Can Neuro-Music Boost Your Productivity?


neuro-musicWork environments today are noisy and distracting. As Maria Konnikova writes in a recent New Yorker article, open office plans are a big culprit. One study describes the effects of open environments as “damaging to the workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction.” One effect of open environments is that now many office workers sport headphones and use music to reduce distraction levels.

Music isn’t necessarily a panacea for increasing productivity; it can be a distraction itself. Konnikova cites a study by psychologist Nick Pelham that showed music impaired the mental acuity of his subjects. But one company, focus@will, claims to have the solution. They produce music tracks they say have been optimized for allowing the listener to focus and concentrate.

Specifically, the firm says their music is paced to get the listener into “concentration flow” and then prevent habituation by introducing timed variations. Their website states,

We’ve learned that people working or studying tend to take about 20 minutes to acclimate to their environment enough to really focus on the task at hand. It takes time for your brain to get used to a stimulus and start “tuning it out” in a process called “habituation”.

Each piece of music phase sequenced by focus@will has a specific role in influencing how your brain habituates, enhancing your focus and reducing distractions. Characteristics such as musical key, intensity, arrangement, speed, emotional values, recording style, and much more determine what is played where and when.

This illustration, they say, shows how their music changes to prevent habituation and maintain focus.
focus@will chart

focus@will includes a “Science Primer” that explains the research their music is based on and includes 30+ citations. Here’s one short excerpt:

Listening to music with soothing aspects, that plays at 60 beats per minute, can decrease neural activity, and lead to a relaxed, but awake state called alpha state[11] that is defined by an increase in alpha brain waves and a decrease in higher activity beta waves. Increases in alpha waves have been tied to a psychological state of decreased self-awareness, timelessness, and motivation known as “flow”. Songwriters, musicians, writers, athletes, and meditators are all people who separately describe the same experience when flow state is reached.[15]

I listened to some of the tracks, and I was able to do some writing work with reasonable concentration. I’d be hard pressed to say the focus@will music was responsible, or that it performed better than other music I could have used for the same purpose.

I’m partial to Pandora’s playlist generation algorithm, where if you seed a station with one or more songs or artists, they will do a very decent job of finding other music with similar characteristics. Of course, the song durations aren’t optimized, and occasionally an annoying track can appear (e.g., a live performance that is musically appropriate but includes the artist talking to the audience). focus@will is sort of neuro-Pandora with limited variety and preset channels.

Do you have a preferred way to screen out noise and enhance concentration? Does a particular kind of music work well for you? Leave a comment with your thoughts. And, if you try focus@will (you can test it out for free), let us know what you think.

  1. Jane says

    I’ve been using an (sadly iPhone only) app called Study for this purpose. It was developed by Sound Education and is aimed at helping children with homework. Julian Treasure is behind the research and implementation for this one (he has done a few TED talks on this topic). I will give focus@will a go at some point too

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Thanks for that suggestion, Jane. I’d love to see some real test data on these optimized music channels. Self-reporting just isn’t reliable, and the effects are bound to be fairly subtle vs. non-optimized but appropriate music. Maybe test a hundred subjects on a problem-solving quiz and see which group gets more problems completed correctly…

  2. John T says

    Music definitely has some positive effects on the brain, I would love to see some more studies involving music.

  3. C Williams says

    I’m a writer and I think I have experienced this “flow.” I can’t work at all with music playing. I’d be interested to hear what this neuro music sounds like, though.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Well, they have a free trial, so check ’em out. I don’t mind music when I’m writing, as long as it doesn’t somehow grab my attention with lyrics, discordant sounds, etc.

  4. Daryl Weber says

    I’ve used a Pandora station I’ve created for this that has mellow classical music, mostly solo piano, with no vocals. I’m a musician, and can be easily distracted by music, but find that this type of music can work to keep me concentrating. Very curious to try focus@will though.

  5. Brian says

    Harnessing flow is a daily pursuit and music for me is a constant catalyst I use to tap into it. To have even greater control over the frequencies and duration, I often use an app called Brainwave.

  6. ????? ?????? says

    ’ve created for this that has mellow classical music, mostly solo piano, with no vocals. I’m a musician, and can be easily distracted by music, but find that this type of music can work to keep me concentrating. Very

  7. Femi says

    I have seen portals that allows people to download and listen to Binaural audios produced based on bass stings that by listening to them, they perform certain function in that allows the brain and body to relax. This site also produce music tracks that have been optimized for allowing the listener to focus and concentrate. These tracks also boosts brain performance. They are free to download here. enjoy and give us feed back.

  8. Grace Lazzara says

    Isn’t this the same strategy that Muzak used/uses? They design music selections to motivate browsing, increase productivity, etc.

  9. Brian says

    As a musician & audio engineer I find it almost impossible to be productive when there is music playing. As mentioned, there’s a few baroque & romantic era piano sonatas I can have in the background without being distracted by it, but, by and large when music is on I just want to focus on it and analyze the melodies & rhythms & chord structures & arrangements & the engineering and the sound and everything about that uses WAY too much brain space to be able to perform other tasks to any sort of noteworthy (pun totally intended) degree.

  10. Jenny Stradling says

    Everyone has their own preference for what comes out of their headphones at the office. I personally prefer music I know and like so I can “tune out” (no pun intended!) and not get distracted by the words/music. I think it’s distracting to have new music or anything you have to really engage with playing if it’s intended to be background noise. If someone has Netflix or a stand up comedic playing at work I find that to be distracting in itself. I bang possibly see how you can focus on the outcome of a joke AND the outcome of your work at the same time. Listening to music play in the background from a track you’ve heard a thousand times? Totally fine, it’s just “background noise” and you can still focus on your work. Some may argue, but think about it.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.