Practical Productivity Tips: Using Music to Get More Done

In psychology, students learn about something called Classical Conditioning (and the scientist Ivan Pavlov). You can read about it in more detail here (thanks, Wikipedia!) but in short, it’s about associations and the reactions they illicit.

Pavlov would feed dogs right after ringing a bell. Part of the normal reaction of eating is salivating (to help break down the food). It would be like: Bell ring, then get food and begin salivating. He did it enough times that one day he simply rang the bell (no food), and the dogs began to salivate anyway. Their brains had now wired together that a bell meant food, which meant they should salivate.

Knowing this, there’s a really cool productivity hack you can do if you’re trying to be more productive or more disciplined about a task. One of my many tasks of this company is sit down and write code (for our apps). It’s a difficult process because it requires that you really have a strong focus, and it requires a lot of abstract thinking at times. Writing and creating code (like any other creative process) has a lead in time that can’t be disturbed otherwise you start over at zero. Think of it as falling asleep— you gradually fall asleep and then you’re out. If you get disturbed by a loud noise, you more or less reset back to being awake and you have to start all over again.

To help train my brain to go into ‘coding’ mode, I actually have a playlist known as “Coding Playlist” (very creative name, right?). Whenever I need to sit down and really knock out some heavy-lifting code, then I put on headphones, select the playlist and hit play.

I’ve done this enough times that there’s a really strong association with all these songs and sitting down and coding. When my brain hears the music, it goes into that special kind of focus— it knows that I’m going to open Xcode, pull up my project, and start to knock out lines of code. It helps me get more done in shorter amounts of time because it speeds up that 'falling asleep' time.

I use this to my advantage when I need to simply sit down and complete a task (especially one that I might be putting off). I do the easy steps first: I put on my headphones, I get the playlist ready and I hit play. By simply hearing the music, I’ve already set my brain on that track. It’s now that much easier to open up Xcode and get going. It becomes almost automatic in fact.

If you have a type of task (writing, coding, spreadsheet-ing ,clearing your inbox, etc) that you need to get done to be productive every day or week, then consider creating a playlist that you play every time you do it. It begins to create that association after several weeks, and now you can tap into that brain hack to get those things done faster and more effectively.

Plus life is better with a soundtrack, isn’t it?

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