Luckily, music can help put us back on a more productive track.
Studies out of the University of Birmingham, England, show that music is effective in raising efficiency in repetitive work — so if you're mindlessly checking email or filling out a spreadsheet, adding some tunes will make your task go by that much faster.
But when it comes to tasks that require more brainpower, finding that perfect playlist is not so easy.
Luckily, we have science at our disposal to help.
Based on some of what we know about how music affects productivity, you should try funneling this kind of music through your headphones the next time you're feeling unproductive:
Songs that include sounds of nature.
Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently discovered that adding a natural element could boost moods and focus.
Sounds of nature can mask intelligible speech just as well as white noise while also enhancing cognitive functioning, optimizing the ability to concentrate, and increasing overall worker satisfaction, the researchers found. The mountain stream sound researchers used in their study also possessed enough randomness that it didn't distract test subjects.
You could try simply listeining to recordings of nature sounds, or check out this tranquil background music that incorporates sounds of water:
Songs you enjoy.
Listening to music you like can make you feel better.
Teresa Lesiuk, an assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami, found that personal choice in music is important, especially in those who are moderately skilled at their jobs. Generally participants in her studies who listened to music they enjoyed completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn't because the music improved their mood.
"When you're stressed, you might make a decision more hastily; you have a very narrow focus of attention," she told the New York Times. "When you're in a positive mood, you're able to take in more options."
Songs you don't really care about.
Different research suggests, however, that music you're ambivalent about could be best.
Researchers from Fu Jen Catholic University in Xinzhuang City, Taiwan, studied how listener's fondness for music affected their concentration. They found when workers strongly liked or disliked the music they heard in the background they became more distracted by it.
Songs without lyrics.
Words are distracting.
According to research from Cambridge Sound Management, noise in general isn't to blame when it comes to lost productivity — it's how intelligible the words are that forces us to shift focus from our work to figuring out what someone is saying. Speech distracts about 48% of office workers according to Cambridge's 2008 study.
When masking your neighbor's conversation with music, it follows then that you not do so with music that has lyrics — your focus would simply shift from the conversation to the words in a song.
This playlist of lyric-less music may provide the productivity boost you need:
Songs with a specific tempo.
Music tempo can have varying affects on your arousal.
One study by Canadian researchers found subjects performed better on IQ tests while listening to up-tempo music. If your work requires you to be more upbeat, you could try listening to music that matches this tempo. Baroque music, for example, is a popular choice for many needing to get work done.
In fact in a small study by researchers at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, Harbor Hospital in Baltimore, and the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, the radiologists they studied reported an improvement in their work and mood when they listened to baroque music. This playlist offers a nice sampling:
Another study by researchers from BMS College of Engineering in Bangalore, Malaysia, saw subjects report a dramatic reduction in feelings of stress and an increased sense of physical relaxation when they listened to music that played around 60 beats per minute. In classical music terms, you would refer this as "larghetto," which translates to not very fast or somewhat slowly.
If you prefer to feel more relaxed while you work, you could try one of Focus @ Will's playlists dedicated to concentration:
Songs played at medium volume.
Noise level matters.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, found that moderate noise levels are just right for creative thinking.
While both high and moderate noise levels have been found to open people's minds to more abstract thinking, high noise levels decrease the brain's ability to process information.
I only heard about "Annihilation" through the recommendation of a friend.
This is due to the film baffling both audiences and studios; it lacked sufficient advertisement, receiving promotion only immediately before release. "Annihilation" is sustaining itself off of word of mouth alone. A friend of mine brought it to my attention, saying something along the lines of, "Ok, dude. It is weird. I liked it. It's weird. I'm gonna be processing it for a long time. Dude. Go see it." This is the sentiment of many who have seen the film and is the best-case scenario for anyone walking out of the theater.
On the other hand, you may believe that "Annihilation" may simply confuse you for the sake of confusing you, and will leave you with nothing to do afterward but debate theories and meanings with other viewers. I belong to the former school of thought. As the credits rolled, the audience remained still, attempting to make sense of what they had been shown. I don't have all the answers, but it is a movie worth discussing with others, perhaps even seeing a second time to unpack further.
Many reviewers and critics have compared "Annihilation" to "Arrival," and I believe that they do this because it makes itself hard to describe without comparing it to something else. It is, more simply, a tense sci-fi thriller that pushes the boundaries of the genre. Both it and "Arrival" offer a view of the extraterrestrial not before conveyed in the film.
The movie opens with a small object soaring through space and colliding with Earth, the point of impact being a lighthouse resting on an expansive, sandy shore. We are then taken to the present day, where former soldier turned biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) sits in a sterile room being observed by about a dozen people in hazmat suits.
They ask her to tell her story, and we are taken through the rest of the film in flashback, occasionally returning to the interrogation room to clarify certain details. At the start of her story, Lena is grieving over the presumed death of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), whom she met in the Army and has been missing for twelve months after being sent on a confidential mission. He suddenly shows up at their home, seemingly out of the woodwork, much to the shock and joy of Lena. However, he seems to be confused as to where he has been for a year and even who Lena is.
In a further twist of events, government officials arrive and take both Kane and Lena to a covert facility called the Southern Reach. There, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) tells Lena about "The Shimmer."
The Shimmer is a wall, of sorts, several miles from the facility at the edge of a forest. It is multicolored and in constant motion, looking much like the exterior of a soap bubble. Dr. Ventress informs Lena that it is slowly expanding outward, and the origin point is the lighthouse from the start of the film.
They've sent many teams of military men into The Shimmer, and not one man has returned save for Lena's husband. Lena, desiring to learn more for her husband's sake, volunteers to go on the next expedition. Armed with automatic weapons, she and Dr. Ventress make up a team of five women.
The other three are the hardy paramedic Anya, (Gina Rodriguez), timid and bookish physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson), and the somewhat melodramatic anthropologist Cass (Tuva Novotny).
It is with their journey into The Shimmer that the movie truly finds it's pace. It's the equivalent of the first fifteen minutes of "Arrival," as our heroine is recruited by the government to explore a never-before-seen phenomenon. That is, however, where the comparison ends.
Rather than show us a creepy, alien entity, as many movies of the genre do, "Annihilation" presents us with a yet unseen alien presence that alters our familiar reality in disturbing ways. Plants exhibit impossible evolutionary behaviors.
Predatory animals are turned into fearsome, mutated monsters. The world that humans have become accustomed to shifts into an alien landscape, containing both familiarity and undiscovered dangers. It is a new world where vibrant plant life and beautiful fauna mask the genetic manipulation of any human who enters it.
I found myself taken by the tone that the movie set for itself, acutely sensitive to every bestial noise and my gaze lingering in the background of otherwise harmless shots, searching for the next threat. The movie thrives in this world, where death can either be tranquil and quiet or grisly and terrifying (a particular bear-mimic hybrid currently governs my nightmares).
All of this leads to a nearly inexplicable climax, which is best described as an acid trip followed by a wordless motion art piece. It successfully makes a classic mirror routine one of the most unsettling things I've seen in recent film.
"Annihilation," by my best analysis, wants the audience to focus on themes of self-destruction as opposed to perfect life. Each team member has nothing to lose, to some degree. There is a discussion of self-destructive behavior being ingrained in each of us, and how the very notion of cells dying on their own is a biological mistake. Meanwhile, the alien world that surrounds our heroes is a beautiful, self-sustaining biome where all genetics are shared.
But it is this lack of clarity in its message that will rifle some viewers. It subverts expectations but to the disappointment of moviegoers who expected a more conventional alien invasion story. In "Independence Day," for example, the alien's motivation is clear: wipe out humanity. In "Arrival," they have knowledge to share. "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is ultimately a diplomatic inquiry. "Annihilation" is simply a look at an unexplored facet of the genre. It is uncaring and inexplicable, like the cycle of life and death.
Maybe I'm in the ballpark with my analysis, maybe I'm in the wrong stadium, or maybe I'm playing the wrong sport entirely. See the movie for yourself and discuss it excitedly with your friends.
Only through shared speculation is "Annihilation" going to reach new audiences.