Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the patron saint of finals weeks. The psyche prof developed the concept of the “flow” state. (Watch his TED about it.) You know it as being “in the zone” — that state of concentration where you become so deeply involved in an activity that you lose time. Csikszentmihalyi described it as being “completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies.” Flow is essentially an intense but positive and creative feeling of presence (Heeter, 2003). If, like me, you’re writing papers right now, flow-ing is where you want to be.
For this writer, background music has become essential to reining in my limbic system and achieving something like Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state. To that end, I’ve found a few resources pretty indispensable this year.
Look to Focus@Will, a streaming music service that’s basically the Pandora of background music — but with actual “flow” science behind it. Focus@Will serves up seven channels of carefully selected tracks designed to leash your limbic system and focus your attention on the task at hand. “The trick is occupying your brain just enough to let you work,” and their channels — classical, up tempo, acoustic, ambient, etc. — really have helped me do just that on several sizable writing projects. I found Focus@Will so helpful, I thanked them in the acknowledgements of my thesis.
Two other options worth mentioning:
• If you have Spotify, dial up this playlist: “Instrumental Music to Work To,” created by some lovely soul by the handle Keats Handwriting. It’s currently 2,975 tracks (and often growing) of similarly Focus-inducing music. Spotify has loads of others.
• Maybe you don’t want music, maybe you just need some white noise — like, you’re used to working at Starbucks, but it’s late, they’re closed, you’re no longer mobile. Tune in Coffitivity, a site streaming different loops of coffee-house sounds — “morning murmur” (a gentle hum of background conversations and barista clinking), “lunchtime lounge” (a bit more bustling), etc.
I'm THOMAS CONNER, Ph.D. in Communication (Science Studies) and culture journalist.