Wherever I am, when I need pure focus to write well-chosen words, the bubble I create with my headphones on is priority #1.
The Physical Aspect
It starts with the physical aspect of actually putting something over your ears, creating a mini bubble. Ever since I found the right pair of headphones, the ritual of putting them on when behind my laptop, has created a conditioned state of focus.
The fact that you put something over your ears rather than in your ears is something highly personal I guess. Matter of fact is that in-ear headphones annoy quite quickly and it seems I have an inner ear that prefers to spit them out rather than keep them in place.
Probably a psychological reason for it, but being able to define your own surroundings through this simple manner is something that works anywhere. When I work outside my office I usually sit in places that have their own atmosphere with music playing and people chattering about. Even with such surroundings which might already improve work focus (Yes, for me change of scenery usually triggers a different mindset, hence improved productivity… although not guaranteed.) I still tend to bring out the headphones, pick exactly that music that I know will stimulate me and zone off in my own world. Being in control no matter what is going on around you is an asset.
Weapon of Choice
Before I got my current headphones, I did invest in high-end AKG 701's, yet in the end the discomfort when wearing them for a long period of time was bothersome. The fact that they were bulky and had half open shells (quite annoying for the people around me) did not help either…
Since early 2012 I am using Incase Sonic Headphones (Ash/Orange color combo), which I bought for Eur 149,95 back then. Light weight, simple, very easy on the ears (not overheating them) and overall good value for money. The fact that they have volume controls and a mic in the single cord only eases the general use.
And although not foldable, it still travels with me wherever I go.
1 Small change I made was to the cord, as the position of the mic + volume controls was off for me. While in conversation, the mic used to brush against a collar or shoulder, creating a nasty scratching noise for the person on the other line.
The recipe for me is quite simple. 1 Track on repeat. Music becomes mantra and mantra becomes silence. It is a weird experience, but it feels like you are traveling in time, every now and then popping out of it and realising you have done a lot in lesser time than expected. All in a state in which the music has become the golden fleece that shuts out the world around you.
‘Mona Lisa Overdrive’ makes you type faster than you ever expected when the speed kicks in at 2:20
When selecting a track for focus, I tend to pick songs with none or hardly any lyrics. From Daft Punk’s ‘Tron re:configured’ album, the score of The Matrix Reloaded, specifically Disc II (Mona Lisa Overdrive makes you type faster than you ever expected when the speed kicks in at 2:20) or most by fellow Dutch Armin van Buuren. Recently, tracks of AVICII also get a lot of plays.
I have moments that I really need classical music, Smetana’s ‘New World Symphony’ for instance. Soothes the mind and enhances deep thinking.
Listening to hip-hop, soul and neo-soul makes that I come across tracks with pleasant flow, but lyrics that draw my attention and distract me. In those cases I look for the instrumental versions, in which usually the beat and flow are still intact.
Sometimes I am blown away by what the comfort of headphones can generate: In combination with the right music, the right track, it magically constructs a cone of silence out of thin air… while at the same time lifting productivity to unknown levels.
The beauty of it is that it evolves continuously, generating new frontiers and new mental experiences.