Girl works on laptop whilst listening to headphones to highlight the link between music and productivity in the workplaceGirl works on laptop whilst listening to headphones to highlight the link between music and productivity in the workplace

Can music improve productivity?

Do sweet, smooth tunes really make you feel more productive?

Many of us listen to music for specific purposes, like getting pumped at the gym, staying alert through long car journeys or simply to relax, but can music also make us more productive in the workplace, or improve project management? The extremely vague answer is… it depends. 

The science-y bit 

When you listen to music that you enjoy, your brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes you feel good and reduces anxiety and stress.

A meta-analysis of 400 studies that investigated patients’ stress and anxiety levels before going into surgery compared the effects of taking anti-anxiety medication versus listening to music before an operation. The results demonstrated that patients who listened to music experienced less anxiety and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, compared with patients given the anti-anxiety drugs. 

This suggests that music can improve our mood, make us feel less stressed. Could this also make us more focused and more productive?

The music-y bit 

When it comes to music and productivity, researchers can’t agree. Many studies have published conflicting results. Some studies, like those by Teresa Lesiuk, show that participants who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and had better ideas than those who didn’t listen to music. 

However, other research suggests that listening to music whilst completing another task is a form of multitasking, so the brain is constantly switching between concentrating on the music and the task at hand. 

The conclusion that crops up regularly is that it all comes down to what kind of music we listen to.

How does music impact productivity?

Certain factors determine whether music enhances our productivity or becomes a distraction by making the brain multitask. Dr. Haake has researched the effects of listening to music at work, and identified these factors as: 

Complex music structure
Songs with complex musical structures can be more distracting to listeners compared to songs with a simple three chord structure. Think more “Sweet Home Alabama”, less “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Lyrics
One of the most distracting features of music is the lyrics, which can cause you to focus on the message and meaning of a song, rather than the task you’re trying to complete.

Listening habits
If someone is used to listening to music whilst working, it can quickly set them in the right mood for working. However, if it’s a rare experience then it is more likely to be distracting.

The difficulty of tasks
If a task requires a lot of focus then music can make it more difficult to work efficiently. For simpler tasks, it can make the time go faster.

Control
When we hear music that we did not choose to listen to, it’s usually more distracting. Don’t be the colleague who blasts Duran Duran for a solid 3 hours during the workday unless everyone in the office is up for it… and if that’s the case, turn it up!

Listen up

Taking all of these factors into account when choosing music could turn out to be a long and difficult process, having the opposite effect on your productivity levels. Don’t worry, we’re happy to help! Here are our suggestions for some of the best music that is most likely to enhance your productivity: 

Tools

  • Brain.fm: Functional music to improve focus in 15 minutes.
  • [email protected]: Scientifically optimized music to help you focus.
  • Noisli: Improve focus by mixing different sounds to create your perfect environment.
  • myNoise®: Background noises and interactive soundscapes.

Playlists

Learn more about improving productivity through wellness and find out if you are more productive than your peers.

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