Listen on Spotify.
I’m sitting here with my headphones in my lap — having just listened to a Shania Twain track, “I’m Gonna Getcha Good”— to get myself in the mood to write this intro. The link between mood and music is now well established. The same cannot be said of the proposed link between listening to music and increased productivity.
To listen or not to listen? Let’s answer the question.
The most accurate answer I can give is — it depends. How music may affect your productivity depends on multiple factors, including your personality, how prone you are to boredom, what you listen to and when. There’s plenty of research supporting the idea that listening to music while working damages efficiency, but there’s just as much scientific research out there suggesting that listening to music can increase your productivity. Thus, the ultimate decision about whether you should work to music rests with you and — where applicable — your employer.
You’re in the best position to judge what is likely to benefit you and improve your work routine and performance. Later, I’ll share one way you could build music into your work routine if you decide to give it a whirl.
First, let’s dig a bit deeper into the argument that music, when used well, can help increase your productivity and work performance.
How can music help you become more productive?
Multiple studies investigating the effect of music on the brain — more specifically on how music may affect productivity — exist. It seems music can affect productivity, but in lots of indirect ways that vary from person-to-person. Let’s look at some of them.
Music can help put us in a better mood or frame of mind.
- A study into the neurochemistry of music found that music did more to combat stress and anxiety than the anti-anxiety meds researchers used. Patients in the study who listened to music, afterwards reported feeling less stressed than patients given the meds.
- This isn’t related directly to productivity. But if you’re like me, you feel more able to get more work done to a higher quality when you’re not especially stressed.
- Thus, if music can boost your mood — and your mood influences productivity — it may not be too much of a stretch to imagine that music can also boost your productivity.
Music helps alleviate boredom.
- Boredom is often disastrous for productivity levels. Luckily, if you use background music, you can help stave off the boredom of repetitive tasks and actually perform better at work by listening to music.
- Not only does this make repeating tasks more enjoyable, but it also makes it easier for you to focus while doing them.
Playing music when in the short gaps between tasks may increase efficiency.
- An study investigating effects of music on work performance, found that time spent on each task was longest when music was not listened to. Moreover, the quality of the work produced fell when researchers switched off music which participants had been listening to for a short period.
- Remember that other studies have found that having music on can distract workers and lower productivity. It’s worth pointing out, however, that how likely music is to take your attention away from work seems to depend hugely upon your personality.
- If you want to try listening to music while working to see for yourself how you’re affected, it may be best to only listen to music during breaks. That way, you may get all the mood-lifting benefits from listening to music whist lessening the chances of becoming too distracted to work effectively. So, building periodic musical interludes into your routine may work wonders for your long-term productivity levels.
Next, it’s time to look at the controversy that exists over how significant and useful a link between music, cognitive performance and — by extension — productivity may be.
Music, cognitive performance, and productivity; is there a link?
Since a controversial claim made by Rauscher and Shaw in 1993, the possibility of a link between music and cognitive performance has been touted. Since the term ‘Mozart Effect’ was first used in 1991 by Dr Alfred Tomatis, there has even been controversy over how significant that effect is and even over whether it exists at all. More recently however, there seems to be a general consensus that music does have an effect on cognitive performance, but precisely how that effect manifests itself seems to depend largely on your personality. People who don’t easily get bored and need less external stimulation tend to perform better when listening to music than when they don’t. On the other hand, if you get bored quickly and need more stimulation from external sources, you might perform worse on tests if you listen to music. It’s worth pointing out that the whole question of how useful the Boredom-Proneness Scale is, itself remains undecided.
In a similar vein, as has been highlighted by software engineering company 7pace, the nature of the proposed link between music and productivity is still unexplained. There is a strong scientific case which supports the notion that listening to music while working may help increase productivity. However, there’s also a strong case for advising people not to listen to music at work for fear of decreasing worker efficiency. Ultimately, you are the person who knows your own work routine best, and thus can best judge whether music is likely to improve your productivity. If you’re self-employed the decision, of course, lies with you alone, so long as you consider others who may be working around you, at home, or elsewhere.
If you are an employee and feel that listening to music may help you work smarter, and get more done, it may be worth chatting to your boss about it. See if they’re up for giving it a go.
Now’s the perfect time to share one way you might choose to use music — and sometimes silence —to give yourself the best chance of boosting your productivity.
How can I use music to increase productivity through the day?
Step 1: Rise and shine
- David Greenberg suggests using a tune that starts off slow but warms up as it continues and has a nice rhythm to it, to get you going in the morning, my personal choice would be something like Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day.”
- Its main purpose is to help you shake off that groggy morning feeling and leave you feeling ready to face the day.
- Positive lyrics can also help you find your morning mojo.
- It’s important to remember that the first tracks on your playlist shouldn’t immediately force you into a focused state in which you can be productive. Instead, the music you choose should help bring you towards that state.
- If you’re feeling especially low, music therapist Kirsten Nelson recommends finding a more peaceful track you like as your first song of the day.
Step 2: Get ready to work
- It’s time to get motivated.
- Try using dance tracks with repetitive, fast beats to get yourself pumped up.
- You can listen to this kind of music whilst doing stretches and exercise to increase your energy levels and — by extension — your work performance and productivity.
Step 3: Tackle that deep work
- This may be the perfect time to choose music with no words, or words you don’t understand to keep you calm, focused, and in flow.
- If music — with or without lyrics — is too distracting, but silence proves to be too little stimulation, you might want to try using a white noise machine or listening to sounds from nature to help you concentrate more fully.
- Be careful with lyrics when trying to do work you have to think about though. Songs with lyrics that tell a story may take you out of your ‘flow’ state and lessen your efficiency.
- You should also keep the volume of your music in mind, so that you don’t disturb others around you.
Step 4: Smash that big meeting (even if it’s on Zoom)
- That big meeting is fast approaching.
- You may want to find a song with good lyrics that inspire confidence, to get you ready for anything.
- However, it’s important to note that — just as it’s healthy to schedule regular breaks within your work day to increase your productivity — it’s as important to give yourself a break from music about once an hour. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be able to be super productive in that 5 minutes of silence, you may give yourself just before the meeting. Taking breaks from your music also prevents you from becoming used to it. If you acclimatise to it, whatever effect it may be having on your brain diminishes.
- Thus, the next time you play music, it is still likely to be as effective at helping you focus or getting you pumped up as before. This is sometimes what is meant when people talk about using ‘background music’ to help them concentrate and be more productive.
Step 5: Time to be creative
- Now it’s 3pm and you’ve got to come up with some ideas before starting to slow down a bit.
- Use music to stave off the afternoon slump by using tracks that help unlock your creativity.
- Gentle, atmospheric music may be just the ticket to boosting your creativity before you move onto some easier work and begin to prepare for your next working day.
Who knows? If you work out your own, personalised musical routine, it may just give you that extra push you need to maximise your productivity.
We’ve explored the possibility of using the emotive power of music to help you get the best out of yourself at work. I hope I’ve given you a clearer idea of the ways music has the potential to help you increase your productivity, indirect as they often are. So why not use the framework I’ve given above and adapt it for your personal use to find your own answer to today’s question. You may just discover that music holds not only the key to maximising your productivity, but also the key to unlocking your full creative potential!