Like so many people (everyone?), I sometimes struggle with focus. I have a number of strategies that work, but sound plays a role in all of them. In this article I’ll take you through my focus-related audio tools.
Focus-related audio falls into four categories: music that’s acceptable background music like classic ambient; generated noise (white, pink, or brown); binaural beats; environmental audio (like rain, oceans, trains, etc). Most serve to mask distracting sounds or soothe you. Binaural beats actually adjust the way the brain is working, helping you relax or concentrate. Many folks claim that’s a little “woo”. I know nothing about the science, and I accept this may be a placebo response, but they work for me.
This app on the Mac is number one tool for audio focus.
Relax Melodies Premium features all the options: binaural beats, environmental audio, noise, and music. You can add as many of them as you want by clicking or tapping on the icon, and adjust the audio of each track individually. Mixes you enjoy can be added to favourites.
The interface is both over-the-top and hard to use. You can only adjust the audio of a playing track by stopping it and starting it again. You can’t adjust the overall volume, it’s on a track-by-track basis. So if you have four tracks playing, and you want to reduce the volume on all of them, that’s 4 × 3 clicks for a total of 12. This doesn’t really matter, though. You’ll start it, set a few favourites, and let it go.
There are specific versions of this app for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. I own the Mac and iPhone versions. The iPhone version at 2x is good enough for me on the iPad. My one beef with the iPhone version is the omission of my favourite sound: rain on a tent.
Noisy is a modern rewrite of Noise, which I used for years as well. All this app does is play white or pink noise. Lately I’ve found it has started to stutter, but I have all kinds of nonesense running on my Mac these days. This is perfect to drown out conversations just enough so they don’t draw your attention. You can even run it at low volumes under your music. Pink noise is much less harsh that white, I’d recommend that.
I have three single-site browsers set up that I use to create a nice work environment. The first two are sounds: the engine sounds from the Next Generation-era Enterprise, and ambient noise from the Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both are HTML files on my local machine that contain nothing but an embed of these videos. Every hour or so they need to be restarted, but that’s not really an issue: if I notice, I restart. If not, then I’m focusing, and their services aren’t needed.
The third is a bit of an oddity: it gets the time from your system, and then loops the appropriate track from one of the Animal Crossing game soundtracks. The Animal Crossing games are great games, if kind of pointless and grindy. More to the point, the music from them is simple, and sounds like the music one would hear while puttering. There’s an inherent performing-a-task sound to each track. The late night tracks are my favourites…maybe I should futz with my system clock?
The last app is the odd one out. It’s actually a distraction-free writing environment/plain-text editor. The unique appeal of Ommwriter over the competition is that it really seeks to be an environment, and that’s how it fits this theme. There are different backgrounds, different audio themes, and the keys click. It can feel really satisfying to be typing away, hearing the clicks like rain on a window. I use the seventh key sound with the chromatherapy background, and the music track with the nice vinyl fuzz to it.