Welcome to Motivation Monday! This is a weekly post meant to inspire, motivate, and provide discussion on topics including artist success stories, applying science to production, the philosophy of success, and my personal experiences with making music.
Do you find it hard to focus on making music?
Have you ever felt really excited to start producing, but the second you opened up your DAW, you felt like a deer in headlights?
Maybe you just kept thinking about that thing your friend said that got under your skin…?
Or you just remembered that you’re supposed to do some chore…?
Or the image from the show you just watched is still fresh in your mind…?
These are all a result of a concept called attention residue.
It’s a term first coined by business professor Sophie Leroy of the University of Minnesota. In her 2009 paper, “Why Is It So Hard to Do My Work,” attention residue is described as what occurs when someone moves from Task A to Task B, but some of their thoughts and attention about Task A linger in the mind while performing Task B.
Let’s take one of the above scenarios as an example.
Let’s say that you were in a heated argument with a friend about the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump. In the middle of the argument, your friend got offended by something you said, so he lashed out and said something to personally attack you.
After the argument, you go to your computer and open up your DAW to make some music. But the thought of what he said still lingers in your mind. As much as you want to make music, the residue of the argument still sticks in your thoughts.
It will only be after several minutes or hours of long-term effort on the music that the residue of the argument will fade, and you’ll be able to engross yourself fully in the production.
In this case, the argument was Task A, and making music was Task B. Because of how emotionally heated Task A was, the attention residue was strong when you transitioned to Task B.
If what your friend said was really offensive or hurtful, then you will likely find it impossible to focus on the music and will do something else instead.
This is a rather extreme example, but it’s one that has probably happened to you before.
The effects of attention residue can be more subtle and social than this, though.
For example, let’s say you’re focusing on making music for a few hours. You then stop that for the day and visit your girlfriend. But as she’s talking to you, you keep thinking about the work you were just doing.
You dwell on the problems you couldn’t solve, the successes or failures you had, the emotional drain of it all...
And all of this is happening while she’s still talking. She recognizes that you’re not really there with her and gets annoyed. You now have to actively focus on being more present so that you can enjoy your time together.
In this case, your work on music was the attention residue that stuck in your mind, and this negatively affected your social interactions.
So the question isn’t really “How can I focus more on music?” but rather, “How can I minimize my attention residue SO THAT I can focus on music?”
"How can I minimize my attention residue when moving between tasks so that I can focus on making music?"
Here are 3 actionable strategies for minimizing attention residue so you can focus on making music:
1. Eliminate Easy Distractions
The most common and mundane of distractions can create lingering attention residue. Shut off the Internet and your phone so that you won’t be on edge, thinking you might get a new social media notification. Once you shut everything down, the attention residue will fade more quickly, instead of being constantly renewed.
2. Create Work Routines
If you have no routine for making music, your likelihood for getting distracted will be much higher. But if you make production a habit, your brain will be hardwired to shift gears. Once you create a habit, your brain becomes very resistant to changing it. Set a designated work routine for your production sessions. It could be 30 minutes when you first wake up in the morning, or 4 hours every other day, or 1 hour every day at 5 p.m. All that matters is that it works for you.
3. Set Time Limits
If you set time limits for your production sessions, you’ll be much more focused, engaged, and able to create what you want. Once you set a hard deadline for yourself, i.e. “I’m only going to give myself 30 minutes to tweak this chord progression before moving to the melody,” then you’re more likely to actually get stuff done. If you have a time limit and take it seriously, your brain will more quickly devote its attention to the task at hand, instead of lingering on the attention residue from your last task.
If you'd like to learn more about how to eliminate distractions so you can make more music, check out 38 Hacks to Double Your Music Output, by clicking here.