How to Block Out Distractions and Focus on Your Work


I’ve spent the past two hours writing. I’m in a shopping centre that was playing godawful peppy music when I arrived. I’d been awake for approximately 45 minutes and was not ready for godawful peppy music. I’m never ready for that shit. It was early in the day, so there wasn’t much ambient sound to help muffle the noise.

Unfortunately, I’m not somebody who can easily work with music in the background. In fact, it’s even harder for me to write when I’m listening to my own music than it is when I’m listening to that peppy crap. I can do it sometimes, particularly when I’m already ‘in the zone’ or whatever (I think the cool kids call it ‘flow state’ now), but I’m liable to just start jigging my shoulders and nodding my head instead.

In the book I’m reading now — The Year of Living Dangerously — the author is attempting to read The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett while on the train — a task that requires ultimate concentration, preferably silence. However, silence is sadly lacking on commuter trains to London. So he did what he thought was the next best thing: he put on his headphones and blasted Metal Machine Music — an album renowned for being a horror for the ears, mechanical noise that scrapes on the eardrums and pierces the brain, the fourth worst album of all time. He wanted to block out everything else around him and devote his entire attention to Beckett.

If only he’d known: there’s an app for that. I read about it on All Indie Writers a while back, though this is the first time I’ve really had to use it. It’s an app that houses a vast array of sounds — nature sounds, city sounds, musical ditties, white noise, countless others — along with various binaural beats. (There’s other stuff too, but for our purposes we want the ambient sounds and the binaural beats.)

It’s actually a sleep app. You know, one of those ones designed to help you drift off by chirruping frogs into your brain on restless nights. (Wait, do frogs chirrup?) Obviously, we don’t want it for sleep. All Indie Writers had a different purpose for it: they said it was good for creating the right atmosphere for whatever you were trying to write. So if you were writing a horror story about a kid camping in the woods, you could turn on the ‘raining on tent’, the ‘leaves rustling’ and the ‘wind howling’ sounds, and away you went.

But that’s not what we’ll use it for either: we want to use it so we can block out train commuters, or whatever your version of that is (if this morning is anything to go by, mine is Disney soundtracks and swarms of Italian tourists). Either way, the goal is the same: block out noise, focus on work.

Right now I’m listening to binaural beats on the ‘concentation’ setting and a rushing waterfall. I don’t know much about binaural beats — only that they’re meant to be good for helping you focus. They do something to your brain, I guess. And they do appear to help.

If you struggle to concentrate, whether because you’ve got noisy kids scampering about the house, are surrounded by morons chattering on their phones two paces away from you, or because the shopping centre you’re sat in insists on playing cheerful music at an ungodly hour, you need this app in your life.

It’s called Relax Melodies, and you can wang it on pretty much any platform, far as I can tell. (Yeah, I just used ‘wang’ to mean something other than dick. And now I’m starting to wonder if I made that usage up, or if it really is a part of my regional dialect. Hmm.)

If you check it out, come back here and let me know what works best for you. Wind chimes and waves crashing on the beach? Monks chanting during a thunderstorm while a wolf howls in the distance? A hair dryer and a truck engine? ‘Earth Drama’, whatever the hell that is? Or just good old-fashioned rain? And how about them binaural beats — with or without? Give it to me in the comments!

Photo by Nickolai Kashirin.

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      1. Yes! I’ve heard good things about Focus@Will too, though I’ve never tried it myself. For some reason having nature sound effects appeals more to me. Maybe I’ll give it a bash one day though.

    1. I’ve used YouTube clips of raining which seem to help, but the trouble is I have to go on YouTube, which invariably leads to hours of How It Should Have Ended and videos of kittens falling off of things. So, app sounds good. I’ll report back.

      1. YouTube is a dangerous place, Dan. Next thing you know it’ll be Bad Lip Reading and Honest Trailer videos over and over and over again. Because they’re fucking hilarious.

        Also, totally unrelated: there is a ‘Fireplace in Your Home’ video on Netflix which I put on when I’m reading sometimes. Hahaha.

      2. I use this rain app on my iphone which is really helpful! It literally is called Simply Rain – they have a white noise version but that just distracts me. I found the rain app super helpful when I’d go to busy coffee shops, I’d plug in my headphones and be set for hours!

        1. Ah awesome, sounds like a similar sort of thing, Celestial. Love the sound of rain!

    2. All sorts of ambient sounds and music are available for free on Youtube for those who escheeeew smartphones, of course. From ocean waves, to thunderstorms (w/ many choices of TYPE of rain and even environment, like inside a tent or a car or on a porch… ), crackling fireplaces… My current fave:

      Have fun exploring!

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