Every morning I roll out of bed at 6am, wander wearily downstairs, grab a coffee, and get to work.
That first hour of each day is absolutely critical. In fact, I’d argue that it has been central to getting the Mark Ellis Reviews brand off the ground and into a state of continual growth.
The reason is simple: between 6am and 7am, I write that day’s blog post. And without these blog posts, there’d be no content, no YouTube channel, and no audience.
There’s just one problem – focus. As creative as I am during those early hours, I still need help getting into some form of flow state, quickly.
I think I’ve finally found the best tool for the job. It’s called Brain.fm (that link will get you 20% off the subscription, by the way!), and promises to pipe music into your ears that “affects your brain differently than any other music”.
Let’s get into it!
What I was doing before Brain.fm (and why it didn’t work)
I’ve mentioned before that I have accounts with two music streaming services – Apple Music and Spotify. The former is the default choice for any Apple ecosystem person, but I subscribe to the latter simply because of its playlists.
More specifically, I’ve always loved Spotify’s near-endless vault of productivity-focused playlists. From movie soundtracks to binaural beats, my library is full of music that is designed to help me get things done.
There are a couple of issues with this strategy. Firstly, it means I have to find a suitable playlist every time I get to work. Often, this results in me scrolling endlessly through my playlist library, and flicking between those that I think might work.
Clearly, this is the antithesis of ‘getting things done’.
Secondly, this kind of behaviour absolutely ruins the recommendation engine on platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. Both services now continually recommend swirly, floaty tracks outside of work hours, and my auto-generated ‘Favourites Mix’ on Apple Music is currently a mixture of Pink Floyd, The Prodigy, and spa music.
Something needed to be done.
What is Brain.fm?
Brain.fm is an app for both iOS and Android. It promises to deliver “functional music to improve focus in 5 minutes”, whether you’re working, relaxing, sleeping, or meditating.
This is quite a claim, but the developers behind Brain.fm aren’t messing about. In fact, they’re not just developers – they’re proper scientists. There’s even a page on the Brain.fm website devoted to the science behind the service, where they share white papers, research notes, and the results of a performance pilot.
Now, I’m not a scientist, so all I can do is quote the team at Brain.fm. We’re told that the app uses “patented neural phase-locking” which enables “populations of neurons to engage in various kinds of coordinated activity”. I have no idea what any of that means, but in essence, this app delivers music that is designed to lock you into whichever mental state you desire – or send you to sleep (literally).
All you need is a pair of decent noise-cancelling over-the-ear headphones, a smartphone, and a Brain.fm account.
But that begs the question – is the investment worth it?
What is Brain.fm like?
It’s rare you find an app that solves a problem immediately, but that’s exactly what Brain.fm has done for me. There are two reasons for this – the user interface, and the fact the lofty claims made by the developer appear to be entirely accurate.
Let’s start with the user interface. As soon as you open Brain.fm, you’re asked what mental state you’d like to achieve. The options are focus, relax, sleep, and meditate.
Within each mental state, you’re presented with a selection of ‘purposes’. For instance, if you select relax, Brain.fm can help you chill, destress, or unwind. Need to get to sleep? Simply choose from guided sleep, wind down, or deep sleep. If mediation is your thing, Brain.fm offers both guided and unguided forms. All you do is select the length of time from which you want assistance from Brain.fm, and the music begins playing.
The ‘focus’ mindset is where it’s at for me, though. I typically work in one-hour sessions, therefore within seconds, I can select just the right flow state for the task in hand (be it deep work, creative flow, or light work). Brain.fm even provides shortcuts to your most used flow states, making it a true one-tap affair after a while.
The music provided by Brain.fm is perfect. There are a number of genres from which you can choose, but I find it best to just let Brain.fm do its thing. Remember – this is music that shouldn’t distract you or get in the way of what you’re doing; it’s a permanent work soundtrack that practically disappears once you enter your desired flow state.
Brain.fm combines its music with the aforementioned neural effects. These are, I think simply modulations in volume, which can be set to various levels of intensity. The idea, I think, is that these small changes in volume somehow lock into your brain’s own modulating networks to help you focus.
I’m probably butchering the definition of how Brain.fm works. But it does – big time. This is the only form of music I’ve found that literally sinks into my head, and succeeds in its mission to never distract me.
So… is Brain.fm worth it?
You can try Brain.fm for free, but that trial period only lasts three days. After that, you’ll have to stump up either $6.99 per month or opt for the annual fee of $49.99.
The annual fee offers a rather nice return on your investment, in my mind (excuse the pun). For a little over $4 per month, you’ll gain access to an app that is capable of seriously increasing your productivity.
There’s just one caveat. It’s not a miracle worker. Indeed, I’ve spent years working on my ability to reach a flow state while working, and Brain.fm simply feels like the final piece of the jigsaw. Therefore, if you struggle to focus at the moment, or have never experienced the sensation of deep work, Brain.fm isn’t going to be the silver bullet you’re looking for.
However, if, like me, you’re forever hunting through playlists to help you reach your carefully crafted ability to enter a flow state, Brain.fm will save you a boatload of time.
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