Focus@will App Claims Its Music Will Help You Concentrate (Emphasis On "Claims")

I think we can all agree that, on the list of things that help you concentrate, “music" falls somewhere between “coffee” and “unplugging the WiFi router and chucking it out of the window” (just kidding, don't do that...yet). There’s even science backing up the positive effects music has on the brain in terms of working — which is where a new app called Focus@will comes in. Focus@will actually claims to increase concentration by 400%. If you're deciding whether to facepalm or pay the $3.99 a month fee for this thing, I invite you to join me in doing both simultaneously.

Mother Nature Network recently put a spotlight on the app in question. According to the Focus@will site, the app isn't just a music app, it's a “neuroscience-based music service that helps you focus, reduce distractions, and retain information when working, studying, writing, and reading.” Well, anything that involves “neuroscience” has to work, right?

The site also explains that each music selection can influence “how your brain habituates, enhancing your focus and reducing distractions.” MNN explains that the app was developed with the help of two neuroscientists and designed to engage your attention span, or "limbic system," via music free of vocals and other distracting noises. By using "phase-sequencing technology" the app actually keeps you from tuning out after a certain period of time. Seems like a great idea, right?

Wired points out, though, that many of these amazing claims should be questioned. Of all of the issues Wired focuses on, two of them really got to me. One: that most of the research does not actually test out the app itself — I'm a huge fan of evidence. There's also the fact that the constantly changing "phase-sequenced" music used by the app could actually distract you more than help you concentrate (we will come back to this one later).

Seeing as the Focus@will app did, after all, claim to do so many amazing things (and because my mind drifts easily), I decided to try it out while writing this article. Here’s what happened:

After signing up, I was immediately put on the default “classical” track. Since I’m not a big fan of classical music, I decided to explore other options. A few on the list sounded somewhat familiar, like acoustic and ambient, while others were a little (a lot) more abstract — they actually sounded more like workout classes you'd take when Zumba or yoga was filled up. These included “focus spa,” “up tempo,” “cinematic,” “baroque piano,” and (my personal favorite) “water.” After choosing “alpha chill,” because it was lounge-y and reminded me of Thievery Corporation, I got started.

The music was simple yet calming. I felt like I was in the lobby of some sort of ultra-exclusive hotel where Madonna would stay. It was essentially a playlist of down-tempo, chilled-out house music. However, as much as I enjoyed it, I couldn’t concentrate at all. After about 10 minutes of shifting my focus back and forth between working and perusing the somewhat hilarious song titles (like "Herbs from Universe" or "Delicate Delight") I had to go back to my favorite concentration music of all: silence mixed with barista clanking noises.

Overall, I appreciate what Focus@will is doing, and am in no way trying to put it down — however, it's just not for me. If you’re into the idea, I recommend trying it out. When it comes to listening to music while working, I prefer diluting my brain juices with background coffee shop noises, and occasionally LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33. After all, everyone is completely different when it comes to getting focused. Some people even work to video game music, an option I'm actually dying to try...