This Is How I Study: Part 2

Inspired by the popular Lifehacker series, This Is How I Work, and the companion post from Letters to a Young Librarian, we here at Hack Library School would like to share with you some of the tools and tips we’ve learned during our time in school. This series, titled This Is How I Study, will feature questions (some original, some borrowed) about study habits and technology must-haves that we have found to be effective. You can find Part 1 of this series here. As always, we welcome comments and tweets, so feel free to share your own tried and true methods with the HLS community.

Question 2:

What do you listen to while you study?


Either silence or lots of ambient noise. I study best when I can’t hone in on any one particular distraction; I get too sidetracked otherwise. Library top floors work well for silence, but I live within walking distance of a great independent coffee shop that is always packed, and that’s actually my favorite place to study. There are so many conversations going on at once that it just creates this perfect cloud of noise. If I can’t get myself in a distraction-free environment, I plug in my headphones and go to SimplyNoise.


I am a big fan of ambient kitchen noise. I like the acoustics of the relatively hard, reflective surfaces, and I work well with the sounds of my roommates cooking food or talking or watching TV. I am also a fan of tall spaces where I can spread out, and bar-style kitchen counters fit the bill for that perfectly. I also sometimes put on some Steely Dan when I have writers’ block, for whatever reason, but other than that I rarely listen to music.


It depends on the day and my mood. I have very wide-ranging music tastes, so I might be listening to folk music one day, heavy metal the next, and ambient music the day after that. I live on a pretty quiet street, so usually my apartment doesn’t have a lot of noise (except for from my pets), but I still like to put something on in the background sometimes. I find that music has a huge impact on my mood and energy levels, so I tend to play around with a few different groups and genres in a given day until I find what clicks with where I’m at that day.


I almost always need non-lyrical music if I’m reading or writing (exception: I can listen to anything while I work on code/HTML). My favorites, depending on my mood and the type of work being done, are: Ratatat (electronic, upbeat; suggested album: Classics), the Pride & Prejudice movie soundtrack (quieter, alternates between slow/sad and upbeat/chirpy; good for paper-writing), the Amelie soundtrack (happy French music!), and a playlist of piano-dominated tunes, from the grand and sweeping to the humble and quiet (think “Clair de lune”).


It varies depending on the assignment I’m working on. If I’m writing a paper and I can’t concentrate or get my ideas together, Miles Davis always straightens me out. Kind of Blue has been my go-to study album for 10 years, and it hasn’t let me down once. When I’m doing a more objective assignment, like filling out a worksheet or doing a database search, I listen to a lot of coffee shop music–Amos Lee is my favorite. I also tend to have the TV on whenever I’m at home. I think TV is my version of ambient noise.


I listen to a wildly variable set of sounds to help me focus, but it’s usually some sort of post-rock/shoegaze, electronic music, or jazz. I used to host a college radio show and could ramble on about bands forever, so I’ll just say that I highly recommend Seefeel, Drexciya, and Herbie Hancock for studying or writing accompaniment. You’re welcome to look at my for other artists if you’re so inclined. For more ambient sounds, I’ve also recently started listening to the Hatnote “Listen to Wikipedia” project that renders events on Wikipedia (different edits, people joining, etc.) into sound in realtime, as well as to various myNoise sound machines.


I listen to quite a wide range of music. I can easily go from The Cranberries to Frank Sinatra to bachata (I used to dance professionally!). But, I’m a metalhead at heart and that’s what I enjoy the most. Some of my favorite bands include My Dying Bride (ex: Songs of Darkness, Words of Light), Type O Negative (ex: October Rust), and Opeth (ex: Still Life). I find that it’s really easy to get into a good study groove when you can nod your head at some good ‘ole death and doom metal.


It doesn’t really matter what I’m listening to, as long as it’s something that I know by heart. If the lyrics and/or melody are predictable in my head, then they don’t pull my mind away from my work. I have a couple of go-to albums that I’ll listen to on repeat, or if I’ve got to get really serious, I’ll pull out the big guns and make a dedicated playlist for the task ahead.

Categories: Day in the Life

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