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The Science of Focus

Paloma Medina

Sound can be a powerful tool for getting things done. Here's our guide to headphones, earbuds, and the soundtrack for focus. 

REPETITIVE or PHYSICAL TASKS
Such as cleaning or copy-pasting digital content
Choose: Upbeat music, heavy-bass music, with or without lyrics. To stay on-task, pick music you already know and love (new music may distract you by introducing an element of surprise). 
Psychology: Researchers have found that motivation increases with our favorite music. In one study, factory workers' productivity and happiness increased simply by playing upbeat music while they worked. This applies only to work that does not require prefrontal cortex functions (ie creative or logic problem solving).  In addition, music with heavy bass has been found to increase confidence, so feel free to bump it before a big interview. 

CREATIVE and COMPLEX PROBLEM SOLVING
Such as writing a blog, writing complex code, strategizing a new solution
Choose: Upbeat music without lyrics, or choose white noise. Classical Baroque music fits well into this category, or try lists such as Productive Morning on Spotify.  For expert-designed music, consider video-game music. It's composed specifically to keep you on-task, but not bored. 
Psychology: The right music can improve performance on creative tasks, but there are a few studies that suggest that lyrics suck up brain processing power, even if you think you're not paying attention to them (they put the brain on overdrive and increase cortisol).  Other studies suggest that uptempo classical music (ie Baroque) aligns with our brain waves when we're doing complex problem solving and general intense thinking.  

ONE CAVEAT
If you're an introvert: Consider using white-noise and nature sounds
If you're an extrovert: Consider using upbeat, non-lyrical music
Psychology: Studies have found that introverts perform worse on tests and other complex tasks when they listen to music, even if it's familiar, played at a low volume, and upbeat.  Extroverts do well with low-levels of pleasant sound stimulus, especially the non-lyrical cheery kind.  Want to try something weirder? Listen to "designed ambient noise" such as Coffitivity, which offers soundtracks of public spaces such as coffee shops, without the real-life distractions of crying babies, loud phone talkers, and the typical shop mayhem :)

Apply It: Choosing headphones vs earbuds

Now that you have the right soundtrack, choose the right tool:

Choose Over-the-Ear Headphones For:  Long-term comfort and ear health -- but take note -- choose headphones large enough for your ears.  If the round pad presses any part of your ear, you need bigger headphones. We stock the lovely Sennheiser HD598 headphones, perfect for a range of ear sizes :) 

Choose Earbuds For: Portability and size. While they're great for travel, in-ear headphones and earbuds are best for limited wear, as they block your body's ability to keep the ear canal clean and healthy. Be sure to try on different plastic bud sizes to experiment with the right size for noise cancellation and comfort.  At 11:11, you can find both bluetooth and wired in-ear headphones and earbuds to fit your style. We can help you choose which is right for you. 


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