Ever wonder what can help you ignore those pesky distractions and help you hunker down with your work at home? Well, research shows that putting on your trusty headphones might do the trick. While many of us need complete silence in order to work productively, putting on the right type of music may help you reach the finish line.
However, finding the “right type” of music can be tricky. There are different types of work out there, which call for different kinds of music. We explored a number of studies on the connections between work productivity and music. Throughout these studies, two distinct styles of work continued to pop up: tedious work and creative work. We summarized some important findings to help you reach that harmonious sweet spot between work and music.
Music for Tedious Tasks
Some work may not always call for significant brain power and it’s during these times when the music you love can come in handy.
In 2005, Teresa Lesiuk of University of Windsor released a study that focused on the effects of music on work productivity. Data was collected from 56 software designers who reported how music affected their work in their respective work environments during a five week period.
“Results indicated that state positive affect and quality-of-work were lowest with no music, while time-on-task was longest when music was removed. Narrative responses revealed the value of music listening for positive mood change and enhanced perception on design while working” said Lesiuk.
Her findings support that listening to music you like improves your mood and morale, which can increase your productivity. The music serves as a healthy distraction for when you are slogging through paperwork. So if you see your inbox is chalked full with new emails, by all means, crank it to 11.
Before you play your music of choice, make sure it is something that you already know. Listening to a new song, whether it is good or bad may distract you from completing your work. In other words, familiarity is the key here. If you are dying to listen to that new song by your favorite artist, use that desire as a reward and motivate yourself by listening to their earlier songs while working.
Music for Creativity
On the other end of the spectrum there’s creative work. Creative work requires a specific kind of music. Clearly, you don’t want music that will be distracting to your creative process, but sound can still be a creative stimulus for your brain. An effective medium between total silence and loud rhythmic music is soft, ambient music.
A study published in 2012 shows how ambient noise can help people with creativity. Through five experiments they observed the exact number of decibels when ambient noise and music can be beneficial to workers and their creativity.
The authors summarized, “Results from five experiments demonstrate that a moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks and increases the buying likelihood of innovative products.”
The sounds arouse the brain, which leads to creativity. It acts as a constant stimulant for your brain, which then makes other noises, like your dishwasher, not as distracting. But, if the music or noise is too loud it can distract you, inhibiting the creative process.
The authors said “A high level of noise (85 dB), on the other hand, hurts creavity.”
So if you are trying to get some magic on paper, artists like Aphex Twin or Brian Eno can be of great service to help you focus. They both have albums with select “Ambient Works” on them, so they are safe bets. Or try listening to nature’s music or some white noise since these will provide the same effect.
What to Avoid
Ever been really focused on a speaker then all of a sudden your attention drifts to the people behind talking about their weekend plans? Imagine this scenario, but with John Lennon singing in your ear. We’ve looked at to how music can be helpful when working, but there are still times when music may not be so helpful, overall.
Generally, you should avoid music with lyrics if you are working on something that is demanding. Lyrics have the tendency to grab our attention and prevent us from fully focusing on the task at hand. A recent study done in 2012 looked at the effects of music with lyrics and without lyrics on 102 participants’ concentration. They found that music with lyrics negatively affected the participants’ concentration.
Additionally, music can also be a hindrance when trying to learn something new. There’s a reason why teachers don’t blast metal when trying to teach business calc. It has the same effect of multi-tasking. You cannot give 100 percent of your attention to one thing if you are also focused on something else.
If you find yourself not being able to focus for whatever reason, try listening to music and see what is best for you. But, keep in mind that some music can be more harmful than good.
Suggestions to keep in mind:
If you find yourself losing steam, try playing music that you think will help you get through your work. If you end up air playing air guitar, then you might want to find something else.
When trying to come up with ideas for your next project give ambient music or ambient sounds a try. Songza is a great site that provides a wide array of music and sounds based on the activities you’re doing, including streams like white noise and “In a Quiet Park.”
Try to avoid music with lyrics, since they prove to be distracting. Especially if something calls for your undivided attention.
And if you find that music is just too distracting, then stick with silence since that is what works for you. In the end, it’s all about what helps you get your work done well and efficiently.