, if you’re into Pink Floyd.
Day 3: Epic Soundtracks
Some of the more popular suggestions include the Inception soundtrack, or the Batman Begins soundtrack. The theory states that since movie soundtracks tend to be grand and epic, it feels like you’re doing something bigger than the world.
It is also usually designed to be in the background, and thus not draw attention to itself.
Conclusion: It does make the process of brewing tea feel like a life or death experience. The slower numbers that were meant to accent dialogue scenes seemed to work, but the more epic scores that are meant to accentuate the dramatic, dialogue-less action scenes were meant to arrest attention, and it did—away from work. Unfortunately, the epic bits of the epic soundtrack did not help concentration at all.
Try It If: You need to feel bigger than who you are at work, or if what you’re doing is monotonous. But be selective of the songs from your favourite OST. It’s better to find an OST with an overall pleasant composition as you’ll be redacting most of your favourite songs anyway.
Day 4: Classical Music
When asking, “What type of music will help me focus?”, the usual response is “classical music”. There is a longstanding belief of the Mozart Effect, and even pregnant parents have been encouraged to play Mozart to their unborn child to make them smarter.
Conclusion: It works. But it would work better if it wasn’t for pop culture. I was never raised in the kind of family that went to concertos in monocles and fancy dresses to “appreciate music”, so my childhood exposure to these types of music came from movies, and those Tom and Jerry shorts. As a result, I can’t take Mozart seriously. Less iconic composers in modern culture helped a lot more.
Other than that, try for the less grandiose scores, as those seem to be quite distracting.
Try It If: You can appreciate classical music as much more than just accentuation to famous slapstick cartoon.
Day 5: Video Game Soundtracks
Most people can play games perfectly fine without music, but there is no denying that music can still make or break a game. A great town theme could make the process of exploring that much more pleasant. This is because game music is meant to engage you into the area that you’re in, but also to not distract you from your normal gaming activities.
Conclusion: Video game soundtracks seem to work better for me than movie soundtracks, perhaps because they don’t have any narrative purpose to fulfill.
As long as it isn’t battle music, the songs are simply there to create ambiance and are steadier in terms of rhythms and beats compared to movie scores. I did not ever feel the need to try and tune out this music during high-concentration tasks. Definitely highly rated, in my books.
Try It If: You play games, or are exposed to games often. Again, music apparently only works if you enjoy it, so non-gamers might find this music as distracting as I find brainwave-focusing music to be.
Other notable mentions include music with foreign language lyrics (as the brain seemingly associates the sounds as just noise).
- The type of music that works seems to tie in quite closely with preference, and familiarity.
- The best music is music with no lyrics.
- It’s better to listen to music that is more consistent, with a repeating tones and no large spikes.
- Apparently music only works if you’re better at multitasking.
- If you type “awesome” on a YouTube video, the red YouTube line becomes a flashing rainbow. This is not good for productivity.
While the music did work to a certain extent in improving my ability to continuously work on a task, it did no miracles for my task output ability.
The music is a tool for concentration, and not the solution. But with some proper strategising, I may be able to use the music method so that my time at work is spent with 55% spent on actual, focused work and the other 45% still lost. A 25% increase is better than nothing.
Feature Image Credit: istockphoto