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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]

      More by this author

      Craig Childs

      Craig is an editor and web developer who writes about happiness and motivation at Lifehack

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      Last Updated on September 10, 2019

      How to Master the Art of Prioritization

      How to Master the Art of Prioritization

      Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

      By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

      Effective Prioritization

      There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

      Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

      The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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      Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

      Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

      If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

      Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

      My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

      I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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      Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

      But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

      The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

      I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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      That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

      You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

      My point is:

      The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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      What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

      And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

      “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

      In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

      If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

      More About Prioritization & Time Management

      Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

      Reference

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