I’m sure you’ve heard of “The Zone”. Everyone’s experienced it at one point or another.
“The Zone” is that mysterious state where what you’re doing flows naturally and almost effortlessly. If you’re writing a blog post, the right words just to come to you. If you’re working on a piece of artwork, everything falls into place without that internal editor vetoing your every move. In the magical realm of The Zone all task flows smoothly. You’re working hard…you’re fully focused on what you’re doing without the internal friction. Without suddenly wanting to pop onto Facebook, or wanting to check your phone, or suddenly deciding that the kitchen needs to be cleaned instead. And when you finally pop out of The Zone you realize that you’ve been working for two or three straight hours and you’ve made a massive amount of process.
Where’s The Zone when you need it?
Alas…The Zone isn’t always around when you need it. Often when I sit down to do work that requires focused concentration (this usually involves writing or planning), my little monkey brain suddenly wants to see what’s happening on Twitter…or wants to check my email…or check the latest stats on the newsletter I just sent, like 30 minutes ago. Or I suddenly remember that project that I didn’t feel ready to tackle yesterday and decide that NOW I’m into it and want to do that instead. But not before I finally reorganize my Evernote system because I’ll work a lot more efficiently once I’ve chosen the perfect folders and tags…
And yes, I do find a quiet place to work…that just causes the little monkey in my brain to chatter louder. I turn off distractions like email, my phone, and the TV…and the little monkey suddenly wants them back NOW, because it’s too stinkin’ quiet around here. Turning on a podcast makes me concentrate more on Ira Glass instead instead of what I’m doing. Listening to music sometimes helps, but then I start dancing in my seat…or…heaven forbid…singing. And if all else fails, the little monkey reminds my brain that I only had 7 hours of sleep last night and wouldn’t it be a great time to take a nap?
Is any of this familiar to you? If so, you know what a struggle it can be to get into the magical world of The Zone and get work done. So how do you tame the chatter in your brain and get to work? Earlier this year I’ve found something that’s works wonderfully well for me. It’s a concentration app and service that uses music to help you focus called Focus@Will.
A music app…really? Yes, really
Okay…so how is Focus@Will any different then just turning on Pandora or firing up your favorite playlist? The difference is the brain science behind the app. Focus@Will plays music at a particular pace and sequence to match how your brain gets into various states of concentration. You’re not listening to songs, you’re listening to a variety of musical pieces that helps your brain focus…and unlike a regular playlist, the pieces you’re hearing do not follow the same sequence every time you listen…which really stifles the impulse sing and dance in your chair or call up your best friend to talk about the last time you guys stood up on a bar and sang “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips.
Focus@Will is built to play music that first quiets the brain’s impulse to constantly look for new things so you can focus on what you’re doing…and then it varies the intensity and arrangement to help keep you in that state of concentration. It’s like valium for the monkey brain!
There is a choice of different music channels to match your taste and mood, from acoustical, drums, and ambient to classical (my personal go-to genre) and up tempo. For those folks that like crowds but don’t want actual people to distract them, there’s a channel called Cafe Focus that isn’t music at all, rather it’s background noise that you would hear in a public place like a coffee shop or restaurant. There’s even a channel specifically developed for folks with ADHD. You can also alter the intensity of the music as well. If you’re in an energetic mood, you can set the music intensity to high. Or if you’re feeling relaxed, you can set the music to low intensity to match your current level of calm without putting you to sleep.
Focus@Will has two simple modes. The first mode is a free play session where you simply press the “Play” button and it will run through a 100 minute sequence. According to the research from the app developer, 100 minutes is about the maximum amount of time people can work non-stop before they need a quick break.
The second mode is timed play (the button located to the left of the “Play” button). If you have a specific amount to time you need to work, perhaps you have a 30 minute window to concentrate on something, you can use the app’s timer to set a specific amount of time for the concentration cycle. This is the mode I use most often. The app starts the timed sequence with bell sound. I’ve gotten so used to this sound at the beginning of a work session that as soon as I hear that ding!, my internal chatter almost immediately starts to quiet down.
The app also has a built-in productivity tracker. At the end of each session you can rate your productivity level from 0 to 100%. This can help you fine tune which genres and intensity levels helps you concentrate the best.
But what about the music?
The service has a fairly wide range of musical pieces in its library and they always seem to be adding more. If you’re a heavy user like I am, you will hear some of the same musical pieces again. Personally, I don’t find hearing some of the same things over again on occasion all that distracting and after a while I don’t really notice because I’m more focused on my work instead of what I’m listening to. And yes, there may be some pieces that you won’t like. In that case you can use the forward button (located to the right of the “Play” button) to pass that piece by and the system won’t play it again in your sequence.
Every so often my go-to channel, Classical, doesn’t calm my brain as easily as usual. This is usually is signal that I need to a) change the intensity of the music, or b) switch to one of my other backup channels. Acoustical and Alpha Chill will usually do the trick when my mind monkey isn’t feeling Bach or Rachmaninoff that day. Experimenting with different channels and intensities will help you find the right music to your specific mood for the day.
The fine print
Focus@Will works on Apple and Android devices. There is a 15 day free trial that you can sign up for to test the service, no credit card required. After 15 days you can carry on with the paid service for $11.83 a month. If you pay annually, you’ll get the service at a discount of $8.33 per month. If you subscribe for two years, the price goes down to $6.25 per month. There’s also a lifetime VIP subscription plan that’s a flat fee of $499.
I started off with the free trial and broke down and subscribed to the service a few weeks after it expired because I could barely stand to write without it. And just as an FYI, I got a couple of discount offers after my 15 days were up. So keep an eye out for those deals if you decide to try the service out.
So what do you think? Do you sometimes have trouble quieting your brain to get some work done? What have you tried that works for you? Have you tried Focus@Will? What were your results? Share with us in the comments below.
If you’re having trouble focusing on your work it’s because your brain is constantly looking for stimulation and distractions. The Focus@Will app uses scientifically engineered music to help calm your brain’s impulse to find shiny new things so you can get things done. Check out the free trial to see if it works for you.
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