Sweet Music to My Ears

I think all adults these days have ADD. Seriously, think about it. A new gadget?! A new post?! Our attention spans are about as big as a Short Gamma Ray Burst (.2 seconds). I am guilty as charged, but what I like to do is find methods to increase focus in short “bursts” to increase my output. Then I go take a walk. Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal had an article last week about “The Biggest Distraction in the Office is Sitting Next to You”. The article points out (through a 2011 study by the journal Organization Studies), tasks have an average of 12 minutes, 40 seconds. What’s more staggering is the almostĀ 30 minute average time to return to a focused task. They also discovered it takes approximately 15 minutes to return to deep, focused work (like writing this blog post :)). This means most tasks aren’t focused enough and you spend too much time at the office due to distractions, not workload!

Some of you may have experienced this “distraction faction” at your work, where people stop by countless times or you yourself find excuses to get up for “another coffee or water” (I do!). The first part, keeping people away when you want to work, can be difficult. I have tried anything from signs on my desk to pointing in other directions so I don’t see people. The other variable, you, is much more controllable. As the title of this post points out, music is the best way to get in the zone, focus on the work at hand, and be more productive in less time than ever before (so you can get up and get those walks/workouts in!).

Music is one of the best tools to return your brain to a focused state. It improves mood (older WebMD study here) and gives you a burst of energy. I use it daily (using it right now) for any of my tasks. downloadI couple it with the Pomodoro Technique to knock off a task list or specific project. Make sure you pick the right music for the right type of task/time of day. You would be surprised how the time of day can play such a big role (I only listen to Jazz/Classical in the mornings, anything else is too much).

You have to be careful with music too. We are all guilty of spending far too much time looking for songs in our library, exploring Spotify, or clicking through Pandora stations. I always opt for internet radio when I need to get work done to avoid the need to “choose” a song. Some of my favorite stations are below…you can also search for “focused music” on YouTube for longer music sets.

Focus@Will – by far the BEST work music station out there. I have sometimes gotten into zones for a few hours without noticing how much time has passed.

Soma.FM – great stations, excellent music.

JazzRadio – there are a ton of stations here for any mood/style.

Buy a Baroque (or any classical period) CD.

I will leave you with a TED talk I watched last night that blew me away. If you aren’t a fan of classical music, see if this composer can convince you otherwise.

http://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion.html

Actions (10 min – The Rest of Your Life)

1) Find your favorite type of music for your different moods/work cycles.

2) Play those types of music when you need to get work done. Play those types of music when you want to be in a good mood. Play those types of music whenever :).

3) Continue to explore new music genres and have fun!

4) Share your internet stations with me!

Happy Learning,

Nick

Human Investments

Carrying on the theme of time as an investment, you also need to consider your circles of friends, contacts, co-workers, family and connections as an investment. Like all investments, you need to put more money (in this case time and effort) if you want the overall value of the investment to increase (unless of course you hit it big in Vegas).

Networking

Many of us have been taught to “network” and “get connected” in order to build opportunities for future employment, but you lose the joy of having a rich network by using networks as a means for personal gain.
For this post, ask yourself this question: would you grab a beer (or wine) with this person and enjoy his/her company for more than an hour? Now, how do you organize all those people you know?

You will notice a trend of mine here: categories. I love them. They bring order to chaos. So in my typical fashion I broke down my network into categories. I should also mention this exercise is similar to one I performed as part of a homework assignment for IU, so I can’t take ALL the credit :).

  • A – Current Employment
  • B – Past Jobs/Bosses
  • C – College/School
  • D – Close Friends and Family
  • E – Mentors (Work or Life)
  • F – Top 5 People You Would Start a Company With (more on this in a minute)
  • G – Acquaintances

You can narrow this down more, but I like to keep the category number small to save me the trouble of parsing through tons of names and too many categories. F and G are probably the most confusing. F is a list of 5 people you would call if you all of a sudden decided to start a company. These are you closest comrades who share a passion for work like yours. You would never second guess spending hours upon hours in a small office working on the next Facebook with them. G is a “catch all” for those people you meet and don’t want to lose touch with.

Take the time to fill out this list. You will probably realize you can’t fill out all 5 spots for category F…that’s okay. These lists are always growing and changing. Once you have the list of people, add a column for “Last Spoken With”. Now here’s the most important part: set 30 minutes/week, every week, to reach out to one or two people on your list. Fill out the “Last Spoken With” column and spend some quality time on the phone, in person, over drinks, etc. Invest in these people!

Further Reading

There are TONS of articles out there on building networks, reaching out, staying connected and everything else under the sun. I strongly recommend reading The Start Up of You and checking out Google searches for “making genuine connections.”

Life Hacker Article

The Start Up of You

Actions (30 – 45 minutes then 30 – 60 min/week)

1) Pick your categories.

2) Think hard about the people you put on your list. Spend time here.

3) Set time on your calendar (I run my life in Google Calendar) to reach out to at least 2 contacts. Catch up, be interested, help out.

4) Build a strong network and encourage others to do the same!

Happy Learning,

Nick