How Can We Use Music to Help Us Work?

Tips to fine-tune your playlist for different types of work


Hanna Kim - February 20, 2019

A well-organized workspace can make a positive impact on productivity at work. Environmental factors such as temperature, light, and music can also be modified so you work your best. A number of studies have shown how different types of music changes our behavior.

One example published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found cyclists who listened to music while pedaling used 7% less oxygen than those who cycled without music. Another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found surgeons performed their work most accurately when listening to music they enjoyed, and still saw benefits in having music they didn’t enjoy or particularly care for on in the background, and were the least precise when there was no music at all.

The right music can motivate us to do our best at work. Playing music of different genres can provide a much-needed productivity boost depending on the task at hand. Music can help us concentrate, provide inspiration when we feel blocked, break us out of a mundane routine, and help us memorize complex pieces of information. Whether you’re new to working with music on, or looking for some new playlist ideas, here are some research-based ideas to consider for your optimal workflow:

Music for Efficiency and Focus
 
For most of us, the bulk of our work consists of tasks that require a moderate amount of attention. Ideally, we specialize in the specific field we chose for ourselves because it is one we find meaningful and enjoyable, and have developed the skills to be competent in it but can still find new ways to develop further interest in it.
 
While video games might not be something you play in your free time, video game music might be exactly what you need for stimulation for your daily workflow. Music composed for video games is designed to help gamers focus on the puzzles and challenges they come across. It is often faster paced to keep people going at the task at hand and has no lyrics or human voices that can be distracting for complex problems. Similarly, playlists built with classical music from one era and techno genres like trance or house are able to flow seamlessly from track to track.
 
Music for Repetitive Tasks

Most of us have to handle projects every now and then that are at least in part tedious or highly repetitive. When we get tired of a repetitive task, we are likely to get through our work at a slower pace. Lower cognition tasks such as a long backlog of database entries, production on an assembly line, or stocking products can easily get boring, especially if it’s something we need to handle on a daily basis.
 
Music can help us break out of a seemingly repetitive cycle of work. For easy tasks that we’re highly familiar with, listening to our favorite music can provide some much-needed motivation to carry on. Research shows listening to music we like puts us in a better mood, leading to higher levels of productivity. Whether it’s world music, classic rock, or EDM, turn on your favorite tunes to quickly churn out your work so you can get onto the rest of your day with a smile on your face.

Music to Spark Creativity

When we’re working on a creative task like writing an article, brainstorming new designs, or solving a problem, ambient noise is the way to go. Music with a moderate level of noise (around 70 decibels) can help us get our creative juices flowing. Louder music may be overwhelming and drown out our creative ideas while softer music may not be stimulating enough.
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With work that is more dependent on language, such as reading and writing, use songs with little or no lyrics. Our brain kicks into multitasking mode, trying to decipher what’s on our page and what’s funneling into our ears when we listen to music with lyrics. Consider listening to genres like classical, jazz, or chillwave when you’re working on a creative project.

Try incorporating some of these ideas to find or create the perfect playlist for your workday. You can time the length of your playlists depending on how often you feel the need to take breaks throughout the day. Most people benefit from taking a break every 50 to 90 minutes. It’s a good idea to take at least a five-minute break to stretch and get away from your screen for every hour you’re sedentary at work.

 
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