Like many, I spend my weekdays in a bustling, open plan office. As a copywriter, my role involves a lot of independent, focused work and the noise of phones ringing and people talking can stifle my productivity.
So, when I need to knuckle down and focus, I turn to my trusted playlist of lyricless tunes to drown out the background noise and get me back on track. There’s also a small part of me that thinks the music will wheedle its way into the the creative cortex of my brain and prompt the creative juices to flow!
Rumour has it, playing music to babies encourages their intellectual development in the womb, and people even play it to their plants in the hope that they’ll grow quicker. It’s been scientifically proven, however, that music is a powerful tool when it comes to increasing your own productivity, or that of your workforce, in the workplace.
Research by Dr Anneli Haake- a Music Psychologist- found that on the whole, people listen to music for 36% of their working week, and that 79% would benefit from listening to music at work, regardless of their age, occupation, location and personal taste or habits.
You can download Dr Haake’s full report, The Sound of Productivity here.
This is nothing new- employers have used music as a tool to encourage productivity since the 1930s, when it was played in factories to add variation to the working day and relieve employee boredom.
Listening to music at work has multiple benefits, depending on the task at hand and the listener’s state of mind.
Which of these apply to you?
The most common reason people people ‘plug in’ is to ‘drown out’. Blocking out distractions aids concentration and offers the individual control over their working environment. It is also acts as a ‘do not disturb’ sign to talkative colleagues!
2. Positive Distraction
Music can be a diversion, yes, but it’s often a positive one- it’s the more focusing alternative to chatting, browsing social media or daydreaming!
Music can also help us to manage our emotional state: it offers company when we’re working independently, inspiration when we’re feeling uninspired and a calm voice when the stress mounts in the run up to a deadline.
Mundane tasks that seem to stretch out to infinity are unfortunately unavoidable in any job role. Music offers escapism from the arduous by stimulating interest and providing variation.
The science behind it
Listening to music boosts levels of the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine which aids focus and concentration.
When your headphones are in and music is playing, the sound is pumped into the auditory cortex, awakening various compartments in the brain. The section of the brain that is stimulated depends very much on the emotion the music evokes. This is prompted in part by factors such as whether the music is in a major or minor key, and if it has lyrics or not.
In her research, Dr Haake found that people balance their internal needs and motivation to listen to music with what’s expected from them while they’re on the job.
Extroverts, for instance, often need higher levels of stimulation to reach their performance peak (introverts less so), which explains why different people opt for different genres.
(The Year of Cognitive Neuroscience)
The best genres
When it comes to compiling a playlist at work, keep the following two things in mind: familiarity and genre. Haake’s research reveals that the more complex the work is, or the more introverted the person is, the more stripped-back the music should be.
Likewise, if you need to focus intensely for long periods, it’s better to listen to something you are familiar with; this way, the music only engages with your subconscious and you’re not anticipating what comes next.
Songs with lyrics are often deemed too distracting for immersive or language-related tasks. For repetitive, administrative tasks, however, they can be motivating and engaging.
Chilled out, atmospheric songs work best for those who listen to music during creative tasks like writing, illustrating or designing. Its moderate noise level, calming rhythms and repetitions compliment the creative process.
The likes of Mozart and Beethoven are perfect partners for those whose role involves attention to detail or intense problem solving, like editing or working out mathematical equations.
Basic admin tasks are performed faster when soundtracked by pop music. Participants in a research experiment who listened to pop completed data entry jobs 58% faster than those listening to none, according to Dr David Lewis, a neuropsychologist and chairman of the project at Mindlab International.
Here, Dr David Lewis explains the findings of his experiment:
Who’s on my playlist?
1. Philip Glass
Anything from the minimalist composer’s body of work sets me back on track if I find myself getting distracted. That said, it sometimes evokes an emotional reaction, so it’s not one I’d select on days when I’m feeling sensitive!
2. Henri Mancini
This is definitely one for later in the day, when I’m in need of some positive, upbeat vibes to get me through the final stages of a job.
3. Twin Peaks Soundtrack
The strange yet calming works of Angelo Badalamenti never fail to be interesting.
4. Kate Bush
Her concept album, 50 Words For Snow, is the perfect motivator in colder months (it also has a strangely warming effect).
Does music make you more productive? If so, who’s on your playlist?
Tell us in the comments below…