Does music help or hurt productivity?

8/6/2016 |

Music: does it help or hurt workplace productivity?

Joe can’t start his work without listening to Nickleback; his co-worker Sarah says if she hears that music again she’ll submerge his playlist, tablet and all.  And so goes the debate on whether or not music in the workplace helps or hinders productivity. This is separate debate from questions like what kind of music is distracting versus energizing, and what music genres suit certain specific activities, e.g. pop, classical, jazz, soundtrack, etc.

To add some science to the debate, numerous studies have been done on the subject. Different kinds of work require different kinds of attention, so music (if used) should be selected to match the activity. For example, when it comes to repetitive tasks or data entry, certain music genres increase both productivity and efficiency. Factory workers perform at a higher level when upbeat, happy tunes are played in the background. And in case case you’re counting, 60 beats-per-minute is required to put the brain in a “bright and breezy” frame of mind.


Some of the findings seem fairly obvious. Major keys are better than minor keys for productivity (I’m guessing because major keys make the listening less sad) Music with lyrics is the most distracting, partly because people have a tendency to sing along. And there’s an entire subsection of science devoted to studying music in retail stores—loud music is often used to get you to move through the store and buy faster.

Personally, I listen to classical music when I’m studying for exams. I’ve found that an old-school pop playlist works strangely well for completing assignments. It can be easier to get into—and stay in—a productivity flow when you have the right playlist to keep you motivated. But be careful not to get too lost in your music. You may miss phone calls, the door bell ringing, fire alarms, and other potentially important things happening around you.

IS09AS379If you’ve decided that music makes you more productive, try these sites for a variety of workplace playlists. Google Play Music has a wide range of playlists based on mood, activity or genre. If you prefer a more human touch to your playlists, try 8Tracks, which has user-created playlists you can search by keyword. Spotify is a middle ground between the two, with both automated and user-created playlists. All three are free, and come in both website and app form. Both Google Play and Spotify have paid upgrade options.

If music (with or without words) isn’t doing it for you, give ambient background noise a try. Websites like SimplyNoise lets you choose between white, pink and brown noise. Other popular sites include RainyMood (choose between just rain, or rain layered over a variety of music options); Noisli lets you create custom background noise by mixing up to 16 different options; and MyNoise has dozens of background sounds to choose from.

If your workplace simply doesn’t allow music, direct your playlists to another valuable activity—exercise. Having the right playlist can improve your exercise as well as your productivity, making it less of a chore or helping your brain think more clearly.

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