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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.