Episode 83 |

The Power of Music to Improve Focus and Productivity: Will Henshall

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This Week’s Guest:

We’ve all been there: you’re in a flow state, being ultra productive, and then suddenly you’re distracted by wondering whether you locked the door or what you should have for dinner. Getting into a flow state is tough, but staying in one for a prolonged period can be even tougher.


That’s where Will Henshall can help. He’s the founder and CEO of Focus at Will, a music app for increasing productivity. In this conversation, he explains in detail how flow states work in relation to sound, and explains why most music is actually a distraction rather than a helpful tool.


Will’s work with music didn’t start here. In 1987, he founded the British pop-soul band Londonbeat, which had two Billboard #1 hit records. He’s also a successful serial entrepreneur. In other words, he knows about high performance, so you can believe his system works.


Find Out More About Will Here:

Will Henshall on LinkedIn
@willhenshall on Twitter
Will Henshall on Facebook
Focus at Will


In This Episode:


  • [01:51] – Will’s three interests are efficiency/productivity, music, and the brain. He explains why the music we tend to listen to isn’t great for productivity, and discusses how putting headphones on to block out distracting sounds actually makes things worse.
  • [07:22] – Your non-conscious mind doesn’t only notice music with vocals, but also music with instruments that sound like a human voice, or other things related the human voice (such as breath sounds).
  • [09:45] – Some people are more easily distracted than others, Will explains, and reveals that for certain distractibility levels, having more distraction is actually better.
  • [13:00] – Stephan steps in to relate what Will has been saying to what we learned in a previous Optimized Geek episode with Helen Irlen.
  • [14:20] – Will returns to the idea of early humans, and explains how ADD and ADHD would have benefitted us in those days.
  • [17:23] – The distractibility scale is an internal concept at Focus at Will, Will explains. He then offers a simple way to conceptualize it and assess your own distractibility. Next, he explains how habituating to your sound environment reduces productivity.
  • [21:12] – Will talks about using the recommended practice for using the timer on the Focus at Will system, then plays some sound samples from the system.
  • [24:19] – For listeners not familiar with the concept, Will explains what binaural beats are.
  • [27:08] – There have been two main differences between men and women on the Focus at Will system: women tend to listen at a lower volume, and what happens in the brain during a flow state.
  • [29:37] – Stephan talks about the concept of attention residue.
  • [31:55] – Will explains what a stand-up meeting is, and how they function at his company.
  • [34:43] – We hear about how the Pomodoro Technique connects to what Will has been talking about.
  • [37:16] – Will offers a simple trick for getting into a flow state.
  • [40:43] – Stephan talks about classical music, explaining that he finds it so boring that it would put him to sleep if he listened for long. Will explains that he doesn’t like it either, but that it’s one of the most popular stations on the program.
  • [43:13] – The type of music on Focus at Will is called “streamlined music,” Will explains.
  • [44:41] – Focus at Will is based on hard science. Will talks about a study they did last year involving the Big Five personality traits, and explains how this relates to the Focus at Will program.
  • [48:07] – How long of a trial period is enough to figure out whether Focus at Will will work for you? For most people, 48 hours is long enough. It works for about two out of three people, and if it doesn’t work for you, you’ll know it.
  • [48:57] – Will offers some final words of advice for listeners.


Get Optimized!


  1. Don’t wear headphones if I’m trying to be productive. Trying to block out sounds can actually be more of a distraction.
  2. While focusing, avoid music with a human voice, and also music with voice-like qualities (such as breath sounds or instruments that sound similar to the voice).
  3. Experiment with different distraction levels to see which is best for me. Depending on how my brain works, having more stimulation around might help my productivity.


Links and Resources:

Will Henshall on LinkedIn
@willhenshall on Twitter
Will Henshall on Facebook
Focus at Will
Helen Irlen on the Optimized Geek
Alison Armstrong on the Optimized Geek
Cal Newport on the Optimized Geek
Binaural beats
Stand-up meeting
Pomodoro Technique
Shaahin Cheyene on the Optimized Geek
Singularity University interview with Will Henshall
Big Five personality traits



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