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 Post subject: Music while Coding?
PostPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2004 9:30 pm 
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Nightstar Graveyard Daemon
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Location: Wouldn't you rather observe my Velocity?
Dorothea Brande is the author of "On Becoming a Writer", and in it she wrote: "Learn what is your poison. Often what you like is not what you need." The point she was making is that often the kinds of books you like to read will quash your inspiration to write, while some other books may be difficult, boring or otherwise unpleasant to read yet trigger you to great feats of writing.

What about music?

I have listened to music while coding for nearly two decades. This past week, my job has required me to work in a distraction-free environment without music. I hated it the first few days, and every morning as I settle in I get that itch for some bouncy tunes to wake me up. But once I get into the rhythm of coding in the quiet, an amazing thing happens: I reach astounding levels of concentration. I have reached a degree of focus every day, and maintained it for an hour or two, once or twice a day, every day this week. Normally I'll get into this concentrated "flow" state maybe once a month.

I love listening to music when I'm coding. But I'm starting to think that it's poison.

Well, maybe not poison. More like Lithium (a medication used to dampen mood swings) maybe. Music helps me get started on days when I'm too tired or fried or distracted to code. A good jag of loud rock and roll can act as a lodestone, pulling my distracted thoughts into alignment until they can be bent to the task of coding. But this lift also comes at the cost of concentration. Deep, powerful focus? Never, unless it's quiet.

What do you think? Do you have certain types of music you listen to in certain coding situations? Have you coded in the quiet, and does it help or annoy?


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2004 9:59 pm 
Chalain wrote:
distraction-free environment

What is this strange beast you speak of? Must be mythical. I've never heard of it.

I dunno. Music is never the problem. When I get into a task, music is quickly relegated to the status of 'background noise' and can't hope to distract me. Half of the time I come out of a concentration binge (one of those bursts of productivity where I tune out everything else for 30-90 mins and get stuff done), I look at winamp's playlist and don't recall even having heard 2/3 of the songs that just went by. Often I'll pick out ones I really wanted to hear and replay them.

Maybe I've just always worked when there are other things around, but I also think one first has to analyze what comprises a 'distraction'. When I have motivation or efficiency problems, it's almost always something that is dull and doesn't interest me. It's not shiny. And there's always something else more shiny than the task at hand, such as The Nightstar Zoo. I suspect that a lot of your recent productivity can be associated with the shininess of the new environment, new project, and enthusiastic people.

BTW, I knwo of this concentration level you speak of. I get a concentration binge about 4-8 times a week. To me, though, the ultimate concentration (and productivity) happens when I completely lose track of everything outside the task for six hours. I come out of this state often hungry, usually wondering what time it is, and always needing to piss like a race horse. That's a great feeling. And yeah, it happens maybe once a month.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2004 10:39 pm 
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Nightstar Graveyard Daemon
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Location: Wouldn't you rather observe my Velocity?
Pi wrote:
Chalain wrote:
distraction-free environment

What is this strange beast you speak of? Must be mythical. I've never heard of it.


Indeed, it is largely a myth. I work in an open-pit cube farm, and there's an intercom overhead that rings whenever someone doesn't pick up their phone (if I was boss, that would be the FIRST thing to go, UGH).

By distraction-free I guess what I meant was "draconian". :-) It's not expressly forbidden, but I'm a contractor there so am expected to work one notch higher than the regulars; among the regulars I notice a profound absence of "consciously chosen distractions" such as web, IM, music, ...even e-mail is rarely seen except from my manager. It's just me, the compiler, and a ten-hour shift.

This job IS shiny, no doubt about it. It's also very scary and exciting. I'm drinking from a firehose, I'm WAYYYYY outside my comfort zone, and I'm getting mad props from my manager for it.

The other thing I'm noticing is that I have to FORCE myself to start coding in the morning. I detest this environment and some of the problems I have to work on. But knuckling down and saying, "Dangit, I'm got getting up until this is worky" has proven to be one of the most reliable triggers for the concentration binges.

BTW, Pi, "time loss" is a common ADD trait. It means you've latched onto something with your ADD. I get those, too, and they are 100% triggered by shiny things. These binges I'm having are a bit different... they're shorter, and if possible, more intense; I don't lose track of time, the problem at hand does not need to be shiny (in fact seems characterized by a fundamental lack of shiny), and I come out of it feeling almost more satisfied with myself (for sticking it out) than with my progress (though the progress is an integral component).

Hmmm, perhaps that's another factor as well. Progress is always shiny, and I'm making a lot of it.

Ask me again in three weeks. The contract ends in two. If I still have a job, then I'm probably on to something.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 29, 2004 11:17 am 
I usually have some music going while I work on something. It's best if it's not something I actually want to listen to, though, because I tend to get distracted by that and end up listening instead of working. Back in high school, I used to listen to a CD called "Windsongs" (somebody set a bunch of aeolian harps with guitar pickups on a hillside and recorded them being "played" by the wind) on headphones while doing homework. It worked great: it blocked out stuff like nearby conversations (a sure-fire distraction for me), without being intrusive. Pleasant noise, basically.


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 Post subject: Re: Music while Coding?
PostPosted: Thu Jul 29, 2004 3:03 pm 
Chalain wrote:
What do you think? Do you have certain types of music you listen to in certain coding situations? Have you coded in the quiet, and does it help or annoy?

Well, I was in the mythical Zone yesterday... 6 hours (I think?), give or take, of that wonderful concentration binge thing. Some nice energetic fiddling dragged me back to work when my concentration was flagging, like when I hit that 16 hour mark and the last thing I want to do is keep coding... But after that it became a huge annoyance (when my brain decided it found an interesting new puzzle to latch on to).

Maybe what you like is sometimes exactly what you need, and when you stop needing it, you stop liking it. That's what happens with food cravings anyway.

gwalla wrote:
It worked great: it blocked out stuff like nearby conversations (a sure-fire distraction for me), without being intrusive. Pleasant noise, basically.

If you like that, check out the Homeworld sound track. Same deal, very spiffy music. It was designed to be in the background, as much game music was. Try out the Mechwarrior soundtrack too. It's a little more percussive, but pretty tame.

One *great* thing I've found to listen to is Jeff Victor (Irish style harpage).

Pi wrote:
I look at winamp's playlist and don't recall even having heard 2/3 of the songs that just went by. Often I'll pick out ones I really wanted to hear and replay them.

I do the exact same thing! :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2004 1:32 am 
Heh, I've found that the right kind of music focuses me, and the wrong kind distracts me. My boss would always come in and ask why it's so quiet and how I can code without music on, and turn on the radio to some old rock station. Some of that is rather distracting. I started throwing on Mogwai, Interpol, Zwan, and other fuzztone stuff that tends not to distract me, that way he doesn't turn on the radio. I tend to keep it really low, so its barely noticable past my desk. I've also found that my mind will sometimes wander off if I don't have some stimulus to keep me focused. I'll focus on one piece of the problem and then just start hitting random unfinished design threads in my mind. Sometimes a song change will break me out of that and back into actually doing something with the design. It isn't enough to break me out of a coding roll though. I can't play things like Bad Religion or Bowling for Soup though. A little too fast and noisy. Totally ambient stuff throws me off sometimes too.

The biggest distraction for me, though, is the phone. When the accountant is out of the office I'm the main phone answerer. I will just get a good coding roll going, start checking off todo items, and BAM, phone call breaks my concentration and I have to start again from scratch.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2004 7:41 pm 
You play Mogwai at low volume? Sacrilege!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 03, 2004 4:33 pm 
gwalla wrote:
You play Mogwai at low volume? Sacrilege!


I play everything at low volume. I need to save what little hearing I still have. ;)


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