The effect music has on our brains has long been a subject of interest among researchers. We know that music can improve mood because it causes our bodies to release chemicals that reduce stress and make us feel good.
But the question is not whether people like listening to music. They do. But does music also make us more productive at work?
Listening to music while working is very common, especially nowadays when we have access to smartphones, generous data plans, Wi-Fi, and affordable headphones. We can see this from productivity and focus playlists that rack up millions of views on YouTube. There are even companies that specialize in creating music suited for the workplace.
But this habit started long before headphones and the ability to download YouTube playlists. In 1940, the UK government launched the “Music While You Work” program, which consisted of broadcasting music twice a day in factories in the hopes that this would boost productivity and result in the military getting the ammunition they needed at a faster pace.
It worked. In some factories, reports showed that output increased by almost 15% in the hour after the music session.
Numerous studies since then have shown that music can improve physical and cognitive performance and boost productivity.
On the other hand, some researchers speculate that it’s not the music itself that helps us be more productive and that we may work harder because we don’t want to lose the privilege of listening to music while we work since it improves our mood. This might also explain why employees respond so negatively when their employers try to take this privilege away. From their point of view, they’ve fulfilled their end of the deal.
You’ve probably noticed that music actually has a detrimental effect when you have to complete a particularly complex task, making it harder to focus and think clearly. This is particularly true for music that is unfamiliar or unpredictable.
That may be because it places a greater strain on our cognitive resources, such as working memory. Some studies have found that students performing tasks that involved reading comprehension or math had significantly worse scores when they listened to music.
A 2010 meta-analysis found that listening to background music can disturb the reading process and have a minor detrimental effect on memory. Still, it’s beneficial on an emotional level and increases performance in spots.
This might explain why background music has such a positive effect in factories where workers have to do repetitive tasks that aren’t intellectually challenging.
What Kind of Music Should I Listen to?
The best answer science can give to this question is “It depends.” There’s no one-size-fits-all recipe. It depends on the kind of work you do and your personal preferences. So before you use SnapDownloader to download the most viewed productivity-boosting playlists on YouTube, here are a few things you should consider.
Fast-paced music with motivational lyrics is best suited for exercising since it improves performance by changing our perception of exertion. We automatically adjust to the beat of the music, so we end up working out harder while feeling more motivated and less tired.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work as well when it comes to mental performance. If you’re performing more intellectually challenging tasks, lyrics can be very distracting, so instrumental music is more suitable.
Even though, based on fMRI scans of brain activity, it seems that familiar music is better for concentration, if that familiar music includes lyrics, it’s more likely to trigger memories, and the words will interfere with your ability to process information. Humming along to your favorite songs feels good, but you might find yourself typing the lyrics while writing updates for your boss.
The structure of the music is important as well. As we’ve mentioned before, music with a complex structure can be a lot more distracting than songs with a three-chord or four-chord melody.
Although the Mozart effect has been shown to be bogus, listening to baroque music does seem to increase focus. It may not make us or our babies smarter, but as long as you enjoy it, it can positively affect your productivity.
We’re saying that you have to enjoy it because research also shows that people perform better when listening to the music they choose. On the other hand, employees that had no say in the music they were listening to didn’t show the same positive results.
Listening to music at work is particularly helpful when you’re trying to “get in the zone” and drown out the distracting noises common in the office environment, such as footsteps, foot-tapping, colleagues vigorously typing on noisy keyboards, conversations, and phones ringing.
Instead, you can enjoy listening to your favorite familiar tracks at a constant volume. Once it becomes a habit and you start some tasks with the same track, you condition your brain to provide you with the mental resources you need to accomplish the work at hand.
It’s also recommended that instead of making a playlist crammed with random songs you like, you try to adapt it to your daily routine with transitions that help you stay in the same state or shift as needed.
For example, in the afternoon, when you’re starting to feel tired, you’ll want to introduce songs that gradually pick up the pace so you can feel more energized. As you’re switching from one task to another, you’ll also want that to be reflected in your playlist as a sort of signal to your brain that it’s time to switch gears.
Your playlist shouldn’t have too many ups and downs since this can be distracting, but it also shouldn’t be too monotonous because this will lull you into a state of boredom and lack of motivation.
It might take a bit of time and some trial and error, but you’ll eventually create the perfect playlist that will keep you feeling focused, energized, and motivated all through the workday so you can get your task done and fast forward to a much-deserved promotion instead of counting the hours until it’s finally time to go home.