from my balcony seat at National Presbyterian for yesterday's Washington Bach Consort concert
In high school, I discovered that I work best surrounded by ambient noise. I had a really hard time studying in absolute silence because I got too distracted by my own thoughts, but I couldn't have coherent conversations within earshot because I'd get caught up in what those around me were talking about. My best work was completed at coffee shops and cafés, where there was a constant hum of activity around me but nothing distinct enough to break my focus. (Apparently I'm not alone in this and there's research explaining it, by the way.) No matter where I live, I seek out a place with the perfect combination of commotion and calm where I can work. In New York, I lived at the Starbucks on Broadway at 110th St just down the street from Columbia; around the corner from my first apartment in Paris was the Café du Metro, which had horrible service, decent food, and free wifi; I loved the British Library in London and parked myself by the café, accessible to the public and always busy, rather than in the subdued reading rooms as often as possible; and, here in DC, my laptop has worn a groove in the bar at Open City.
Now you can get the indistinguishable buzz of those places from Coffitivity, but, in the days before there was an app for everything, I had a job in an open-plan office and my desk was the first one inside the door. The door was opening and closing constantly - and I sat right next to a wonderful woman whose job necessitated being on the phone 90% of the time. It was pretty hard to focus, so I had to come up with another option. I listened to NPR on my headphones for a while to drown out the activity of the office, but I found I got sucked into the stories - I blame Kojo Nnamdi for any deadlines I missed.
So I thought I'd try getting back to basics. The so-called "Mozart Effect," the hypothesis that listening to baroque music boots mental performance, has been totally overstated in popular culture, but I grew up listening to classical music and always found it both centering and energizing. I knew I couldn't listen to anything with a text, taking most sacred music out of the running, because I'd get distracted by the words, so I started tuning in to WETA, the DC-area classical station, online through my headphones and felt like I'd struck gold.
But radio stations have commercials and not all music is conducive to focusing on the task at hand - as Woody Allen once said, "I can't listen to Wagner; I start getting the urge to conquer Poland." So for you, dear readers, on this autumnal Monday morning, I've put together a playlist of my favorite (earlyish) classical music for a productive workday. Maybe it will help you? Let me know if it does - and tell me if there are any pieces I should add!