We listen to music for lots of reasons, from relaxing to getting energized. But can it also be a productivity tool? Focus@will, a new online music service, says it can.
The service creates playlists that the company claims will soothe your limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotion. With these playlists, Focus@will says it can help you extend your concentration from stretches of 20 to 30 minutes to 100 minutes.
In testing, we found that it very well might, or maybe there's just a placebo effect. Either way, once we found the right channel, it certainly doesn't get in the way of getting things done.
The free service, currently in open beta testing (anyone can try it), is as simple as turning on the radio. After you create an account, you choose from eight styles of music: classical, focus spa, up tempo, alpha chill, acoustical, jazz, cinematic and ambient. Push play and go to work. You'll hear a series of instrumental songs, commercial free and without interruption. [See also: Reebok's New Spotify App Tunes Up Your Workout ]
The basic interface is intentionally bare, showing only the song name and artist. You can pause or skip, as well as like a song. The idea is to start the music and forget about it. If you are paying attention to the music, Focus@will isn't working.
On first use, we needed to focus on the music more to get the service to work best. Selecting the right genre takes some experimentation. You don't want to choose music you usually listen to, because that will engage your emotions too much and distract you. So if you like classical music, try the ambient channel. For us, the cinematic and focus spa channels seemed to blend into the background best.
As with Pandora, you can refine the playlists by skipping songs that take your focus away from your work and liking ones that help you. It will learn from your preferences. With a little upfront time, you'll soon find a channel that blends inconspicuously into the background.
You also want to keep the volume down. Focus@will encourages playing it so that, even with headphones on, you can still hear people talking. When the music is too loud, we found that it was more distracting then helpful.
The player could stand further enhancement. For example, Focus@will suggests you take a break every 100 minutes, but the player doesn't show how long you've been listening. Since you have to make adjustments to get the most out of the service, new users would benefit from a tutorial about the player at the beginning.
The company admits that the approach won't work for everyone. It said its research showed the playlists improved concentration for two out of three people.
But those minor quibbles don't take away from a rather unique tool. If you've ever craved background music that won't get in your way, give Focus@will a try.
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