The homework soundtrack

a laptop, textbook, and piles of papers and notes on a carpeted floor

A soundtrack for writing papers

Through force of habit, a particular set of Goo Goo Dolls albums has become my paper-writing music. It was by chance at first: tunes I was familiar with and could mostly ignore while working on a final draft freshman year. I happened to listen to those couple albums on repeat for a good six or seven hours. I was fairly productive.

Later that year, utterly unfocused and unproductively poking at another paper, feeling entirely unmotivated to synthesize information and string useful arguments out of the sets of research articles I had collected, I remembered that music. I decided to give it a try -- perhaps, I thought, if I gave myself the right soundtrack, I'd get something done. (I was running out of other homework to do, anyway.) And hey. It worked.

I continue to pick the same albums when it comes time to resolutely sit down and pound out pages of words. I have to wonder how much is a placebo effect: I think the songs will help focus my attention on writing a good paper, so I listen to the songs and focus better. (Perhaps I shouldn't think about that too much just in case the effect disappears when I do.) Do recall what I've said previously about the importance of expectations! Perhaps I could, if I tried, decide that "okay, now it's work-on-paper time" and then crack down and work. But the motivational kick from the music -- "this is working music, so if I'm listening to it, I should be working" -- keeps me going.

Given that I'm certainly motivated to keep my productivity-enhancing paper-writing albums solidly in the category of music that'll make my homework happen, perhaps I don't need to worry about the effect slipping. Part of my productivity may be a result of not wanting to prove that it's mostly a placebo!

And a question for you

Do you have similar soundtracks? Particular songs you use for warm-ups before a sports game, albums for homework, tracks you save for the last sprint at the gym? I'm curious, so do share.

Saturday, December 4, 2010 - tags: college writing


  • said: Reply

    As a music major, this is a kind of weird question for me. Daft Punk and other electronica (Chemical Brothers, Shpongle, etc.) was my homework soundtrack back when I had “normal” homework… kind of for the same reasons you listed. It’s music I know well already, so it can just blend into the background.

    But now, more often than not, my homework involves listening to, playing, or writing music. So listening to music while doing homework is kind of out of the question.

    There’s definitely very little music I could listen to on repeat for six or seven hours, though. I mean, even my absolute favorite albums only stay in my car’s CD player for 2 or 3 times through before I have to swap it out for something else.

  • said: Reply

    I used to listen to Ella Fitzgerald while doing calc all the time… But would switch it up with pretty good regularity. I defineitly use music to make me more productive, different types of music can really change your energy levels.

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