My 5 Top Tips on How Music and Sound Can Help You to be More Productive

Music, and sound in general, can be one of the most powerful tools to increase your productivity. It can help you to focus, to overcome procrastination and to get into the flow. Here are my 5 top tips and tricks on how I use sound to boost my productivity.

(1) Music to change your mood - Turn around a lost day

We connect deeply on an emotional level with music. Maybe there is a song you have heard, when you had your first kiss, or you have a hit single that represents for you a great summer you had as a teenager. These types of songs transport you directly into a certain state of reminiscence and happiness.

You can use this power to turn a "bad" day around. Every once in a while, and we all have these days, it seems to be impossible to find any energy to get anything done. The motivation is at a low point and we are not even able to start. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and all the other distractions just seem to be more attractive.

Turn your day around by listening to music that makes you happy!

While sometimes relaxing and making a fresh start the next day is a good option (just make sure you really do relax) most of the times it makes sense to turn your day around by simply listening to a couple of your "feel-good" songs. Let them put you into a state of happiness. You will immediately feel how your energy is coming back and how you will get inspired. If your working situation allows it, get up and dance and sing along. Get completely submerged and fully enjoy the moment. This helped me to turn around countless days. Try it and if does not work for you should definitely consider a break.

Tip: Make in iTunes a list of your "feel good" songs so that you have them ready whenever you need them.

(2) Music to keep you going – Just to do a little bit more

Energetic music can help you to increase your energy level. A beat-up music let's you feel more awake, more vigorous. It can help you to get you out of a small low. For example, after heavy lunch or when you did not sleep well the night before. Also the last hours of your working day might need some additional boost to get you through them.

Of course what kind of energetic music you will use, will depend on your taste. Some like heavy metal, others classical music, yet other feel invigorated listening to Skrillex or other types of electronic music. I use House music like Sebastien Benett or Steve Aoki to keep me going. I often use that type of music later in the day when I am already tired. I convince myself to start a last Pomodoro, which is a 25 minutes time slot to focus on one task, switch on my energy songs and I am able to push through.

Tip: If you like a specific DJ/ane, look for his/her podcast. Most of them have one that they update regularly.

Tip: Make a habit of closing your (working) day with just one extra Pomodoro while listening to some great music. If you do that you will work 152 hours more a year, which are 19 eight-hour-days. Imaging what you could do achieve with that extra amount of time.

(3) Music to focus – Keeping you in the flow

Sometimes it is not the energy that is missing, but rather the focus. The task at hand could be complicated and you need to be very concentrated to get it done. In the context of academia this could be writing a paper or a proposal, planning, or brainstorming about project ideas. Music can help you a lot to focus and to get into "the flow". Moreover, it can help you to stay in this state longer. This is especially needed, if you have a distracting environment that you can't control, for example, if you share your work space with a lot of other people.
The important part here is that the music gets rid of the environmental noise and distractions, but does not distract yourself. Therefore, songs with lyrics are typically not a good choice, nor are catchy songs.

Soma FM – Awesome music for free

For my go-to music I listening Soma FM, which is a set of (currently) 36 free, unique online radio channels. They are listener-supported, commercial-free and broadcasted from San Francisco. According to their homepage all music is hand-picked by award-winning DJs and music directors and you can tell that.

Their approach and music categories are really unique. My most favorite ones are "Groove Salad", "Lush", "Secret Agent" and "DEF CON Radio". Especially, the last one is great for longer writing sessions. Almost all of the songs in there are without lyrics.

You can listen to it for free through the webpage, the corresponding free Mac or the iPhone application for $3.99.

Tip: You can also listen to Soma FM for free through your iOS browser. However, if you like their service, I suggest you support Soma FM by buying their iOS application (as I did) – You get even some additional features.

There are some other ways to support Soma FM as well. If you listen to them on a regular basis, please consider to support them to keep them on air.

(4) No music at all – The power of noise

There exists some really interesting research (see Journal of Consumer Research) that demonstrates that noise can be helpful to get your creative juices flowing. It shows that not only a lot of noise, but also complete silence can be bad, as it gets the brain into a state of alarm, since this is not normal either. There seems to be a sweet spot, where the brain does not get distracted nor alarmed. That's why coffee shops with a constant murmur in the background seem to be a great place to getting things done. However, there are also ways to get the same ambient in a more controlled fashion at home, at your office, or when you are traveling.

Coffitivity – Your own coffee shop in your pocket

There is a wonderful tool called Coffitivity. I use it almost every day. They provide you with a variety of different, real-world background murmurs. You can hear people talking, but it is unintelligible. They called them, for example, "Morning Murmur" or "Lunchtime Lounge".

You can go to their webpage and use the service for free. If you choose one of the scenarios it will loop through the recording in a smooth way so that you don't notice when they start over again. I use it all the time for brainstorming and writing sessions. There is also a free iOS version available.

Defonic and Hipstersound


Two other options similar to Coffitivity are Defonic and Hipstersound. Both allow you to mix different sounds like rain, wind, and many others - of course there is also an option for your coffee shop sound. Make sure you check out the menu on the left side of Hipstersound and that you scroll down in Defonic to see all your option. Play around and find your favorite mix. Defonic offers also a naumber of so-called "videoscapes", which are videos of beautfiul landscapes and their sounds.

Tip: Choose a videoscape, put Safari in full screen mode, stream via AppleTV to your televison and enjoy.

If you want to see more so-called ambient noise generators you should checkout my blog post Ambient Noise Generators.

Snapshot of a videoscape from  Defonic .

Snapshot of a videoscape from Defonic.

Focus at will

There exist also a commercial product called Focus at Will. They offer various sound channels. I have heard a lot of good things about it. I have tried it out, but it didn't work for me. However, the idea is very intriguing. If you are interested you can use their free 15 day trial offer and see if it works for you.

(5) Music to relax – Recharging your batteries

Part of being productive is also about being able to relax between your work sessions. Music can help you with that as well. There are thousands of videos on YouTube with all kinds of relaxing sounds ranging from whale singing to the soothing sound of a creek.

On your iOS devices you can listen to YouTube with a switched off screen:
1. Play the YouTube video in your Safari web browser
2. Switch off the screen (button on top)
3. Press home button
4. Press the play button on lock screen
5. Switch off the screen again

If your headphones are plugged in you can press directly the play button on your remote instead of going to the lock screen. This saves battery and, anyway, most of these relaxing sound videos on YouTube have just a fixed picture instead of a video anyway.

Sometimes I need to relax completely, meaning that I have to take a nap (e.g. after lunch). For that I use a great iOS application called Sleep Cycle Power Nap. It comes with a range of sounds you are able to choose from to ease you into sleep. It also uses the built-in accelerometer to measure the depth of your relaxation. This enables the application to wake you up before you fall into a too deep sleep and prevents you therefore from feeling groggy when you get up from your siesta.

Your turn

  • Checkout my blog post on Ambient Noise Generators.
  • Share with us your tricks to focus with music!
  • What are great music podcasts or radio channels?
  • What are your secret sound applications?

Work smart, be remarkable, and have a great day!