Let me start with a caveat: this article is not going to prove that listening to music at work is going to make you more productive. Based on all my research, the only concrete thing that can be said about music at work is that the results vary from person to person. What you'll find is a template to help you figure out whether or not music should be a part of your daily work routine.
There has been a lot of research on the relationship between productivity and music at work and the results are murky. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says it’s helpful with monotonous tasks, but not memory-building ones. A study from way back in 1966 at a skateboard factory concluded that music made employees feel more productive but there was no measurable uptick in actual results. Dr. Amit Sood links listening to music you love to the release of dopamine in the brain, which can help you mitigate stress and increase your happiness at work. In theory, this music-fueled dopamine release will help you make better decisions and perform better over time.
This topic is particularly interesting to me, as I co-founded and run a music company called Vinyl Me, Please, so it’s literally my job to listen to music at work. For a long time, though, music was a huge distraction for me. I needed to be able to digest a lot of new music every week for my podcast shows or our newsletter, but I found myself using music as an escape or quick vacation and I wasn’t being productive. I needed a change. So, starting 6 months ago, I began rethinking how listening to music at work related to my productivity.
I started by paying closer attention to how many times a day I zoned out while listening to music at work and how many times I put off a task in favor of listening to something or watching a music video. After a few weeks, I realized I was wasting a lot of time. To stop that trend, I came up with a structure around listening to music at work and when. Here’s what my office days look like now:
- Email (1 hour): I listen to fun stuff to hype myself up and get me ready for the day
- Admin Tasks (2-3 hours): No music. These type of tasks are challenging for me and music makes me way worse at it, no matter what genre it might be.
- Email (30-45 minutes): More fun stuff, though usually something low key.
- Brainstorming and Creative Work (3-4 hours): Focus music. Typically downtempo electronic or classical. Has to be wordless and calming or else my focus is sunk.
- Email (30-45 minutes): Usually more fun or hype music to help get the last few drops of brain power out before I head home.
This schedule is simply an example of what worked for me. The idea is to listen to music at work to help hone your productivity. When it comes to work, music should be something that empowers you and makes you more effective, not the opposite.
There is no app, website, system, or tool that can stop you from being lazy. You’re the only one who can do that. There are plenty of things, however, that will help with productivity if you actually commit to them. For example, being honest with myself about when music helped or hindered me has boosted my effectiveness at work. Going through that process of self-reflection will do the same for you, wherever you end up at the end of it.
I’ve put together two playlists full of hype music and focus music that I use during my days (some of the lyrics are best listened to on headphones, not blasted throughout the office). I want to give you some examples so you can make something similar for yourself if you feel so inclined. Happy listening.
Illustation by Tin Nguyen