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Music Vs Workflow

Music Vs Workflow

First of all, my disclaimer. Music is quite a personal thing. Everyone has their own favorites, what music helps them get through their workload. This article aims to contribute to your choices to possibly improve productivity through your music choices.

ipod headphones

    iTunes has loaded and we’re going to start work. What album do you play? Does it really affect your performance in front of the computer? I think it does. Let’s take a non-work related example first:

    Music Helps You Sleep

    Last year a Taiwanese research group studied the affects of music on 60 elderly people with sleeping problems.

    The music group were able to choose from six tapes that featured soft, slow music – around 60-80 beats per minute – such as jazz, folk or orchestral pieces.

    Note the slow BPM [beats per minute]. Researchers found that the music lowered heart and respiratory rates, aiding in a more peaceful sleep. The group reported a 35% improvement in sleep, including a better and longer night’s sleep with less ‘dysfunction’ during the day.

    Lower BPM lowers heart rate and breathing, and so calms you into a better sleep.
    Let’s look at what you could call the opposite: music with an upbeat tempo.

    Increase the BPM

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    You instantly have more energy, right? Plus faster tunes are, generally, more upbeat in feeling as well. They are lighter and get you happy in what you’re doing. It’s common knowledge that a happy song will make you feel happy as well.

    If you’re working, how about an instant lift?

    So let’s take an example. When I started my work today, I was playing The Arcade Fire’s new album, Neon Bible. As good an LP as it is, it was completely wrong for working at the computer [for me]. Here’s why:

    Firstly is the aforementioned tempo. It’s not particularly upbeat and has not so much uplifting sequences [in comparison to their previous album]. But there’s another problem with my choice.

    Have I heard this before?

    It’s new, I just picked it up and was breaking it in. Personally, I can’t listen to something new without really listening to it. Every so often I ask myself, ‘Do I like this? Why isn’t it like their other stuff? etc etc

    So I’m distracted. And that’s a continuous 40 minute distraction that comes in and out of my head. It’s like no air conditioner on a hot day, I’m regularly interrupted by discomfort.

    Album No.2 is The Red Chord’s first album. I know this one very well and it’s fast. It has energy that should get me going. It’s a fun album for me so I can enjoy myself while I work. So what’s the problem this time?

    Too many changes. It’s a fairly very erratic record. I can’t get in a groove with this! I may be enjoying myself, but I’m constantly stopping to listen. We need a change.

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    Before we do that, though, let’s look at classical music.

    mozart plaque

      I’m a fan. A casual but regular listener. So I have that option. But why classical?

      Have you heard of the Mozart Effect? Scientists have generally disproven the significance of this phenomenon but we will humor it here, particular because this author believes there is some merit to it.

      The term was coined by Alfred A. Tomatis, a French Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, whose experiments playing the music of Mozart to 3 yr olds found increase in brain development. That old chestnut about playing your unborn child classical music has scientific foundation.

      It apparently increases spatial-temporal reasoning. Various studies using college students have shown improvements in test results as a result of listening to 10 minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major.

      However, spatial reasoning is the brain’s ability to orientate shapes in space – relevant to higher mathematics, architecture, engineering, drawing and chess. Sadly, whether you’re working with shapes or not is irrelevant to this article. We’re looking at music for productivity.

      Worth mentioning is how classical music can, in general, be calming and, because it generally involves slow phrasing, can aid with keeping you moving on your work tasks. This refers to that ‘groove’ I mentioned earlier.

      Also there are, unless you’re listening to an opera, no lyrics. Words are distracting, especially when writing! But is this enough? Classical pieces can have sudden rises and many variations in feeling and tempo, so that distractionless groove I’m looking for is interrupted.

      So I put on Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. The title track is 30 minutes of ambient-esque classical phrases. I’m not distracted and I become very peaceful. I can work well under this spell for a little while, but I usually become too calm to continue work for a descent period of time.

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      My solution, Shpongle. I’ll confess, it’s psy-trance; but I’m not a hippie!

      Again, I’ll reiterate that musical choice is based on your tastes. Everyone is different. Take this explanation of why I put trance music on while writing, and relate it to something that you like which has similar characteristics. I’ll have examples at the end.

      As you know, trance has a continuous beat. “Doof Doof,” as they say here. It’s a groove, and because it is very up tempo it works really well with getting my energy level up and keeping it there. Many trance songs have lyrics, although minimal, it may help choosing albums with very little to none – usually LPs from the mid-nineties.

      Also trance music has gradual climaxes and anti-climaxes. This is great for writing. You begin typing while the track gets started, and while it builds, you begin writing more profusely and with conviction. That epic feel in trance music helps you from dropping out and procrastinating. This work I’m doing is important!

      Finally I would also like to mention that trance albums are generally on the long side, with tracks running at around 2-3 times longer than ‘regular’ songs. Sometimes the end of a song can feel like an interruption. If the songs are longer, you have more time of straight work.

      When choosing music that you want to help you work, try thinking of these points:

      • 1. The groove. Upbeat tempos will help with your energy and, like a jogger, keep you going.
      • 2. Familiarity. This helps you fall into your work without thinking about the music.
      • 3. Continuity. Something with gradual or subtle changes will keep distractions at bay. Familiarity with the music helps in this instance also.
      • 4. Length. A long song means you have more time. Think of that 10 minutes of solid work you want to knock out. If you have a song that spans that time without interruption, all the better.

      Now let’s look at some more examples, that I can think of, of artists who may work as well.

      Slower, relaxing: Lee Perry, Horace Andy and other dub artists.

      Slower, heavy: Graves At Sea, Jesu and other sludge bands.

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      Faster, heavy: Slayer, Nile and other thrash or grind bands.

      Faster, electronic: Goldie, Ram Trilogy and other drum’n’bass without lyrics.

      Continuous, older: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

      Continuous, newer: Meshuggah’s Catch 33.

      Naturally, there is so much music out there that could improve your workflow. Why not think about what might be better than you’re regular listening habits? Maybe completely ambient tracks work for you, or talk radio is perfect, but thinking about your choices can immediately benefit your output.

      What works for you?

      Other tips:

      • Wear headphones. It’s better audio and privacy rolled into one. You are less likely to be disturbed by others if you’re wearing cans.
      • Don’t listen to records. I love my vinyl, but getting up to flip sides and change records every 15 minutes is a big workflow interrupter. Make a playlist on your computer that reflects your schedule. Same goes for CDs.
      • If you must, download music while you’re away from the computer. The temptation is too great to check download status, and if complete, listen to your new gems.

      The Mozart Effect – [TheSketpicsDictionary]

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      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      No!

      It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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      But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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      What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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      But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

      1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
      2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
      3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
      4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
      5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
      6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
      7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
      8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
      9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
      10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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