How do I focus without music?
June 23, 2011 5:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I concentrate without music playing? I usually listen to music when I work, but lately I can't do that. Are there any other ways to stay focused? My job requires me to be online, so staying offline isn't an option.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why can't you listen to music?
posted by sweetkid at 6:02 PM on June 23, 2011

Response by poster: Need to answer phones.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:05 PM on June 23, 2011

Earbuds in one ear only?
posted by shiny blue object at 6:10 PM on June 23, 2011

I like how the iphone handles this. I'm sure most people know this, but when you receive an incoming call the music in your headphones fades, you take the call and then when you hang up the music fades back up. Anyone aware of a similar system for a landline?
posted by smithsmith at 6:13 PM on June 23, 2011

I also can't concentrate without music - I think the main problem is that if a task is too simple, my attention tends to wander unless I can occupy my mind with something else at the same time.

If you need to answer phones, why not try doing something with your free hand(s)? Maybe doodle on scrap paper, (Zen Doodling, Math doodles, Stippling, or anything you feel like), fiddle with some kind of stress ball or twisty puzzle, build card castles, practice your signature, whatever works. You're looking for something engaging enough to keep yourself focused but not so engrossing that it distracts you from your job.
posted by segfault at 6:27 PM on June 23, 2011

Response by poster: Segfault, most of my job is Internetting, but i need my ears free to answer phones.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:41 PM on June 23, 2011

Could you try one of those white noise mp3's? I use them at work alot and even at low volume they can put me in the zone. (I'm thinking you could hear the phone ring if you had the volume low.)
posted by theNeutral at 6:44 PM on June 23, 2011

Listening to music probably works because you have conditioned yourself to work when music is playing. Music functions as a cue that it is working time. You need to replace that cue. Try physical cues - e.g. when you are sitting at that particular computer, you are working. That means taking your breaks away from the computer, and if you absolutely need to do non-work surfing at work, bring in a laptop or smartphone or something so you can do it away from your desk.

Alternative possibilities are scent - burn a candle or something whenever you are working; or clothes - put on your "working hat" when you work, or slip off your shoes, or something. Or do a little ritual whenever you sit down to work, and whenever you leave the desk. Organise your pencils, or wipe down your desk, or close your eyes and count to ten.

All this sounds kind of dumb, but believe me, conditioning is very powerful!

The more of these cues you can combine, the better.
posted by lollusc at 6:46 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I listen to music on my computer at work and hit mute when I talk on the phone.
posted by The World Famous at 6:53 PM on June 23, 2011

When my headset runs out of batteries at work and I can't listen to music while I'm working, I mutter quietly to myself like a crazy person. It keeps me focused. If someone listens carefully, I'll tell them all about what it is that I'm working on.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:09 PM on June 23, 2011

Oh, another possibility for replacing the music cue is using taste cues: chewing gum, or sipping a particular type of tea, or something like that. Tea is good because you can smell it as well as taste it.
posted by lollusc at 7:49 PM on June 23, 2011

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