The Beat Goes On: Productivity & Music

Getting any work done in an environment that hasn’t been tailor-made for your comfort can be difficult. Working in any office around other people can sometimes cloud our focus. Turns out music might be able to help!
Waterman music and productivity

Studies show that repetitive tasks that require minimal brainpower tend to slow us down eventually and music helps by adding a tempo to keep our minds active. In this scenario, any music works just fine. However, when creative tasks are involved, the music needs to change to suit the action.

Workspaces and music have a huge part to play in affecting and improving or decreasing focus and productivity.

Work that involves literal creation of something from nothing, also known as synthesis work, seems to work best with white noise or music inspired by white noise. YouTube searches will sometimes wield results with “Alpha waves” in the title. This is because alpha waves (or being in an “alpha state”) have been argued to boost concentration and focus along with a host of other benefits. Alpha wave based music tends to sound a lot like white noise with a basic rhythm to it, like this example.

White noise (and white noise based music) has been said to encourage productivity in the synthesis or creativity-based tasks mostly because it drowns out surrounding noise. Working in an environment where ambient noise is indiscernible and incoherent can actually lead to increased productivity, which is why many people enjoy working in cafés. However, as soon as voices become discernible and words are easy to make out, they also become distracting. Our minds are used to recognizing patterns which includes language and it’s difficult to turn that off when we’re trying to focus. This also applies in silent environments with consistent interruptions from sudden and loud noises as our minds will stop to trace the source of that sound. White noise acts to assimilate all sounds and puts them all on a baseline so nothing stands out.

Alternatively, you can also listen to music you like. This approach is thought to work because it improves your mood which helps you focus. It may be handy to avoid music with lyrics (download the instrumental versions of your favourite songs) because, once again, discernible words can throw you off your concentration. Conversely, some research has found that the opposite is true. The argument is that songs we do like will encourage us to sing along or “wait for the good parts”. Songs we’re not interested in an act the same way white noise does so that we aren’t paying too much attention to them and focus on the task more instead.

Lastly, it’s been suggested that choosing music to suit the task is beneficial. If the task is fast-paced, up-tempo music will help you enter a mind state that makes focusing easier. This is very prevalent during exercise where songs that match your heart rate or breathing rate can lead to greater endurance because regulating breathing is easier. The same phenomenon applies to focus in a work environment.

What are your favourite songs, playlists, genres or tempos for getting work done? Let us know and possibly help another reader looking for suggestions! Otherwise, head to any music streaming service you use (like Spotify) or even use keywords like “focus”, “concentrate” and “study” on YouTube to find pre-made playlists ready for your listening pleasure. Tell us which worked for you!

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