There’s always been a somewhat heated debate about whether listening to music at work actually contributes to one’s level of productivity or whether it serves as a time-wasting distraction instead. Whilst many say they are bothered by melodic tunes playing in the background, some say that music actually helps them tackle their daily tasks more effectively.
So what’s the deal with these contradictory statements? Scientists have found that there’s some truth to both sides of the story. Because, as it turns out, the type of music you listen to, the volume level and plenty of other factors besides, can influence your work rate in more ways than one.
Check out a few fun facts about the relationship between listening to music and productivity at the workplace, and explore a few tricks you can use to achieve an efficient work-flow with the help of some nice background tunes:
What science says about music and productivity
Researchers have been studying the effects music has on our brains for decades, resulting in numerous theories about how it can benefit our mood and even our productivity. Those who are part of the booming office culture often turn to their headphones and listen to music to block out noise, which is an inevitable downside to open offices. But as it turns out, not every kind of music is good for your productivity.
One researcher found that simple musical structures without any lyrics might work best, because they tend to cause less distraction. She also noted that people who have formed a habit of listening to tunes whilst tackling work tasks might now actually find it disturbing to work without any background music. However, workers undertaking new, unfamiliar tasks might have a hard time focusing on the new project if music is being played.
Another study discussing the effects of ambient noise has found that listening to music at medium volume level (approximately 70 decibels) can benefit creative work, as opposed to playing loud ambient music (85 decibels or higher), which disrupts productivity and focus altogether. Researchers also observed that the ideal music tempo for positive performance is around 120 beats per minute, a rate that also favors memory-based tasks.
In addition to ambient noise, other types of music which can benefit work productivity include video game soundtracks (because of their repetitive melodies), nature sounds (to help drown out office noise), classical music (especially baroque style) and non-lyrical electronic music (also due to repetitive melodies). One study found that completing a set of tasks in silence resulted in peak performance, as opposed to listening to even the most mellow and upbeat of tunes. Shifting between periods of working in silence and listening to music might also prove to be advantageous to your creativity and productivity.
Music for the type of work you do
Naturally, not all work is the same, so the type of music someone listens to whilst writing an article might not seem too motivating for a trainer who’s leading a fitness session, for example. Studies have shown that humans often find it difficult to carry out repetitive tasks for longer periods of time, since their concentration breaks and they have a hard time staying motivated to continue their work with the same efficiency. Whilst doing monotonous tasks, listening to upbeat music can help increase resilience, alertness and motivation, especially if songs we know and are fond of are on the playlist.
On the other hand, for work requiring our undisturbed attention and constant focus, loud and upbeat tunes might not be appropriate. Instead, ambient noise and nature sounds have been found to not only create a sense of calm and relaxation needed to pursue such tasks, but have also been proven to significantly increase creativity and productivity levels, as well as one’s mood, which all contribute to an efficient and rewarding work experience.
One size does not always fit all
Although music is loved universally, researchers have found that people don’t react to the same melodies in exactly same ways. As a matter of fact, different parts of the brain are channeled by the same music in different individuals, which scientists claim is a result of influences from our previous knowledge and experiences with music.
So if your productivity does not benefit from the natural noise of rivers flowing and birds chirping in the background, don’t worry. Stick to what works for you instead, and keep on listening to music that inspires and cultivates your work flow in a beneficial way.