Listening to music at work makes us more productive. With music flowing through us, we are quicker, less stressed, more creative, focused, even happier. Or so they say.
In this article we look at exactly why it’s contested that music makes us more productive. We’ll also cover the best types of music to listen to during different activities.
- Does Music Really Make Us More Productive?
- Which Type of Music to Listen to?
Let’s start with an infographic on the 12 ways music makes you more productive….
Does Music Really Make Us More Productive?
Can music really make you more productive? Is certainly appears so.
In a study by Lesiuk in 2005, the results found that it wasn’t the music itself but rather the mood elicited by favored songs increased workload. Listening to a good old Summer classic would bring a smile to your face and make you want to work more. Everyone does less work when they’re in a mood, so throw on your preferred tune and enjoy the sound while working.
Music in the Major Mode, or Key, Has Better Results
The Lesiuk study also found that even background music can have a positive effect on performance. Music in the major mode (imagine happier keys) played in the background has better results than no music.
Open Offices are Noisy Places, Music is an Escape
Work in a loud office full of typing, photocopiers and gossip? In 2013 Nick Perham found these environments can ‘impair employees ability to recall information’. These types of background sounds can have a negative effect upon work.
Lyrics Can Be Distracting
Jahncke et al studied the effects of workplace conversations being a negative influence on focus. 48% of participants noted intelligible talking as being the sound which distracted them most. This highlights the negative effect lyrics could have. For tasks that don’t require verbal architecture, lyrics can have a positive or calming effect as found by Lesiuk.
The Effect of Music on the Brain
A team from Stanford used brain images to show participants listening to music had parts of their brain stimulated that silence could not do. Music moved parts of the brain to concentrate and focus on one task at a time; very useful when studying for those exams!
University of Illinois researchers found that listening to music in ‘all types of work’ increased work output up to 6.3% over a control group
Ferreri et al, 2013, found that background music can help to activate the encoding of verbal material in participant’s brains. This would be highly useful for anyone listening to music while repeating phrases to remember.
Hate Music While You Work?
Tze and Chou, 2010, found that music with a ‘higher intensity’ is more distracting and had a greater effect on participant’s concentration. They used classical, hip hop music and silence as a control. So hip-hop, rap and dance music might be a no no when trying to concentrate
In a study dissected by MetaFilter, 56 employees working on basic computer tasks were found to be more productive when no music was playing compared to another group listening to music.
Which Type of Music to Listen to?
To a great extent is appears that it isn’t the music itself, but rather the improved mood your favourite music brings you that is the source of this bump in productivity. So what types of music are best listened to for different activities? Let’s take a look..
Best Music for Studying
Most research actually states the best sounds for studying is silence! Music, no matter how much you love or hate it can actually interfere with serial recall skills. No matter what science says; some people just can’t sit in a room for hours without some beat to listen to. For these people, the best sounds for studying are those which match the tempo to the task. Anyone needing to recite facts, figures and dates need classical, chillout music such as Bach.
Studying requires a lot of recall which is why it is not recommended to listen to music with lyrics in. If you still wish to listen to your favorite song, try finding the instrumental version, sometimes these come out even better. This is a good one to study to.
Best Music for Running
No matter what level of fitness you are or the distance you run, having the right playlist while out is essential! Music can make the difference between blasting that pace goal or coughing up your lungs on the side of the road. Finding the right tempo to match your pace is ideal and needed for the times your thighs ache but you need to get that extra mile.
The best music for running tends to be songs with fast beats or catchy tunes. If the song makes you bob your head and tap your feet, it’s probably a good song to run to. I particularly like fast tempo songs to get me into that sprinting mood, my recent favorite being Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling; a great one to give your step a little lift.
Stuck for ideas? Love to run? Simply search on Spotify or youtube for ‘runner’s playlist’. You will be inundated with great songs to run to.
Best Music for Concentration
You might be thinking this is the same as revising but concentration is a whole other ballgame. Concentrating on a task requires a different set of skills, a certain focus is needed that is different to pure remembering of facts and figures.One of the most interesting sounds for concentration comes from an unlikely source; video games!
The soundtracks for videogames are composed for specific purposes, to focus a gamer into completing certain tasks, actions and of course, big bosses. The majority of their sound is to relax, yet be focused in case other jobs or missions need to be completed. Therefore it is the perfect music to listen for concentration. There are hundreds of soundtracks out there of various tastes; you’re bound to find something you like. Here are a couple of my favorites.
Best Music for Sleep
Getting to sleep can be a ridiculously frustrating task for millions of people. So many suffer from insomnia and other sleep deprivation effects; music, like alternative methods of relaxation such as yoga, can often be the solution to these problems.
You may have heard in popular culture of ‘nature sounds’, a collection of sounds from natural environments that are meant to soothe, calm and allow your body to relax enough to sleep. These can help and are big business as they can easily be bought on CDs or listened for free on youtube.
For something a little different, try this song by Macaroni Union. ‘Weightless’ topped the Scientific list in 2011 for relaxing pieces of music. It has been shown to potentially slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure and decrease levels of cortisol. Give it a go!
Best Music for Driving
Ok, driving music is a bit of a personal deal as everyone has different tastes. Envision you, your car, the open road with the sun shining. What music would make you smile and scream the lyrics loudly? For some; it might be a bit of Bohemian Rhapsody, for others it’s My Brightside.
Best Music for Babies
Any new parents will know the struggle of getting a baby to sleep. It can be one of the most tiring and frustrating times you will ever experience. You try the rocking, you try the shushing, you even try praying the little one will finally nod off. Like countless others, I have tried singing to my little one with various levels of success. The best music I used was calm and soothing music without lyrics such as:
There is some evidence that ‘white noise’ is especially effective to calm babies down and help them sleep. Use this sparingly as a baby can become too used to this sound making it ineffective.
Best Music for the Gym/Workout
Once again, this playlist can be very much like the running one. You need some upbeat songs to keep you going for your cardio workout. However, you should also have some calming tunes to lower the heart rate for weight lifting. Getting some music collected might be a bane if you have thousands of songs in your library. Try a few playlists to find one you like; try this site for a bit of inspiration.
Best Music for Writing
As I writer I need either one of two things when getting down to do some work; silence or a really good playlist. Silence is often the way I go as noise and lyrics can be extremely distracting. As mentioned earlier, work including any literary significance often calls for sounds without lyrics. Therefore, any music that takes your pick would suffice, just make sure it is instrumental only. My personal pick if I do need some sound is music from my favorite video game:
Best Music for Relaxation/Meditation
This can be a very similar playlist to getting to sleep. Relaxing and meditating is all about lowering your heart rate, lowering blood pressure and chilling out. Lots of people prefer the natural sounds effect for meditation; think of all those out there cross legged in a forest. Me personally, I like relaxing to songs with slow beats such as Sia’s ‘Breathe Me’ or Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’. I could easily chill out on the sofa with songs such as these.
Best Music for Reading
Listening to music whilst you’re trying to read a book can be off-putting and annoying; the lyrics can distract you from the text in the book, and you might find yourself turning pages without taking a single word in.
However, listening to the right music as you read a book can be really helpful. The rhythm can help you to keep a steady pace as you read, and the sounds can relax you and make your reading experience more pleasurable.
Here are some examples of some of the best music to listen to while reading:
Vivaldi – The Four Seasons
A lot of classical music is suitable for a relaxed reading experience. The lack of lyrics and beauty of the patterns encourage both focus and pleasure.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is recognisable and easy to listen to whilst still being enjoyable, interesting and inspiring.
Rather than distracting you from your book, it will enhance the experience of reading it.
2) Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
This progressive masterpiece is a brilliant reading companion.
The musical journey here perfectly complements the experience of reading an exciting book, and it may even help to enhance your visual imagination.
Again, there are no lyrics to distract you from the book’s words.
3) Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue
If you find that jazz helps you to relax and to think creatively, ‘Kind Of Blue’ by Miles Davis is your perfect reading partner.
There are moments of recognisable melodies, chunks of improvised, free playing and a swinging rhythm throughout. All of these elements go together with the free flow of many novelists, and once you settle into it, you’ll want to go on the journey of the book together.
4) Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works
If you find the straight rhythm and repetitive nature of electronic work to be a lot more soothing than any kind of jazz, this classic album by Aphex Twin might be more suited to your reading session.
As is the case with all of our choices here, there are no lyrics, and the chilled out, ambient nature of Aphex Twin’s sound work as a great aid for focus on reading.
It might not be as pleasurable as the classical options, though…
5) Eine Klein Nachtmusik – Mozart
…Which brings us to our fifth choice, another classical one.
Anything by Mozart will be recognisable, pleasant on the ear, relaxing and focusing. However, Eine Klein Nachtmusik – which has four recognisable movements filled with memorable melodies – is our top choice.
Listen to this as you read, and enjoy as the words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters take on a new level of life.
Transcript of Infographic:
1. Instant Mood Lifter
A great piece of music is an instant mood lifter. Plenty of scientific evidence backs this up – we’re happier bunnies when listening to music.
2. Makes Repetitive Tasks More Enjoyable
Oh the drudgery of repetitive tasks! Music shakes a stick at those dull ‘copy paste’ tasks and makes them even fun!
3. Gets You Into A ‘Flow State’
A flow state is when you lose yourself in the task at hand. Guess what…music, especially the right type of music, helps us get into that state.
4. Speeds Up Your Work
With music oozing through you and all those endorphins firing, you turn into something like the the Bradley Cooper character from the movie Limitless (without the magic pills).
5. Reduces Distractions
Distractions are the bane of the workplace. Music puts us on a ‘focus groove’ that makes us hell-bent on getting the job done.
6. Drowns Out Colleagues!
We all love our colleagues (right?!). But like family, even our beloved work mates (and their chit-chat) need to be channeled out when there’s stuff that needs doing.
7. Provides Company In A Quiet Office
Not all workplaces are noisy places. Far from it. A workplace that’s too quiet can be just as big a productivity suck. Music gives you a little oasis of company so you don’t go all lonely (just don’t go singing out loud).
8. Brings Out Your Creative Side
We are not cogs in giant machine, we’re people. And people are inherently creative (they just may not know it). Music is a creativity personified, and listening to it rubs off on you too.
9. Makes You Wanna Move
The ‘office chair slump’ is a symptom of spending too long staring at your screen. With some Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag pumping into your eardrums it would be humanly impossible not not to have a little wiggle in your chair.
10. Adds A Virtual ‘Do Not Disturb’ Sign
The office equivalent of the ‘do not disturb’ sign, the headphones on head pose (the bigger the headphones the better) says loud and clear ‘I’m busy doing deep work, don’t pester me’. Throw those pesky ear plug in the bin and get some cans.
11. Makes You More Sociable<
Come again, more sociable listening to music? Yup. You may be locked away behind a set of head cans while you’re doing your work, but when you take off those muffs you’re almost brimming with conversation you want to unleash.
12. Stops The Clock Watching
Too much clock watching is a dangerous thing. Music helps you find that flow state and before you know it, you’re immersed in the task and the day is over.
Source (partial list):
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.