Brain Music: How To Use Music To Boost Productivity, Work Faster and Focus

Most of us aren’t getting work done online because of a lack of focus. We’re distracted by the sounds and conversations around us. To solve this problem, you should create a playlist of music that helps your brain focus and listen to it every time you sit down to work.

We all know that music can impact the way we feel and change energy levels greatly.

We use music every day to create desired moods — to wake up, to get pumped up at the gym, to energize, to bring back certain memories and to help us relax. In effect, music “sets the scene” for many of our most important experiences.

So shouldn’t it be possible to use music to tell your brain it’s time to focus?

Absolutely, yes.

Research has shown that music can help you create a desired work atmosphere, increase attention, focus concentration and even improve your memory.

Jonathan Berger, PhD, Stanford associate professor of music and a musician said that music’s ability cause the brain to anticipate events and sustain attention could be  music’s “evolutionary purpose“.

##

I was recently contacted by a subscriber, @samrexford on Twitter about listening to music while you work to focus. He sent me a link to a website called FocusatWill that curates and streams Focus music for you for a monthly subscription fee.

While it’s an interesting concept I don’t think it’s something I’d pay for. It’s just too easy for me to make a Focus playlist in iTunes or Youtube for free.

I sent Sam a screenshot of my current Focus playlist in iTunes to let him see how I do it and realized I’ve been listening to almost the exact same playlist for 10+ years.

So today, I’m going to share it with you.

Why Focus Music?

“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” –Ludwig van Beethoven

Whether I’m working in an office environment, at home or at a coffee shop one thing holds true. I can’t think if there is a lot of stuff going on around me.

Ringing telephones, other people’s conversations, the radio, car sirens… any sound pulls my attention away from what I’m doing and screws up my flow.

When I really need to get things done I have headphones on and music playing that blocks out that outside noise. I listen to a very specific kind of music and mainly a single artist. I’ve found this type of music blocks out the outside sounds but also puts my brain into a flow state that allows me to output more work than most people.

Here’s how it works.

My Criteria For Focus Music

My focus music is very different than the music I listen to for enjoyment. When I need to focus, I can’t listen to music that has lyrics. Singer’s voices overpower my own thoughts, rappers are even worse.

So for me, Focus music has to have these qualities:

  • It has to be soft’ish
  • It has to be instrumental
  • It has to be steady

What I prefer is a smooth drone – something I can listen to on repeat for 2–3 hours straight without realizing it’s repeating.

Here are two of the artists that fit that criteria, that I have been listening to on repeat for the last 10+ years.

1. Boards of Canada

Many years ago a I asked a good friend and badass photographer Jeremy Charles  for some suggestions on music to work to. He recommended a group called Boards of Canada, a Scottish electronic music duo made up of two brothers, and their album Twoism.

For me, Twoism is the quintessential album for focus. A minimalist lo-fi brooding soundscapes without words. It just plays in the background, blocks out all the sound around you and helps your brain focus on what you’re doing.

The legend of Twoism

Twoism was a self-financed cassette and record distributed by the band before they had a record deal. They only made 100 copies.

Because there was such a limited supply, copies of the cassette would often be exchanged from one person to the next for around $1500.

When the band signed a major label deal, the record company wanted to re-release Twoism. The band agreed, but only if there was no promotion behind the re-release. ” “We’d rather people find our music by themselves, so that it’s something that feels like it belongs to them.

//

That’s how I found the album and now I pass it on to you. I’ve been listening to Twoism while I work for 10+ years. Actually, it’s playing as I type this, right now.

Other BOC albums to check out: Music Has The Right To Children and Geogaddi – I could listen to any of these albums on repeat for years without it becoming annoying.

2. Tycho

Tycho is very similar to Board of Canada but it’s different enough to break things up from time to time. Specifically I listen to the album Dive.

3. Amina

Amina is an Icelandic string quartet that I discovered while listening to a Boards of Canada station on Pandora.

I threw in two songs from their album Animamina to mix things up a bit. There are no drums or beats in the two tracks I added – so it gives my head a break every 30 minutes or so.

Amina is definitely an add-on for me and not the gold standard like Boards of Canada and Tycho.

Focus Music and Repetition

I’ve found that listening to the same music every time I sit down to work is beneficial. When I sit down at my laptop and my playlist starts – it immediately puts me in the zone to get things done.

I also listen to the same atmospheric music by Andy Hollander every time I walk from my apartment to the gym and then I listen to the exact same gangster rap playlist (almost 100% older 50 cent) every time I workout.

Listening to the same music each time is like giving your brain a cue that it’s time to do something. The music starts and your brain says “Ok, I know what this… let’s go.”

How To Create a Focus Music Playlist

1. Headphones

The first thing you’re going to need is a set of headphones or in-ear buds that block out noise. Listening to music without headphones is better than nothing the more you can vacuum seal yourself from the outside world, the better.

I originally bought a pair of the Bose Quiet Comfort headphones, which in my opinion are the best noise canceling headphones in the business. Then an affiliate network sent a pair of the Bose QuietComfort 20i earbuds that work almost as well and are way more portable and don’t need batteries – so I switched to the earbuds completely.

You can use any brand or style that you like – these are just what I’ve used.

2. Playlist

I no longer subscribe to any music services – so I created my Focus music playlist in iTunes.

  • Acquire the albums
  • Drag the song files into iTunes
  • Create a playlist called Focus Music
  • Drag the songs into the playlist and hit save
  • Arrange the songs to your liking
  • Focus

If you’re a Spotify customer you can do the same thing. But I don’t recommend doing it with a free Spotify account, because every few minutes you’ll get an ad for Toyota trucks or something that will totally destroy your work flow.

Conclusion

We all have work to do and we all need Focus to do it. Using a Focus Music playlist is one of the best ways that I’ve found to get my mind in the place it needs to be to get things done.

The next time you sit down to work, try listening to these albums and see what happens. I’d be curious to hear how if it helps you as much as it helps me.

  • Sohan Tanna

    Awesome article man! Been using Focus@will myself with awesome results

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      cool Sohan, I let one of the Focus@will 1 hour youtube soundtracks play in my house yesterday, definitely a great chillout vibe.

  • samrex

    Thanks for the shout out brother – been loving Boards of Canada and will also check out these other suggestions… I’m normall a GNR / Black Sabbath / Country kinda guy but it definitely wasn’t helping my productivity, it’s epic music but your mind wants to follow the riffs, and doesn’t ever have a chance to relax into work mode. I find that repetitive / droning (but not boring!) music just trances me out and I start cranking stuff out like a madman. Peace!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      you bet, thanks for the convo. And I agree – my favorite music is stuff like Muse, The Doors, Fink, etc. but singers/rappers suck my brain in and I can’t concentrate. That’s why I love the BOC type of stuff for work.

      • samrex

        Great post man thank you. I love that your blog has unique / personal content on it and isn’t another ‘SEO ALL THE THINGS’ type blog 🙂

  • pete

    I know this is a good idea. Some use classical music (or contemporary/modern versions of it) too.

    And it’s a great focus booster for most online marketers. My situation’s a little different – I live in a cr@p area, so I need to listen to what’s going on around me. Blocking out noises around me isn’t an option.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      classical music doesn’t work for me. when it gets really loud I start to lose my mind.

      and i’m curious – what do you mean you need to listen to what’s going on around you?

  • meldron

    Loved that you mentioned Tycho. I’ve been listening to them for years. I highly recommend Hybrid as well. Not their famous stuff, but their hour long mixes. Look up the album Soundsystem 01.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      i’ll check them out Meldron, thanks

  • Petre Veluda

    I listen to Ibitza Sonica or Globar Radio, mainly electronic, but not hardcore stuff. Maybe someone will find inspiration in my comment 🙂

  • Ronny

    Hi Malan,

    When I need to be focus in a calm atmosphere, I listen to Joe Satriani evergreen guitar
    composition– Always with me always with you.

    But…

    When I feel depressed or lose my motivation to work.

    I will force myself to see the video of some of my favorite bands.

    I browse around on YouTube and type (for example) “Dream Theater in Studio”

    Seeing them work hard in an isolated studio away from their families for months.

    Seeing them work hard so seriously and systematically with a smile.

    Seeing them work hard religiously without even calculating how much money they can make from their newest album.

    They simply just want to come out from that isolated messy studio with their newest amazing music composition.

    I play guitar and have a band too, so I know exactly the pain that they have to bear.

    When the video ends, a new spirit grow in my heart and mind.

    Ready to work again.

  • Zach Semago

    I’ve noticed I’ll work to the pace of the music at times. When I’ve got a day I need to rush out a lot of busy, fast work –> fast techno time. If its a more standard day and/or a day with some more creative though, I’ll go with something slower.

    Sometimes I get sick of certain tunes though and need to give them some rest for a while.

  • http://www.mikemrk.com/ Mike MRK

    Hi Malan. I recommend this for everyone:

    Just google Groove Salad ( from Soma FM). It is exactly what you need to concentrate. It isn’t supported by ads, so you they won’t disturb you.

  • chris

    thanks for these – wicked I was listening to the boc track here while reading your how to start the day post, and hadn’t even realized the track was over was so honed in (seemed like it was still subliminally playing in my mind lol)

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      nice chris – yeah that’s why i like them. it’s like a subliminal track going in the background, doesn’t get in your mind’s way.