Music as a Tool for Focusing
Have you played many video games?
If you’ve played at least some strategy or RPG games, you may notice the background theme. Usually this is some music that plays for a few minutes then repeats. So if you are stuck on a level, you will end up hearing that same song tens or even hundreds of times.
A lot of people talk about ‘getting a song stuck in your head’. This can certainly be a bad thing. But during my programming, it is something I actually embrace.
That music during those video games is there to help you focus. To gather your attention and perform something during the game. It might increase adrenaline or your heart rate based on the beats per minute (some restaurants actually use this to their advantage – have you heard faster music playing during a rush-hour lunch before?). The same concept can be used to help you focus.
When I’m programming, a lot of times I will listen to some song on repeat hundreds of times. Perhaps this makes me weird. All I can say is it increases the enjoyment of my job while also making me more productive.
That being said, I do listen to certain types of music and exclude others. I don’t think all types of music are created the same in terms of concentrating.
My Guidelines for Coding Music
Generally I like my music to not have words. I like soundtracks more than vocals in songs, although I use both.
Probably the main thing in my music selection is that it must be a background thing. If music steals my focus from writing software, it doesn’t last very long. It must remain a background task.
Techno and electronic music seems to work best for me. I stay away from rock/heavy metal or pop songs with lots of lyrics. Classical music works too, but not to the same effect that a good trance or techno song will.
I’m listening to music right now as I write this post: a remix of Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka. There are sites out there that will indefinitely repeat a YouTube video, which is what I’m using at the moment.
It’s kind of dreamy sounding and ‘out there’. It reflects both my mood and the forward-thinking software I’m writing right now.
I also really enjoy brain.fm. Its music goes a really long way in helping me focus. The electronic version of music on there works best for me, although there are some other interesting ones (wave/forest/wind sounds). I was fortunate enough to find a deal that was something like $37 or so for a lifetime subscription during Thanksgiving 2017.
My mother played piano. I played piano, trumpet, and guitar, although I don’t do these activities much anymore. The role of music on improving academics and making people creative is probably worth an entire discussion on its own.
That being said, I still listen to lots of music most days I work. It helps me concentrate and elevates my mood. It helps me get into the zone quicker. As a result, I can pump out a lot more code/tests/automation than without it. And I enjoy the whole process more. It’s a win-win in my book.
This isn’t to say there isn’t a time for collaboration. There absolutely needs to be time spent working with others. That being said, I think there’s a happy medium between complete isolation and the distractions that teams spaces can cause (and yes, I’ve worked in both environments). As with most things, there’s a middle-ground there.
Do you use music to help you focus? If you don’t, why not give it a try every once and a while? It might give a your day-to-day a new spin and make your job a lot more interesting and enjoyable.