WorkJam is a hypothetical system that helps regulate your mental energy with music while you’re working. It listens to your brain activity and responds with smart song selections to keep you in the creative flow.

The Problem

I’m not good at taking breaks when I’m working. Once I get started, I tend keep going and going until I’m totally spent, feeling a little crazed by the work, and in dire need of a mental break, some fresh air, some food, or any combination of them.

I wanted to design a system that would help me regulate my energy and eventually take breaks.

The Process

Using Paul Pangaro’s model for first-order feedback loops, I started diagramming possible intervention systems.

The Goal defines the relationship that the systems wants to have on the environment:
maintain high to medium energy levels while doing work, and take a breaks when regulating becomes more difficult.

My mental energy levels

Disturbances to the Environment:
How much sleep I had the night before, what I ate or drank earlier, how active I was that day, my mood, or even the energy in the room, are things that can affect my energy levels, and that live outside the system.

Some things that give away my energy levels are: yawning, posture, lazy typing, rubbing my eyes, eyes feeling heavy, frequent blinking; or on the other end I’m having fun, I have lots of ideas, thoughts, and questions, and I’m engaged in the work I’m doing. I could also try to deduce my energy levels based on the passage of time. The Ultradian Cycles tell us that our brains naturally go through peaks and valleys of energy multiple times a day, usually every 90 to 120 minutes.

But when we talk about sensors and actuators, we talk about them in relation to their resolution or sensitivity (how accurate is your sensor or actuator?); their frequency (how often does the sensing or action take place?); and their range (what’s the capacity, or minimums and maximums of your sensor or actuator). None of the sensors above hit the sweet spot in terms of resolution, frequency, and range. For this project, I settled on measuring brain activity via an EEG sensor.

Things that can have an effect on my energy levels are things like:

  • consuming energy foods or drinks
  • taking a break (like: breathing or stretching exercises, going for a walk, music and smells, washing my face, a good laugh)
  • playing high-energy music

There is strong evidence showing how music has the power to affect our emotional and energetic states. And since I tend to listen to music while I’m getting work done, I chose music as my actuator in this project.

The Results


I created a few videos and audio recordings to help describe WorkJam.


Next Steps

Going through this exersice of designing a system was really fun and challenging. I would love to build a prototype for the system itself using an EEG sensor and a music player. I’m hoping to have some time after thesis to do this.