Because I’m an only child, I think people assume that my home life must be pretty tranquil, or even–dare I say it–boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only am I quite good at entertaining myself, when I’m not, I’m entertained whether I like it or not. This has a downside, of course. Almost every evening for years, I had to contend with some lively conversation started by my Neapolitan (Italian) father in the style of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, or resist the temptations of my mother’s nightly TV selection. Since I spent plenty of high school afternoons distracting myself by the time graduation neared, I was forced to do homework after dinner. I had to be disciplined to get stuff done.
During those tumultuous times, I adapted the strategy of listening to music while working on projects. I must have started, partially, to block out dialogue. Funny enough, when I had better control of my homework environments in college and figured I could drop the habit, I actually couldn’t. Some people work well in dead silence, but I came to see that this only helped me if I was working on a reading assignment. When something required consistent brain activity, not simply processing information and reacting to it–writing a paper, for instance–I became distracted or even frustrated if I sat in quiet for too long. The engine of my brain would sit there, revving up, yet it needed some kind of beat to get started.
There have been a number of contradictory studies about music’s influence on students’ study habits in recent years. Personally, I have been served well by advice from an old-school math teacher: “Don’t listen to any music with words.” Now, I’ve taken that with a grain of salt, but as a general rule it gets the point across. It’s just not possible to fully concentrate on what you’re doing if you’re listening to your favorite artist rap or belt their hearts out over a groovy tempo. Even a song or album you know well can be distracting if you put it on repeat; you might find yourself singing along or mentally completing the lyrics instead of blocking them out like you would the noise from your radiator. If you’re a daydreamer like me, you could also get lost in a reflective mood. Either way, this type of music should stay separated from your I-need-to-work playlist if you want to be productive. During long periods of work, you might find it helpful, as I have, to rotate between awesome soundtracks, classical or folk music, and instrumental music composed/compiled by YouTubers or 8tracks users. You can also try listening to pop or rock sung in a foreign language, at least when you need to wake up a little. May I suggest something by Perfume?
Don’t despair, fellow music junkies! Choose your tunes wisely and you’ll feel like you’re making a dent in your list while still living it up (at least a little!).