Mozart or Metallica? How Music Affects Your Productivityby Rachel Adnyana
There seem to be two main categories of people when it comes to the topic of music and productivity: those who need silence to concentrate and those who need music or some kind of background noise in order to achieve maximum productivity.
Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, and my mood for music depends on the tasks I am working on. If I'm designing or coding, I work best to music and find it difficult to focus on the task at hand in silence. However, when I'm writing, I prefer only quiet, instrumental background music or low-level background noise such as that produced by Coffitivity.
Studies have shown that most people don't work best in total silence, and that a moderate level of ambient noise can aid concentration and inspire creativity. It seems that the main draw of the coffee shop for writers and other creatives may not be the caffeinated beverages, but rather the constant background hum of conversation and clinking coffee cups.
When it comes to music, rather than just background noise, the effect on your productivity will probably depend on what you're doing. Just as listening to high energy music with a fast beat can help you to stay motivated during a run or aerobic workout, energetic music can be helpful for being productive in any kind of physical job or repetitive task.
For knowledge workers, the situation is a little more complicated. As I mentioned previously, I find music with lyrics too distracting when I am writing, and many others report the same. A study from a university in Taiwan found that background music with lyrics has a significant negative effect on concentration at work.
Music Therapist, Kimberly Sena Moore, explains in Psychology Today that music with words activates the language centers in the brain, which can interfere with other language tasks such as writing and reading. Instead she suggests listening to white noise or nature sounds and experimenting with music of different tempos which may have differing effects on our mental state.
However, it's far from universal that writers can't concentrate when listening to music. In his biography and writing guide, On Writing, prolific author Stephen King claims to be at his most productive when listening to heavy metal bands like Metallica and Anthrax.
The music we like is highly personal, and most experts agree that the most important aspect of choosing music to work to is selecting music that we like. Listening to music we like causes the brain to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure and reward. Making a task more pleasurable in this way will help you to complete it faster and more effectively.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that surgeons performed with significantly better speed and accuracy when performing surgery to music of their own choice versus music selected by the experimenter. Those who worked to no music at all performed the poorest.
If you have to work in a noisy workplace with lots of distractions, music can be a good way to tune out constantly ringing phones and noisy colleagues, but not all companies encourage their employees to wear headphones. This New York Times article offers some suggestions such as listening to music for limited periods of time or listening to the radio, lowering the volume when talking to clients or superiors.
Classical music has long been hailed as a magical way of improving mental performance, but if you don't enjoy listening to classical music, it's unlikely to provide you with any real benefit. It's worth experimenting with a few different types of music to see what suits you best. Youtube is also a great place for finding tracks that claim to improve your concentration and increase your creativity. (Personally, I quite enjoy this channel).
Do you prefer to work in silence or are you a desk-bound headbanger like Stephen King? What's on your work playlist? We'd love to hear your thoughts on music and productivity in the comments.