You know those days when you just don't feel like working? When the freedom of being your own boss becomes a constraint because you can't get motivated? Yeah, those ones. We all need our little hacks to push us toward our next goal, to drive our grit and determination.
One that consistently works for me is using music and other sounds to keep me moving. Below you will find specific genres, artists, websites, and much more to help you fly through all your Pomodoro sessions and any other type of work you need to get through.
Instrumental movie scores
There is something quite epic about writing a blog post with the sounds of the Dark Side fueling your every keystroke. Or working on Photoshop with the music of Inception helping you shape new worlds. Recently, the Star Wars movie score compilation has been my default work soundscape when starting a new Pomodoro. Helping me get through even the most mundane tasks in a breeze.
Instrumental versions of your favourite jams
You know that earworm that you can't get out of your head? The song that makes you yell out, "this is my jam." Well, you can use this song, and others like it, to help you be more productive. All it takes is a quick search on YouTube for the instrumental version of the song. Something like "(insert name of the song here) instrumental" into the search box should do. From there, you have two options depending on how much attention a task requires.
The first approach is for Pomodoro sessions that require one of your highest levels of concentration. Here you will want to pick one instrumental version of a song and loop it for 25 minutes. The familiarity of the song hits just enough of your pleasure centres to make the experience enjoyable but the repetitiveness allows your brain to also drown out the song into the background and allow your great ideas to rise to the top.
I highly suggest you use YouTube to listen to your instrumental music, because of how easy it is to find these sorts of tracks on the service. YouTube also has a great built-in loop option on its web player. Getting to it is a bit hidden, but a simple right-click on the video window will bring up the option, click loop and blaze through your Pomodoro with increased concentration.
The second option is for tasks that require a lower attention span. For these, it's best to generate a Pomodoro optimized 25-minute long playlist of the instrumental versions of your favourite songs. The switch from one song to another might be a little too distracting for higher concentration tasks, so that is why it's put here as a second option. I use this approach when clearing out my spam inbox or when doing my weekly review of my GTD system.
Foreign language music
The whole purpose of listening to instrumental only music is to not let your brain be distracted by words. But what about when your brain can't understand the words? Well, that is where foreign language music comes in. One of my go-to "Pomodoro" artists is Sango. He creates up-tempo music that primarily features samples of Brazilian vocals on top of electronic beats. The blend is amazing and I have come to think of this artist as auditory caffeine. To find your own Sango I recommend browsing through Spotify's Viral 50, broken down by country. Who knows, maybe your favourite "Pomodoro" artist might be waiting for you in Norway.
I reserve this type of music solely for the most mundane Pomodoro sessions, ones that don't require the highest amounts of attention at all. If I'm clearing my spam inbox or checking @ mentions on Twitter I'm usually rocking out to a DJ set. Below is one of the goto sets that I come back to almost every week. If you want a feed of new DJ sets coming your way I recommend that you subscribe to Mixmag's and or Boiler Room's YouTube channels. Note that some of these will have lyrics, so that is why they are reserved for the Pomodoro sessions that require the least amount of attention.
This is usually what people think of when they think of 'work' music. For me, classical works best when I'm trying to consume new information and not so much for generating new content. For instance, Pomodoro sessions spent catching up on a trade magazine or personal development readings.
Good old fashion silence
No matter how distraction-free the music maybe, when there is any sound going on at least some of your brainpower will be spent processing that sound. So next time you find yourself with a mission-critical Pomodoro session coming up, it's probably best to turn down the music and get to work.
I reserve my 25-minute silent Pomodoro sessions for brainstorming and editing final drafts. If you find yourself in a noisy environment and want to get a silent Pomodoro in without having to run for a Buddhist monastery. I recommend listening to white noise. This combination will put you in a zen-like state while working, no matter how noisy the local coffee shop might get.
After completing silent Pomodoro sessions it is best to celebrate during your five-minute break with one of your favourite jams to reenergize you. Especially for putting up with nasty silence. You deserve it!
Pretty much the opposite problem of silence. Sometimes your brain just needs some background noise to help it work at it's best capacity. Especially for freelancers that often work from home. There are countless apps that will generate anything from coffee shop ambiance to actual airplane noise. Some of my favourite apps are;
Experimental options: try at your own risk
It's very important to note that that the actual effects of binaural beats are debated, so your mileage may vary. Think of it more like a wildcard in your roster of soundscapes, especially good for those extra hard or mundane Pomodoro sessions. As a liberal arts major, I swear binaural beats are the only way I got through my required math courses. To get the most out of binaural beats, it's best to listen through headphones.
Single song loop
If you ever feel like messing with your brain, you can always try to listen to one song during all four Pomodoro sessions. People that have tried this approach report being put into a zen-like trance and eventually even forget that they are listening to music.
Hopefully, you've learned how to leverage music to be more productive at your day job. You know, the thing that allows for your ever-growing vinyl collection and yearly Coachella tickets... If this article has earned your recommendation, please pass this along to three other music-loving freelancers who could benefit from some new sounds to take their productivity to the next level.
Written in 10 Pomodoro sessions from Redding, California.