When it comes to watching a live orchestra, it’s important to know that memories aside, music also influences our mental performance and ability to get things done. According to a recent study on music and attention, live performances are a great way to exercise focused listening and thought monogamy.
The Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a study that suggests the process of listening to music as a way of sharpening our ability to sustain attention. The study showed that in a concert setting, different individuals listen to a piece of music with wandering attention. The silent transition point between movements captures the listeners’ attention, arresting it in the moment.
But what is it about live performances that helps sort out the chaotic world? While there is no one answer, the study identified three major ways watching a live orchestra can help improve overall attention.
1. The Warm-Up
“Music engages the brain, over a period of time, and the process of listening to music could be a way that the brain sharpens its ability to anticipate events and sustain attention.” – Jonathan Berger
Musicians warming up onstage before the concert begins warm up their muscles and focus their concentration. Some of them working on passages they need to polish up before the performance, with no regard for what anyone else is practicing. Preparing your mind and body before any work day will not only help you stay sane and feel better, it’ll also help you get better results. Research shows that it can improve your focus, attention, and ability to work under stress. What can preparing your mind look like? It’s simple:
Focus your awareness on the present moment
Not thinking about the hectic morning you’ve already had, worrying about a presentation you have to give this afternoon, or planning what you’ll cook for dinner tonight. Instead, be where you are exactly in the moment. It’s “awareness”.
I’ve listed a few ways you can prepare your mind at for the work day (and after lunch breaks):
Prioritize your tasks and projects at the end of the day, for the next day: Try to organize your to-dos by the following criteria: (1) priority, (2) focus level required, and (3) how long each task will take. Most people are their most productive first thing in the morning. Why not give it a shot? Start your day with the most important and demanding tasks.
Make your environment a distraction-free one: Create a “Before Work” playlist with songs that calm you down. If you need help, search “concentration music” on YouTube.) It’s worth having good quality headphones/earphones, noise cancelling are a great investment
Do your best to avoid logging into social networks: Before and while you’re working, if you can, turn off notifications on all your devices. Make a time for reading emails and returning calls as a separate task. Pushing through the temptation is tough in the beginning, but this change will do wonders to your productivity.
Have you lost focus? Stop and write: If there is still a lot of work to do, but it feels nearly impossible to concentrate on you’re doing, take a few minutes for yourself and write down how your ideas, thoughts or what you’re feeling in the very moment.
The trick is not judging yourself if you start off having a hard time prepping yourself for work when you first start out. Fighting useless thoughts itself is useless and takes energy you’ll need for your productive day. Becoming more aware of your own emotions as they arise can help you be more flexible in thought and much more resilient when you come face-to-face with difficult situations.
2. Even musicians need Intermission
“In a concert setting, different individuals listen to a piece of music with wandering attention, but at the transition point between movements, their attention is arrested.” - Vinod Menon
Intermission- a short rest period for the musicians and conductor. Giving breaks to the audience also prepare for better concentration in the second half. These gaps are not only mental breaks, but where you’ll be creative. When you’re home or at work, remember there is magic in the break. When you give your brain, the time required to refresh itself, you free yourself to spend some time being instead of doing.
Whether or not you’re using the Pomodoro Technique or “Chunking”, identify your pause point and protect it. Two- to five-minute breaks per working hour are incredibly effective. During your pause point, let yourself daydream; connect unrelated ideas and come up with flashes of insight. Don’t jump into something else. Instead, just take time to be present with the project that’s paused. How is it really going? Are you still on schedule? Is it meeting its goals?
Enjoy a little mind-wander. Allow yourself to survey insights to a problem. Take a short walk to clear the mind, reduce stress levels and enhance our feel-good hormones. Try not to work on anything else in these few minutes.
Here’s how you can take an effective break:
Stand up (away from your desk) and walk around
Stand up and stretch
Listen to your pre-made Spotify playlist
3. Focus (on the music)
“Open yourself up to the music. Feel the rhythms; follow the tunes.” - The Austin Symphony
Watch the musicians and Maestro. Notice their interacting with each other. Take note of how the music ebbs and flows- surging and powerful at times, delicate and ephemeral at others. Giving focus, homing in on one task at a time can unleash your creativity and production; you’re able to funnel more attention and energy to the task in front of you. Multi-tasking, in its natural temptation, reduces productivity by 40%. It just doesn’t work because it requires the brain to operate in a way that it wasn’t designed to.