While sometimes it’s purely to block out irritating noises (or people), or other times just to give us a welcome burst of energy, listening to music at work makes us more productive and helps with concentration and focus; it even make us happier.
Here are 12 reasons why it pays to listen to music at work…
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 will 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 tune of the month and enjoy it while you work.
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.
Work in a loud office full of open plan banter that a cranked Marshall amp wouldn’t cut through? In 2013 Nick Perham found these environments ‘impair employees ability to recall information’. These types of background sounds can have a negative effect on work. 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 help us 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. Another group of researchers (Ferreri et al, 2013) found that background music helps 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. It’s common knowledge that learning to play a musical instrument helps to keep the brain young. Make sure to pick one of the many easy instruments to learn, such as ukulele, harmonica or even drums.
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?
It appears that it isn’t the music itself, but rather the improved mood your favorite music brings you, that is the source of this bump in productivity. So what are the most productive types of music?
Best Music for Exercise
No matter what level of fitness you are or the distance you run, having the right playlist while exercising is crucial. Music can make the difference between smashing that PB or coughing up your lungs on the side of the road. Finding the right tempo to match your pace is vital too 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. 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 from pure remembering of facts and figures. One of the most interesting sounds for concentration comes from an unlikely source: video games!
The soundtracks for video games are composed for specific purposes, to focus a gamer into completing certain tasks, actions and of course, big bosses. 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.
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. Ambient music (try any of Brian Eno’s ambient works) is full of epic guitar effects that will soon send you into the land of nod.
Also, try ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union which often wins the top slot for the most relaxing piece of music ever. It has been shown to potentially slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure and decrease levels of cortisol. Here’s the 10-hour version!
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:
Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
This prog-rock 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. There are no lyrics to distract you from the book’s words either.
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 recognizable melodies, chunks of improvised, free playing and a swinging rhythm throughout.
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.
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 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 workmates (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 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 earplugs 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.