Categories | Psychology of GTD
Left to my own devices, I have a terrible time maintaining focus when I need to write, do web design, work on spreadsheets or databases, or do intensive analytical reading. While I refuse to go to the doctor to get a formal diagnosis, I pretty much know that I have ADD (I score between 75-85% of the indicators for it on the tests I’ve taken myself). I was fortunate to be raised in an environment that allowed me to develop coping mechanisms and become very high-functioning, and I’ve since learned that there is a high correlation between AD/HD symptoms and entrepreneurial traits.
So, where was I?
Oh yeah… I was talking about maintaining focus when writing and doing other production work. I find that my brain is constantly throwing completely irrelevant ideas into my conscious awareness.
As a coping mechanism, as a student back in high school and college, I frequently used to study to music, and found that it usually helped my concentration.As an adult, I started slipping into the habit of media multi-tasking — trying to watch TV, IM/Twitter and read/write at the same time. NOT effective!
So as an experiment, I’ve reverted back to my school-age practice of using music to try to help me focus. The difference is that now I’ve approached it more scientifically, testing and comparing my ability to maintain sustained, focus effort with different kinds of music. Now, I’m not claiming that I’ve been rigorous — I won’t be publishing this in any medical journals — but I’ve definitely found what does and what doesn’t work for me.
Here’s what doesn’t seem to work for me:
- Lyrics – If there are vocals, it seems to activate the language center of my brain and distracts from writing or reading effectively.
- Too mellow – If it’s too relaxed, it puts me to sleep.
- Too simple – Apparently my subconscious mind requires a certain degree of complexity to keep its attention on the music. Ambient music allows my mind to wander still.
- Too complex – Polyrhythms, complex chord changes, etc., become an intellectual exercise of their own.
- Multiple instruments – Another form of complexity, multiple instruments demand more conscious attention. A simple rhythmic accompaniment is usually OK, but large ensembles don’t seem to work well.
- Too familiar – If the songs I hear are too familiar, my mind wanders to memories associated with the songs.
So that was my challenge: to find music that is energetic, moderately complex, performed on a single instrument (or small ensemble) and not overly familiar.
Enter the marvelous world of social music. Sites like Pandora and Last.fm allow you to create “stations” that play music of a particular style. You can “seed” the stations with particular artists or songs, then vote “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on the songs as they’re played. Over time, you can create stations that are tightly formatted to the specific musical characteristics you’re looking for, but provide you new and unfamiliar music so you get plenty of variety.
I’ve been working on this for months, experimenting with the various musical formats. I’ve created/found a few stations at Pandora that perfectly suit my requirements for “music to work by”. I invite you to have a listen and see what you think. And if you don’t like them, you can modify them or create new ones for your own tastes:
- Modern Fingerstyle Guitar
- Flamenco Guitar
- Contemporary Solo Piano
- Impressionist / Modernist Solo Piano
How about you? What music helps you get things done?