Hacking my work habits Part ?: The CD method

Boice is really into working in regular dedicated stretches, punctuated by short breaks (sort of a time reward).

The problem arises, of course, when either you really don’t want to work so you keep wasting time checking the clock, or you get into such a flow experience that you don’t take breaks and end up burning yourself out.

Some people set up timers.  I’m not crazy about that because ticking is annoying and alarms drive me nuts.

Now, the following method doesn’t always work, and Boice would totally not approve… but…

Here’s my CD method.  It’s simple really.

First a disclaimer:  Boice says not to listen to stuff while you’re working.  In like controlled randomized trials or something people think music helps but it actually doesn’t and it actually hurts or something.


Find a cd that’s about the length of time you want to work.  Put the cd in.  Play it and while it is playing you must work and not surf the internet or otherwise occupy yourself with things that are not work.  When it stops, you take a break and do all those things you were avoiding doing because you were working instead.  If you really have to use the restroom or drink some water when you get up then you have to pause the cd while you’re doing it and turn the cd back on when you get back.

Some people find classical music to be easiest to work along with.  For me, I get the best writing in with a capella.  When I’m seriously hardcore about writing I listen to The Kings Singers A New Day.  I just totally associate that cd with writing now.  My partner used The Crow soundtrack in high school, actually one specific track from The Crow soundtrack (“They keep CALLLING me,” he would sing off-key to his headphones), but now he prefers the dissonant sounds of Brassy.  Thank goodness for headphones, is all I can say.

What do you listen to while working?  If you don’t listen to anything, how do you keep yourself focused while you work?

37 Responses to “Hacking my work habits Part ?: The CD method”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    It’s funny because I totally associate Soundgarden superunknown and NIN with chemical engineering homework. IT was hard, so I had to listen to something hard. I remember one day in lab, my cd fell out of my discman (remember those?) and when I bent down to pick it up I rolled my chair over it and it broke. I didn’t know what to do with myself after that. I also listened to the Crow soundtrack a lot.

  2. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    When I am doing serious writing–grants and manuscripts–I work most efficiently if I multitask.

    So I have my word processing/page layout applications open, but also e-mail and Web browser. I write in maybe five minute intervals, interspersed by a couple minutes of dickeing areound with the f***en e-mail and/or Internet, doing tiny little tasks or even just “play” shitte like blogges. Or if nothing on the e-mail/Internet captures my interest, I’ll even pop out of my office into the f***en labbe to see if any of my trainees are available for a brief chat about some scientific ideas.

    It is through long experience trying to write in longer interrupted blockes of tyme that I have come to the conclusion that I am actually more efficient this way. My theory is that I am actually composing sentences and paragraphs and sections of my writing subconsciously in the intervals when I am dickeing around doing other shitte, and then when I return to actual “writing”, I just transcribe the shitte down. Consistent with this theory, my writing first appears on the screen in a form that is surprisingly close to final (at least given how many other people report writing, which is to kind of dump disorganized and even ungrammatical text on the page as a first draft).

  3. Andy Says:

    For some reason, I concentrate best to the sound of the Violent Femmes, particularly their first album. I can’t figure out why — I don’t mind it, but it’s not really the sort of music I listen to when I’m not working. Honestly I’m starting to get a little bored of it, but I can’t find anything else that helps me focus so well.

    I’ll be trying out the albums that everybody else posts in the hope of finding some variety, so keep them coming! :)

    And yes, the first time I heard the Violent Femmes was Color Me Once on the Crow soundtrack …

  4. Everyday Tips Says:

    I love to work to music, and always have. I couldn’t have survived college without my ‘walkman’. Although when I had to read some really boring, difficult stuff, I had to turn it off because my focus would go over to the music instead of the boring stuff I was reading. (For example, I needed complete silence and could have probably used some caffeine capsules to get through reading Tale of Two Cities. I hated that book like none other.)

  5. Jacq Says:

    I can’t listen to anything at all when I’m working. Actually kind of hate noise period. I think the pomodoro app has a timer – 25 minutes work / 5 minutes off. Time management used to be an obsession of mine. Trying not to be too OCD about it all anymore.
    You can set an alarm on your phone no?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I hate the sound of alarms, so I’m always checking the clock when I set one. Even a timer with a ding causes too much checking.

      • Linda Says:

        The alarm sound I choose on my phone is a harp. It’s not as harsh as the usual alarm sounds. I use the alarm on my phone mostly for napping, so I don’t want it to be too…um…alarming. :-)

  6. Linda Says:

    Brian Eno. Specifically, Neroli.

    I have a hard time concentrating effectively when I’m listening to music with lyrics. Ambient music is best for me, and Neroli is perfect. It is just under an hour long, too, which I think is the max one should work without some sort of break.

    I have my guy to thank for turning me on to these Eno tracks. I also listen to Thursday Afternoon nearly every night as I fall asleep.

  7. Clio Bluestocking Says:

    “Chant” would you beleive? I’m not even Catholic or religious or even a believer. Heck, I’m not even really listening. There’s just something about those monks singing quietly in the background that buzzes the writing function in my head in just the necessary way to produce words.

  8. MutantSupermodel Says:

    If I have mindless work to do like database entry it’s all about podcasts. I work through an entire podcast and when it’s done, take a break. I go for ultra nerdy ones like Stuff You Missed in History Class, RadioLab, and This American Life.

  9. Lindy Mint Says:

    Like Jacq, I can’t listen to anything either while I write. I need complete silence for my brain to form words. Math, on the other hand, I can do with any amount of music or television. It’s weird.

    Last night I actually tried something new. I had some cleaning to do so I set the timer on the microwave for 10 minutes and did that until it beeped. Then I set the timer for 60 minutes and went into the office and wrote. The benefit was that I had to get up and go into the other room to turn off the timer. I don’t know if I’ll keep it up, but it seemed to work and I felt less stressed about getting everything done.

  10. Roshawn @ Watson Inc Says:

    I do use a timer but also may have on a CD. I don’t stress out about coordinating my study/work periods with music. I do like to listen to something, as long as I don’t think it interferes with my productivity. Depending on what I am doing, I can sometimes even listen to talk radio (usually not work that I have to concentrate on though, which happens to be most of my work).

  11. undine Says:

    Classical music–quiet. No singing. No stirring symphonies.

    I didn’t know that Boice said that. I keep thinking I’ve read him but then keep coming across things that I don’t remember.

  12. andrea zehnder Says:

    HI! Yes, podcasts are good, but I’m a designer and I do have to “think” when I design on my computer. So for me, I like to get the juices flowing with some hard core electronic remix music, especially if it’s a bit fast paced. Then I really get going.

    But your post helped me. I think I get distracted often, but I love the idea of focusing for at least that one hour (the length of the chosen CD) and this can be helpful, not only at work but at home when I just go from room to room and accomplish only a little in each room.

    I’ll put a CD on and focus on that one room only. When that CD is over, I’ll eat, sit down, watch a little something on the ole tellie, check email, make calls, etc etc…. Great idea!


  13. Rumpus Says:

    I used to listen to music when I was working. It seemed to distract that part of my brain that would get me off track otherwise. So when I was in high school and had to write papers I would listen to the same song on repeat for hours. Then in college and grad school I would listen to a cd on repeat for hours or (in the worst-case grad school experiences) days on end. And then the strangest thing happened: one day I realized that I found the music distracting. I guess I changed in some way, or at least my focus did. Now I can’t work with any sound, for example, my colleagues talking in their own offices down the hallway bother me a lot. Music completely breaks my flow and ruins my concentration. The engineer in me wishes it knew if the change was because I am more able to get in the flow now, or if I am just older and have fewer brain cells to handle distractions.

  14. Karen Says:

    Has to be non-lyric music (or nothing at all.) Best ones: Dances with Wolves soundtrack, other movie soundtracks, and my new favorite is Ratatat (specifically, their classics album, but I want more.)

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