The Secret to Working with Music
Music has long been used in the work place as a way of increasing productivity, by improving morale and coordinating the actions of workers. It was used in agriculture to ease the tedium of work and meant a uniform job of plowing and sewing the fields. On the seas, sailors sang shanties and different types of shanties corresponded with different jobs on the ship. During the industrial revolution songs offered a tempo everyone could follow to coordinate actions even when each other couldn’t be heard over the sound of machinery.
So what about nowadays? Working in an office means you probably don’t need to coordinate your actions with your colleagues. Can music still improve worker morale and increase productivity? There has been plenty of research to suggest it can, though some of the details vary. The question is are you trying to improve focus on a repetitive task or increase creativity and ability to solve abstract problems?
The main goal is attempting to improve your mood as effectively as possible. Trying to find a balance between music that engages and music that distracts. If the music is too engaging, you’ll be pulled away from work. On the other hand, music that is too boring won’t do you much good.
- Work with what you like. Working with songs you like means a release of dopamine to
the brain which puts you in a better mood and simulates brain activity. Conversely, studies where workers listened to music they didn’t like not only didn’t improve their mood. It had a negative impact on their mood and their productivity. Bottom line, if you’re in a shared office with a common playlist going; make sure everyone can agree on the tunes.
- Work with what you know. Music you’ve heard before means it can boost your mood without distracting you from your work. We all have our playlists and stations that amp us up and get our blood moving. It doesn’t mean don’t listen to any new songs or artists, but if you like blues music keep it in blues music.
- Keep the volume at a happy medium. When the sound approaches the 85dB threshold it begins to take a toll on concentration and ability to think creatively and solve problems. When music is between the 50dB to 70 dB area it causes an increase in cognitive reasoning and improves creativity and problem solving.
- Try and keep away from lyrics. It’s not a hard and fast rule, more a caution. Lyrics are very engaging and force the listener to focus more on the song. However, if you know all the lyrics and are familiar with the song it’s easier to tone out just listen. One suggestion is bands like the Vitamin String Quartet, where they cover popular songs that you enjoy without the distraction of lyrics.
- There is a common theory that baroque music is one of the best for stimulating the listener, and is often referred to as the Mozart Effect. The idea being that the intricate orchestral works boost cognitive and spacial-temporal reasoning in the brain. One study had 8 doctors listen to baroque music all day and while 7 said it improved their mood, the eighth actually reported a significant drop in his mood and concentration. Again the idea of how much you personally enjoy a style of music will change your outcome.
INCREASE BASIC PRODUCTIVITY
We’ve all had the days where we had a ton to do and it didn’t need a whole lot of thinking. It just needed doing. This is closer to what workers were dealing with in earlier days. So the concepts are fairly similar, though I suspect you still won’t need to coordinate complex movements in time with your coworker.
- Stick with what you know. Just like when boosting your creativity, you want to stick with music you know and like. It doesn’t mean no new songs. It just means don’t go crazy to the point where it becomes distracting.
- Rhythm is key. You want songs that have a strong tempo that encourage you to find a groove and stick with it. That is what’s going to help get you in the zone and power through that to-do list. Songs that have a simple syncopation and easily to follow beat make help you to find your rhythm.
- One tip from the internet is to listen to video game soundtracks. Over the years the video game industry has honed and perfected the art of music that engages the focus of gamers to stay in the game. In recent years they have even upped the ante, getting renowned composers to create the music. We actually held an experiment with this in the office and had a couple of us work while listening to “Call of Duty 2” which was composed by Hanz Zimmer and found it did a great job energizing and focusing us on our tasks.
So get out there and boost your working through the week. We’d love to hear from you on what your favorite songs for working. Follow the link to a couple playlists we’ve put together on Youtube to help you through the work week. Feel free to read through the articles below to read the research yourself.
Click here for our “Soundtracks for Work” playlist
Click here for our “Video Game Tracks” playlist