Coffitivity is a free app that recreates the ambience of a coffee shop with three different audio tracks to match the mood you want to create. It’s completely free and available for iOS, Mac and Android, or you can load up coffitivity.com in your browser and play the sounds from there. And it’s had a huge impact on my ability to focus when working from home, so I highly recommend it.
I’m a freelance photographer so I should be good at focussing, right? Ba-dum-TSH, here all week folks, try the veal.
Seriously though, I spend a lot of my free time kicking around the house either relaxing with Netflix or a game, doing chores, or, most problematically, studiously avoiding doing chores. When I’m on a job somewhere, surrounded by other people also working, I have zero distraction issues but at home, alone, in silence, I have a serious problem with procrastination and distractions, particularly when it comes to doing certain computer tasks.
I recognise my procrastination and avoidance issues and I’ve got a number of tools and personal processes to combat them: I’ve made jotting down anything I remember I need to do in Things much more of a habit, meaning I can stop worrying about what things I might have forgotten to do and just get on with doing them; I keep our budget spending updated daily using the YNAB iPhone app; I try to remember to turn off distractions like Safari, Mail and Tweetbot when I sit down to do computer work; and I keep an Rdio playlist of gentle jazz handy as background noise.
Turns out background noise has a much bigger impact on my ability to focus than I thought and reassuringly there’s scientific research backing this up. When I sit down to tackle something that needs to be done in the lonely silence of our flat my mind wanders and has a terrible habit of dredging up all sorts of negative emotions, drawing on past negative situations, and projecting negative futures, all of which scare me off making decisions and taking action by making me afraid of how I might fail, and how it’s easier to just avoid failure than it is to face up to the possibility of it occurring.
Pretty heavy, huh? Well that’s a post for another day. Right now I want to tell you about the simplest step that made the biggest difference to my focus and my mental attitude when I sit down to work: installing Coffitivity.
Coffee shop ambiance, at home
Music has always been my first recourse to silencing the silence of our empty flat, but that can be a distraction in itself. Do I want to put on the same old playlist? Find something new? But what genre? Nothing too pop, rock or dance. Nothing too atmospheric in case it’s depressing (so no Clint Mansell soundtracks then). I could spend half an hour idly flicking through Rdio, then hop onto Safari to research ‘work at home’ playlist suggestions… And before you know it I’ve run out of time allotted for the original task.
The ambiance provided by Coffitivity seems to let me get right into the task at hand, puts me In The Zone. I tried it for the first time a couple of days ago and spent the next five hours without distraction compiling the year’s expenses for my tax return, something I’ve been putting off since April. Sure, I had to do it this month anyway, but surrounded by other (imaginary) people all doing their own thing, working away and supping coffee and getting on with it, I got started and… enjoyed the process of working. It’s like a human version of ‘white noise’, that somehow keeps my brain marching forward following the map rather than wandering off into the shadowy forest of distraction.
Once installed the app lives in the menubar. Click to reveal the drop-down menu, pick a track, set the volume and hit play. You can have it launch at login, and there’s a ‘one-click’ mode to play or pause whenever you click the menubar icon, with a right-click revealing the drop-down.
The icon itself is the coffee cup from the logo. It’s black and grey when not in use and turns a kind of aquamarine colour and presents a swirl of steam while a track is playing. I’d love an option to set it to black to match my other menubar icons, though.
The tracks are different enough from each other to suit various moods and are all long enough that the looping won’t start to grate. However, I noticed that when they looped it was a noticeably hard cut back to the beginning rather than a crossfade, which takes the sheen off the illusion somewhat. The University Undertones track in particular had a 1-2 second pause when it looped – ouch.
Still – it’s free, and these things can be fixed with small updates. All in all, while you may well be able to find similar background sounds in other ambience apps, Coffitivity does one thing and does it well. I’d love a more modern icon and would welcome a couple more tracks but those would just be an extra syrup shot in an already excellent cup of virtual joe. It works for me – I highly recommend it!