I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who just can not concentrate on work unless I have some form of background music blocking out the outside world.
Last summer, The Guardian published a thought-provoking piece on the science behind all this, but even after reading it, the only thing I know for certain is that playing music helps me to get in the creative zone that I need to be in to do my best work.
It’s not just about blocking out any noises, either.
Sure, it’s helpful that music drowns out the sound of the telephone, or a noisy car rushing by, or my neighbour coming and going, but there’s more to it than that.
Background music doesn’t just filter out the world around me, it creates a brand new one where the only two things that exist are me and the task at hand.
Achieving Flow with the Right Soundtrack
When I’m in that world, I find I can focus on the task at hand so well that I easily enter flow state. Hours casually float by without notice, and by the time I’m done, I’ve usually created work that I’m pretty proud of.
Yet as much as I need music, it has to be said that not just any old music will do.
It has to be the right music.
The Perfect Music for Focusing at Work
As much as I love rock ‘n’ roll, heavy metal, and certain kinds of pop and hip-hop, neither of those genres are particularly conducive to good flow.
If I listen to the kind of music I normally enjoy, I find myself singing along, air drumming, or -on those particularly uplifting songs- jumping out of my seat and thrashing an air guitar around the living room.
Needless to say, that’s the exact opposite of what I’m going for.
No, what I need is something that is at once calm and yet with a invigorating beat, something where the instruments come together to form a beautiful kailedescope of sound, where the vocals are minimal or -better yet- non-existent.
Where do I find such music?
A constant, close companion since I first signed up back in 2010, the popular on-demand music service has gotten me through good times and bad, but it’s when it comes to focusing at work that Spotify really comes into its own.
I’ve found countless playlists over the years that have helped me to focus and enter the flow state, but of all those, these are my absolute top five favourites.
1: Electronic Concentration
It just so happened that when I first sat down to write this post, this was the playlist I was listening to.
By the time I’d finished writing that introduction up there and reached this point right here, I was lost in the soothing, meditative beauty of For Marmish by Floating Points before moving onto Dissident – Edit by Glok, a track whose repetitive nature is typical of this entire playlist whilst at the same time being wholly and uniquely different from anything else on there.
But here’s the thing, I only know the names of those two tracks because I had to stop and look them up.
The beauty of Electronic Concentration is that everything flows freely into everything else, lulling you into an almost trance-like state where effortless productivity reigns supreme.
As the name implies, chill.out.brain is full of calmer, gentler, ambient electronic tracks.
Though that may mean missing out on some of the more energising beats of Electronic Concentration, I do find something entirely uplifting and inspiring about tracks like One Step Forward by Direct, and Tycho‘s truly mesmerising guitar piece, Field.
The perfect playlist for creative tasks, chill.out.brain creates a soft, dream-like atmosphere that often leads to ideas and imagination spilling out in abundance.
3: Epic Gaming Soundtracks
I discovered this 7+ hour playlist of gaming soundtracks just a few weeks ago, and almost instantly fell in love with it.
I’ve been been much of a serious gamer, so I honestly couldn’t tell you which titles most of these tracks are from.
What I can -and will- tell you, is that each one is dramatic, captivating and stunning in its own right, all whilst remaining subtle enough to do just what background music is supposed to do:
Block out everything else without distracting from the task at hand.
Personally, I love German-Iranian composer Ramin Djawadi‘s haunting rendition of The Rolling Stones classic Paint it Black, but honestly, every piece of music on this playlist is just wonderful in its own right.
Need a certain sense of power with your background music? This is the one for you.
4: Music for Concentration
The very first Spotify playlist I found for helping me to enter flow states at work, Music for Concentration instantly sold me thanks to its description, which is this:
Declutter your mind and let the creativity flow with this mix of minimalism, electronic, and modern classical recordings.
To use an old cliche, the playlist does exactly what it says on the tin.
Most of the tracks are gentle, paino-based affairs that stream easily into one another to create the kind of mellow, relaxed ambiance that is perfect for unblocking any anxiety about looming deadlines and freeing your mind up to get the job done without much fuss.
5: My Work Playlist
Finally, allow me a spot of self-indulgence by featuring a playlist that I put together myself before I actually discovered that Spotify already had pre-made ones that I could listen to.
Clearly, this was at the time when I was going through my phase of being madly obsessed with Ellie Goulding’s incredible album, Halcyon Days.
After that, there’s two helpings of a 16+ minute soundscape known as Memory by Animal Hospital, with a few choice cuts placed in between.
The highlight though, is the collection of Electronic Battle Weapon tracks from The Chemical Brothers.
Though far more raucous and energetic than the music you’ll find on other playlists, my generic “Work Playlist” does still come in handy, particularly when I’m working on building websites, managing admin tasks, or doing other jobs that are not my usual freelance writing work.