The Do’s and Don’ts of Listening to Music While Working

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Listening to music can be a big boost to productivity, but not always.

Even if you haven’t heard of the Mozart effect, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced something like it.

The theory states that listening to music can improve short-term memory and make us more productive. While the works of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were used to develop the theory, these positive effects can come from all types of music. The Taylor Swift Effect, however, just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

While studies disagree about the effects of music on work and learning, the theory that music can be a big help is credible. Further research found that the benefits from music are fleeting and only last about 15 minutes. That short time period, however, is plenty of time to get something important done.

There’s a reason why music is pumping in the gym or playing in an airplane during boarding. Music can both make us feel powerful and lessen stress. It helps us find focus and makes us happy. All those things can make a big difference in our creative output if used consistently.

We all know one person (maybe it’s even you — and that’s OK) who listens to music at every waking hour, whether they’re at the cubicle or on their way home. Considering the benefits of listening to music, that person might be on to something. However, music isn’t always the panacea people we think it is.

In some situations, listening to music while working can even do more harm than good regardless of your music of choice. There are some important times to turn off the music or adjust what you’re listening to. If you find it hard to turn off music during your day, then keep these things in mind in order to maximize your productivity.

The Benefit of Background Noise 

If you’ve ever sought out a crowded coffee shop to get your work done, then you know how beneficial background noise can be to the creative process. Some chatting customers, coupled with some lightly playing music, can be the perfect recipe for getting things done. Of course, everyone has their own preferences, but researchers have a found sweet spot of moderate to low background noise.

The same researchers also found that too much noise is a bad thing. Whether your coworkers are whooping it up or the music is cranked too loud, you’ll want to ensure that the background noise isn’t too high. Too much noise affects how we process information and lowers creativity.

Quiet While Learning

Music is a powerful tool for learning, as anyone who attended a preschool can attest to. Singing songs is a great way to make a lesson stick in a child’s mind, but passively listening to music can actually negatively affect the learning process. If you’re the type of person to turn up the music when reading a report or following a tutorial, you’ll want to read on. One study found that listening to music while reading lowers comprehension. That’s an important finding that shows there’s a time and place for listening to music.

That time, it turns out, is when we’re performing menial tasks. Whether it’s inputting data or sorting through heaps of emails, putting on some music can help the work become more bearable.

A Major Decision 

If you want something to listen to in order to get productivity going, make sure the music is in the major key. Major and minor keys are essentially the tone that the music is in.

Songs in the major key typically sound more upbeat and energetic, while songs in the minor key are “sadder.” Listen to this rendition of the Imperial March from Star Wars to see what kind of effect the major key can have an otherwise oppressive-sounding theme.

Focus on Nothing

It’s commonly believed that music helps us focus, and there are studies that back that up. What’s more interesting is that simply wearing headphones can make us more productive. It sounds silly to put on headphones and not play anything, but it helps in some cases. Putting on headphones filters the outside world without filling our eyes with distracting sounds. It puts us in a focused mindset without even having to fire up Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

Do What Works For You

There’s a lot of conflicting studies about the impacts that music makes. It’s important to learn from that research, but also do what works best for you.
Everyone’s preferences and habits are different when it comes to music. Just be sure to keep an open mind and a close eye on the work you’re doing. Maybe your musical habits aren’t helping as much as you thought.

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