Example: At my fancy new government contracting job, I have to read through a lot of long documents with ridiculously long and complex sentences, technical jargon, often a lot of comma splices, acronym after acronym, complicated engineering concepts, hey, look at that spot on the wall. It kind of looks like a dragon. I'm going to name it Arthur.
My brain is not always very cooperative when it comes to working productively. It feels like I'm at war with myself. One part of my brain shouting "LISTEN. LISTEN, WE NEED TO GET TO WORK. WE HAVE TO WORK NOW. THIS ISN'T A HARD JOB. JUST DO IT. WE NEED TO GET IT DONE OR WE'RE GOING TO GET FIRED. FIRED. LET'S GET A MOVE ON!!!"
Meanwhile, the other part of my brain is whining. "But it's boooring! It's not fun! I want to be on the Internet! Somebody probably posted something new on Tumblr! Hey, haven't you ever wondered about the history of candy? Hey, let's look and see what kind of reviews that movie got!"
I find that I can often concentrate better if I can do something to entertain the whiny part of my mind while I work. It's difficult to achieve this balance; no method works the same way twice, and different methods don't all work with the same task. When I'm reading something for content, it sometimes helps to tap my feet or toss a small stuffed animal from hand to hand. It almost always helps to highlight and annotate the text with fun pens.
When I'm reading for formatting or making graphics, I like to listen to music. As long as I can find the right music, I can entertain the whiny part of my brain, which leaves the working part free to work like a boss. The right type of music depends on the day, though.
Type 1: Classical Music.
Some of my favorites: Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Hooked on Classics (it counts!)
Pros: This music is gorgeous and makes me feel happy to be alive. The Hooked on Classics versions give me a taste of all the greatest songs with the bonus of a bouncy beat. They're mostly instrumentals, which is great for me because it gets harder for me to concentrate when there are people singing. I can't tune out the lyrics. Depending on the song, the music can make me feel calm, happy, or even powerful.
Cons: Sometimes I'm too familiar with the music and I sing along with it in my mind instead of concentrating on my work. It's hard to resist making the cannon sounds in the 1812 Overture. Sometimes the music gets too emotional, which makes me emotional and unfocused.
Type 2: Video Game Soundtracks
Some of my favorites: Legend of Zelda games, Super Mario Bros.
Pros: Video game soundtracks are perfect for long work sessions! The background music is designed to make the gameplay more interesting, adding atmosphere and mood, but to not distract the player from the task at hand. The music is often gorgeous- as video game graphics improve, so do video game soundtracks. Music from fighting scenes often has a driving beat that's good to work to.
Cons: A lot of video games include cutscenes- scenes in which the player loses control of the playable character and watches a scene in which characters interact with each other or important events happen. These scenes are like short movies, and the background music takes a step up and demands your attention instead of trying not to distract you. These scenes often have dramatic, swelling, loud, beautiful, sad music, and sometimes it's hard to focus on work with all these emotions, especially if you know the story and- I'M NOT CRYING, YOU'RE CRYING.
(the Skyward Sword soundtrack is amazing and I love it, but many people who have played through the game might have a miniature panic attack at 3:17:37 in this video. those Guardians, man...)
Type 3: Electronic Music
Some of my favorites: Almost anything that comes up on a "Daft Punk" station on Pandora.
Pros: This music is exciting! It's got a driving beat, and it'll push you to the end of the project you're working on. Even if you don't typically listen to electronic music, this is good music for plugging away at a long task. I've run into a lot of upbeat remixes of video game music, which gives me two types of working music for the price of one.
Cons: Some of the music includes little robot voices, which can be distracting at times. Also, this music might make you dance too much.