I just read an article in the Guardian about listening to music while reading. My dad, a voracious reader, has done this since I can remember. Bach, Brahms, Boccherini, Bocconcini, they all seemed to increase his enjoyment of his current mental fodder. But I could never do it. I tried for a long time, with various styles of music- jazz, classical, industrial screamo- at varying volumes, all to no avail. My mind would immediately focus on the music, and I’d find myself reading the same passage over and over. And I’d find myself reading the same passage over and over. I came to accept this shortcoming long ago, but the Guardian piece got me thinking about concentration and distraction, which led to something else, I don’t remember. Then I took a nap, which led to this blog about Aids To Productivity!
The work involved in the Catch and Release Experiment takes place mostly at the piano and the computer. Some composers (for the sake of this post, I’m a composer. Don’t look at me like that…) are quite finicky when it comes to their professional utensils: 2B, not 2B, quill, Nyquil… Tools at the Hempton piano consist of pencil swiped from the OTB, manuscript paper, and industrial-sized eraser. In the catastrophically chaotic corner of my hovel in which I occasionally find my desk, I employ a temperamental MacBook, and a music notation program called Sibelius. Occasionally I’ll also draw power from a giant, arid Martini. It’s a pretty simple business. But how to stay focussed?
Earlier this year I read a blog post by estimable Australian author John Birmingham. In it he not only earned my further respect by noting that he listens to Charlie Parker while working, but also introduced me to a productivity app called Coffitivity. This thing reproduces the muted hubbub of a bar or cafe, which is apparently an ideal aural aid to concentration. I downloaded it with alacrity (they came as a bundle), and prepared to produce. But instead I found it impossibly distracting. I kept trying to pick out conversations, while imagining what the waitresses looked like. Plus, what’s the point of writing in a cafe, if nobody can see you writing in a cafe? Surely that’s the point? So I ditched the app, along with the horn-rimmed glasses and corduroy jacket, and went back to my familiar cone of silence.
But what happens when the neighbours start fighting? Or your children start rattling their cages, claiming to be hungry again? I turn to Rain, Rain. I’ve got it on the iPhone, and it provides the sound of various types of rainstorm, as well as a range of other ambient hums. It works kind of like white noise, and blocks out most of what’s going on around you. Give me the sound of a clothes dryer through my headphones, and I’m pretending to work like nobody’s business.
Got any tips or tricks for staying focussed/motivated/awake?