I Stole this Productivity Tip from One of the Internet’s Most Successful People

June 18, 2016

Earlier this year I set out with the intention to keep a detailed media consumption record to track everything I gave my attention to in terms of music, films, podcasts, books and TV. Suffice to say, I fell off the bandwagon pretty fast in terms of keeping that list consistent and up-to-date. The days began to roll into themselves, one thing would lead to another and I’d end up eventually forgetting to record exactly what it is was that had fallen onto my radar.

One thing I discovered, after first starting that project back in January, is that it, at least first, it actually compelled me to go out of my way to actively consume more media. It made me hungry. And I wanted to see that list look prettier by throwing in at least one new entry per day.

Obviously that wasn’t sustainable, despite my best efforts.

But the experiment (which I am continuing by the way, although haphazardly) definitely taught me a few things. The first, that certain types of media are much more easier to consume than others. The second, that the sheer dichotomy of choice, at least in my case, indeed leads to that which the paradox of choice postulates.

Feelings of anxiety and distraction, plus the difficultly to remain attentive? That definitely comes with the on-going onslaught of newness in our life. Media, for its part, espouses that. We’ll never have enough time to watch, listen and read everything. Even if our friends or mentors implore us that we must.

Here comes my unconventional tip then. It’s one I’ve been using to full effect in the first part of this year in order to hone my concentration and remain focused when the time has called for it. And so far I’d say it does a pretty good job.

Discovering it I owe to two factors. The first being my unholy attempt to listen to as much music as possible in those first couple of months. The second, something I heard briefly mentioned on one of Tim Ferriss’ podcasts that concerns the founder of WordPress (which I’ve been using to blog since 2008) Matt Mullenweg.

The idea is really basic. It involves producing, creating, working or whatever else you want to call it while eliminating distraction or variation.

You do that by choosing one song, any song, and looping it over and over again while you go about your business.

My song of choice, Aphex Twin’s Xtal (warning: this YouTube video will rock your world), from the album Selected Ambient Works 85-92, is an excellent fit as it’s melodic, relatively low-fi and has, like most of Aphex Twin’s music, no lyrics.

Matt Mullenweg, who in this post goes into greater detail about how he works, does the same. He chooses one single song, puts it on repeat and then goes about coding.

Judging by his track record, founder of a content management system that’s used by over a quarter of websites in the entire existence of the Internet, as well as his successful Silicon Valley investment portfolio, my thoughts aside, there looks to be something to it.

In fact, at the end of last year, LifeHacker even ran a post highlighting the strategy, arguing that people can “get in the zone” through this simple auditory technique. Software engineer Joseph Mosby put this to the test based on psychological research and got good results too, albeit that he extended his playlist to three songs however.

The post your reading right now has been written using this strategy.

Somehow, and I can’t directly attribute this to the power of Richard David James, I’ve stayed on task and faithful to my objective of writing about this technique.

Despite those inevitable wavering machinations of my mind that have been urging me to go do something else, here you are reading about it.

I’d urge you to give it a try.

Tip: It took me a while to figure out how to loop songs on the newest version of iTunes. Here’s a good explainer that puts it in simpler terms.