Sounds of Superior Productivity

By Jennifer Paterson

In our fast-paced society, everyone wishes for the same thing: productivity. We want to see ourselves accomplish more tasks in less time at a higher quality. While we have access to many tools that promote productivity, such as smartphones and productivity apps, there’s one long-time productivity tool we’re failing to use. And it could be a game-changer.

What is that secret age-old productivity tool? Music.

Yep. The right music can help you stay focused and more productive. Here’s how:
Music Helps Boost Productivity on Repetitive Tasks

Research has shown that when presented with repetitive tasks, music can help make those tasks more enjoyable and boost productivity. In this study, for instance, assembly line workers reported feeling happier and experiencing higher efficiency while listening to music.

Studies suggest that this is because music helps boost mood and therefore contributes to productivity. One study from Canadian researchers looked at this concept. What they found was that time-on-task was shorter — which means they got the work done quicker — and the quality of work performed was better when music was playing. Not only did those listening to music complete tasks faster, but they also came up with better, more creative ideas when the music was on.

This concept of mood can be further explained. Listening to music at your desk can help drown out other distracting noises like chatting coworkers, the buzz of the copy machine, and the clicks of other people typing around you. Placing earbuds in your ears to drown all that noise out — or even having music play over the office’s speakers — creates a more consistent and enjoyable environment that makes you feel more comfortable and relaxed in the space.

The New York Times further suggests that melodic tunes promote the release of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the brain, which also contributes to that good mood and promotes a more productive working environment.

All of this suggests that music may be a valuable tool in boosting efficiency when performing mundane tasks, such as data entry or answering emails. Some suggest that when trying to focus on a complex task, music can be distracting – just as a noisy office may distract workers. But that doesn’t mean all music is bad for creative tasks. It’s just that the same type of music may not be appropriate in both situations. In fact, studies show that moderate levels of ambient noise can boost creativity, so you have to be conscious of what type of music is playing, and select it based on the task at hand.

Does It Matter What Music You Listen To?

Not all music is created equal. As stated above, moderate levels of ambient noise is best for creative, complex tasks. It’s also suggested that lyrics in music can be distracting. This is because the lyrics stimulate the language center of the brain, disrupting it from concentrating on language-based tasks such as writing.
But again, that doesn’t mean that music with lyrics isn’t appropriate in the right context. In fact, music can help with quality work-outs at the gym.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that when you’re trying to focus on a project, familiar music is key. That’s because you’re not losing focus trying to figure out what comes next since you already know the tune.

So what music should you listen to when attempting to boost your productivity? Well, that all depends on the situation. For example, some people find success on the treadmill by working out to upbeat tunes and even rap music. If you’re working a mundane task and simply want to drown out the noise of the office, you might give preference to your favorite artists or styles.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to focus on a creative task, you’ll want to avoid deep bases and high noise levels while opting for music without lyrics. Classical music works well for these tasks as evidenced by one study that looked at how Baroque classical music helped improve efficiency and accuracy of radiologists’ diagnoses. Video game music is also said to be a good choice as it’s specifically designed to be enjoyable and subtle without distracting you from the task at hand.

When Should You Listen to Music?

When we talk about “productivity,” you likely immediately think about the workplace. However, music as a productivity tool can be used in all areas of life. As mentioned, many people turn to rap music for better workouts, or you might turn on your favorite tunes while cleaning the house. A decent radio station can even help you stay alert and focused during a late car ride home.

And believe it or not, more and more teachers are bringing music into the classroom. According to Johns Hopkins School of Education, “The intentional use of music in the classroom will set the scene and learning atmosphere to enhance our teaching and learning activities.”

They go on to say that music can assist in learning, so even if you’re not a teacher, you can utilize this tool in your home when faced with learning-based tasks. For example, you might put on lyric-free music when studying for your own college courses, or when sitting your child down to complete his or her homework assignments.

The key is to find the type of music that works for you. We all have varying preferences, so determine when you feel you need music in your life — whether it’s at your desk or at home when completing chores — and experiment with different genres and artists until you find one that suits your tastes and keeps you focused.

Music has been shown to have numerous benefits, from promoting learning and memory tasks to boosting mood, productivity, and efficiency on tasks of all sorts, and the good news is that this tool works well for people of all ages.

Have you ever found success in listening to music to promote efficiency on specific tasks? What kind of music do you prefer for those situations?

About the Author: Jennifer Paterson is founder and president of California Music Studios. Paterson, A.R.C.T., Master’s of Music (voice, piano), holds degrees from Boston University, The Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto, and the University of British Columbia. She was a recipient of The Canada Council Award to study at the well-known Royal Opera House in London, and was the principal soprano for the Boston Lyric Opera Company. She now resides in Southern California where she is dedicated to vocal and piano training in the music community.

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