Listen To One Song On Repeat For Better Focus

I’ve been trying methods of improving focus with music at work. I’m in an open plan office, which is the modern layout compared to the cubicle farms of the previous generation. With the removal of partitions we need a new way to enhance focus and avoid distractions in and around the office, so most workers opt for a big monitor on their desk and a good pair of headphones, preferably noise cancelling.

Listening to music for me has always been distracting, I’ll spend time compiling playlists ready for my work day and find the time drift away. I’ve tried classical music and movie soundtracks but the continuous new input is just distracting no matter the style of music. I had a go with those natural sound generators where you can configure some woodland environment in the rain with a train chugging along and all that but it hasn’t become a habit for me.

I listened to Matt Mullenweg on Tim Ferriss’ podcast and they shared a conversation about the power of repetition, with Tim watching Shawn Of The Dead on repeat whilst writing, while Matt listened to a single piece of music on repeat to improve focus. So I gave it a go and found some success but nothing really settled for me until…

…I put Juicy by Notorious B.I.G on repeat. Now it might not work for everyone but the rhythm of the song syncs with me, the beat is simple, and the bassline feels good. The song itself is great for working too, the message of hustling is obviously relevant when you are trying to focus on your tasks.

Experiment with music you listen to and see what you can tolerate on repeat first, then narrow your focus to a specific artist, and finally a song. It might not be the most obvious genre of music so be open to what you might end up listening to, at the end of the day it is for your focus and you alone as you will likely be listening on headphones anyway. I tried Pitch Perfect movie soundtracks, Bieber, and Heavy Metal, before settling on Juicy.

Making Lunch Your Last Priority

I’ve just started experimenting with taking my lunch at the end of my day and I think it is a win-win situation for both myself and my employer. I started by looking at what I do with my lunch break and how it impacts my day both personally and professionally. Some aspects I only realised after conducting this experiment, and others I hypothesised and have been pleased with the results.

So to start with I was taking a leaf out of The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, and seeing how I could cut down the number of hours I am at work for. I’ve never been very good at lunch, I don’t know what to eat and I think it is generally the most difficult meal of the day. You’re away from a kitchen for the most part and it is not very easy to prepare and cook a healthy meal with the office microwave. So I figured, why do I need to take my lunch break at all, I could just go home an hour earlier. To be discussed with my boss…

For now I decided to assess what I do with my one hour lunch break and if I am honest I just kind of fill it with whatever distracts me from work. Nothing really of value, just playing fifa with my colleagues, or table tennis, or darts – yes my workplace is that kind of office, and I think it is healthy. Healthy in general but I know it isn’t for me. Food is the other big one, I either eat something unhealthy or relatively healthy and boring. It’s not even that I am hungry, I pretty much graze on crap snacks throughout the day anyway and then I pile on this rubbish meal at a pre-defined time whether I am hungry or not.

So starting Monday I did an experiment where I don’t take lunch, I work straight through and at the end of the day I would go home an hour early. The only difference in the end was that I didn’t go home, I just took my lunch hour at the end of the day at my desk and I spent it catching up on reading articles and watching videos that I had in my backlog, all things I should do during my lunch break. Part of the reason I didn’t just go home and do these things is that I didn’t want to draw attention to what I am doing. It might not turn out to be productive for the business or healthy for me personally.

Well I am 2 days in and this may be me getting overexcited but I think I have had my best 2 work days, and home evenings, in as long as I can remember. I like not having this void in the middle of the day that I fill with worthless “personal time” and it means I don’t lose focus on the work at hand. When everyone goes for lunch I have a full hour to myself where I can catch up on work without distractions. Our office is open plan and my role is one which means I am constantly communicating with people I am working with so I don’t feel like a hermit. Focus has simply been the defining factor with working 7.5 hours straight.

I suppose it helps that some of the jobs I have done in the past were physically hard and lunchtime was a welcome break from hauling logs, branches, and trunk rings around or running everywhere with loads on my back. I’m in technology now and the heaviest thing I have to  carry is a laptop – or maybe a mug of tea if I choose the pint sized mug. So needing a break isn’t really on the cards for me I feel, maybe my brain is working but I don’t feel I need a break to regather my strength.

Most of the conversations I have happen at the start of the day, the urgent and important information I am given and decisions I am asked for usually hit me first thing, which is good because it allows myself and others to get answers and get on with things. By the time late afternoon rolls around, my mental energy has been depleted meaning it is the perfect time to shut off. I probably used to slow down a lot and not really delivering a massive amount of value compared to when I was fresh at the beginning of the day. Changing focus an hour before the end of my day reignites my energy levels and allows me to start my evening earlier, whilst still being around should any last minute questions come my way.

All round I think this has been a beneficial change for me and my employer and I intend to continue with this approach unless a glaring issue comes to light that negatively impacts the business operations as a result of my modified work day. I appreciate not everyone will be able to adapt like this easily, I know I saw Tim Ferriss’ approach to shortening his work day as out of reach. The key is getting creative with the constraints you are working within, and who knows you might find your idea delivers greater value to your employer and your own mental wellbeing.