Listening to Music While You Work Can Promote Concentration, If It Meets These Criteria

Everyone seems to have their own idiosyncratic preferences for listening to music while working: none, quiet, loud, uptempo for energy, slow for calmness, instrumental for focus, and so on. But at the end of the day, we're all humans, and our brains are much more alike than different. As it turns out, unfamiliar music that gradually changes from time to time (and that the user doesn't connect to emotionally) is best for productivity.

And, of course, there's an app for that! As Alex Heber reports at Business Insider Australia, web service "focus@will" will helpfully stream unfamiliar, varying music to help usher you through phases of "flow" — intense, concentrated work — and then downtime when the music shifts.

The company’s playlists include smooth rhythms which don’t put you to sleep and are based on the idea that music can help you tap into your concentration flow. But it’s maintaining that focus which I found to be the best part – the playlists help you stay in the zone, essentially blocking out the part of your brain (the flight or fight mechanism) which is on the lookout for “danger, food, sex or shiny things,” the company said. The average person can concentrate for about 20 minutes at a time (that’s me) but when I turn the focus@will playlist on I find myself getting lost in what ever it is I’m typing away at.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but no way to figure that out except to try it for yourself. But what about those times when productivity isn't your goal? After all, many of us head to the cafe not to grind through ordinary work but to write or doodle or dream.

Science has something to say about this phenomenon, too:

Process measures reveal that a moderate (vs. low) level of noise increases processing difficulty, inducing a higher construal level and thus promoting abstract processing, which subsequently leads to higher creativity.

We knew it all along! Medium noise — not too low, not too loud—- can cause your mental processes to become slightly less efficient in a way that promotes creativity. To simulate this environment without the coffee shop price tags and over-trafficked restrooms, try web service Coffitivity instead.

And as for refreshments: stick to "beer for big ideas, coffee to get them done." A buzz will make your mind wander, sometimes in a good way, but it won't do much for your focus, and vice-versa for a caffeine high.