Monday, September 23, 2013

Music for a Productive Monday

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!

23 comments:

  1. I am listening to classical music as I read this and while I do not know much about it, it is one of my greatest loves in life. When I lived in Southern California and would drive in horrendous traffic to school it always kept me calm and one of the first CD's I owned was the score to Immortal Beloved which to this day is sitting next to the kitchen CD player.

    Right now though my favorite is Gymnopedie no 9 by Erik Satie, so wonderfully calm and romantic.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have to listen to instrumentals when I work. Any words involved, and I'm distracted or singing along to the lyrics :p

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have to have some sort of ambient noise in the background when I work. To me, absolute silence is super distracting! x

    ReplyDelete
  4. I just get distracted by my own tangental thoughts if there's no noise around!

    ReplyDelete
  5. why thank you! I read somewhere that 60 bmp is the perfect tempo for productivity, but I don't really know what that means...

    ReplyDelete
  6. haha me too! one of the articles I read suggested listening to foreign radio stations (news or talk, not music) because you can't understand what they're saying so it just washes over you. might give that a try!

    ReplyDelete
  7. all you need to know is that you love it! and Immortal Beloved is a wonderful movie with a gorgeous score - that's what made me fall in love with Beethoven's 7th, which I'm listening to now :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oy my first comment didn't go through, but I was trying to share a modern classic album that A put out a few years ago. I like to work to it as I'm in your boat of needing sound but nothing too distracting: http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Shadow+Relics/6761666


    Also, Bin-aural Beats are awesome too, if you haven't tried them yet. Sort of like intense white noise.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Love this. I have a hard time working to classical music because I'm trained to really listen to it...it's rarely background music for me! What a great playlist.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I am in desperate need of this. Sometimes I feel weird wearing headphones at work, BUT they just put a conference table for meetings right outside my cube...so headphones it is. Thanks Betsy!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Jess Gerrow / The Stroke BlogSeptember 24, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    Thank you thank you! I don't know anything about classical music, but I find it very helpful in ramping up my productivity (and taking down my stress levels). Strangely enough, it's hard to find good sources of tried-and-tested classical music though (what do you Google to find that?) So, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Can you believe I have never actually seen the movie, my mother thought it would be inappropriate for me to see at the time, which seeing as I was 9 seems right, and so I just listened to the music but now I think it is time I did go ahead and watch it!

    ReplyDelete
  13. that's your boyfriend!? amazing. I love Undertow :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. haha I bet! it's why I can't listen to sacred music - I'm always like, "um, they could have used a little less sporano here." haha!

    ReplyDelete
  15. it totally works! so... pro tip: most classical radio stations only play the Top 40 of Classical music. give it a week and you'll have heard all the great standards. and most of them stream online so you can listen anywhere! I def recommend WETA - link above :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. It is! Ultravoilent is my personal favorite as well as Undertow. Nice of you to take a listen :) Glad you enjoyed!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I used to use headphones and white noise - even classical music distracts me if I need to really study.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I´ve read your blog post this morning and wasn´t too excited about a playlist of
    classical music.12 hours later I´m sitting at my desk, studying for my first exam this semester and
    automatically went back to your playlist...and I must admit. I´m really enjoyingit!
    Thanks forkeeping me motivated during my late night study sessions :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ooh, I love your playlist! I've started playing more classical music during dinner prep, as it's a nice way to relax and have pleasant sounds in the background as I move around the kitchen. I get distracted having too many sounds when I'm doing academic work, so I have keep the volume suuuuper low, and even then I sometimes need complete silence. Sometimes, though, I find a great rhythm and can rock out with my headphones on. :)

    ReplyDelete

I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.