Focus Better by Listening to Music

I know this idea isn’t ground breaking, but it’s a technique that I know to work from personal experience. Since I discovered it two years ago, I’ve used music to get through boring work or focus creatively almost everyday. I’ve found that it can make even the dullest jobs enjoyable and help clear mental blocks to creativity.

I first noticed the beneficial effects of music while playing video games. It was a few days after Christmas 2005 and I was playing Halo 2 online. My parents had just given me a new Ipod, so I decided to listen to music through the headphones while I played. After a few minutes I noticed a distinct change in my style of play. I was playing more naturally. Rather than hesitating, I made decisions based on instinct. The music relaxed me, and to a certain extent distracted me from the game, allowing my subconscious talent to come through. The music also helped me block out the outside world. With those headphones on I was like a machine, moving from one task to the next without unnecessary thought or action.

Pascal said that we enjoy music because it causes us to count without our knowing it. I believe this is also what causes music to increase focus and creativity. Even if we aren’t paying close attention, our brain counts each note and change of rhythm. This counting occupies the part of the mind that hinders our creative abilities. Like a soothing lullaby, music puts the worrisome unfocused part of the mind to sleep so the productive side can get to work.

Music can also have a profound effect on mood. If I’m in a bad mood at work I’ll put on some Bob Marley and get down to business. It always takes my mind off what I’m doing and makes me a happier person. The same is true for classic rock. One summer I worked a terrible job manually assembling bottle openers and renovating an old barn. Without a radio playing classic rock in the background I would have hated life. It depends on your particular tastes, but listening to music with soothing rhythms and a positive message helps you forget your work and think happy thoughts.

For focusing on a creative task, I’ve found that listening to music without lyrics is most effective. There are no words to abruptly grab your attention and instrumental music tends to have the most compelling melody and composition. The dashing enthusiasm of Mozart or Beethoven enhances the speed and agility of creative thought.

When I’m writing I always have my Ipod handy. If I have trouble concentrating because of outside distractions or my own scatterbrain, I put on some classical music. This relaxes my mind, blocks outside noise, and helps organize my thoughts. Mozart works very well, and I’ve heard this is because his rhythms resonate with human brain waves. Whether this is true or not, classical music is a great tool for increasing concentration and productivity.

The results you see will depend heavily on your personal tastes. Experiment with the types of music you listen to during certain tasks. Through trial and error you’ll eventually discover your optimal soundtrack. I’m always looking for new concentration aids, so I’d love to know what type of music or other technique works best for you. It might not seem like a big deal, but listening to music can change your state of mind, causing changes in mood and productivity. Using music as a tool is an easy thing anyone can do to make themselves smarter and happier.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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