As you’re reading this article, you might have your TV on in the background, people talking near you or music playing from your computer — but you’re also probably not trying to get any work done right now. Though we all work differently, many studies have shown that listening to music can be harmful to productivity, unless you do it right.
There’s an exception to everything, including the unwritten rule of working in complete silence. While silence works for some people, there are certain situations where music will help a person’s productivity.
Here are a few examples of how and when you can use music to increase your production.
Turn it on during repetitive tasks
To evaluate how effective music is in increasing productivity, it’s important to consider how immersive the task is. This could include its difficulty, variability or creative demand.
Many studies have shown that people with repetitive jobs perform faster and more accurate work when they listen to music. It helps bring variety to your day without taking too much of your focus away from the job, since it’s a task you’re doing repeatedly. For example, listening to classical music while responding to emails or planning your day would benefit you more than jamming out while trying to write an essay from scratch.
When you listen to music, feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are released into your brain and help you feel happy and relaxed — and when you’re happy and relaxed, it’s easier to focus.
Whether it’s the actual sound of the music or your improved mood that increases your productivity, research is there to back it up. Plus, your good mood will also affect the way you interact with co-workers and bosses throughout the day.
Listen to the songs you’re most familiar with
When you’re working on a project and listening to music, it’s important to listen to music you already know. Hearing new music brings the element of surprise into the mix, which will enhance those dopamine and serotonin releases to a level you don’t want to reach while trying to work. It’ll eventually make the music seem more appealing than your work and steal away your attention, therefore compromising your productivity.
With music you already know, you can predict what’s coming, so the noise doesn’t become your primary focus. Think of it this way: You’re less likely to want to pay attention to a movie if you’ve already seen it 10 times — you know what’s going to happen, so you don’t have to watch attentively. With new movies, you’re more prone to focus because you want to know how it will turn out. The same applies to music.
Keep the volume at a moderate level
The volume and pitch of the music you listen to is a huge factor for whether it’ll help you focus. Just like louder music can affect your focus while driving, you want to avoid blasting your speakers while you’re trying to get something done. Music can’t help you if it’s the only thing you can pay attention to.
Similarly, it’s best to avoid songs with deep basses or high, screeching notes — your ideal tunes only have a small range of notes. Music that’s in the middle is less distracting and also helps get your creative juices flowing.
Opt for music without lyrics
If you choose to listen to music while you work on less-immersive tasks, you should try to steer clear of music with lyrics. Words activate the part of your brain that deals with language, which is likely already activated depending on what you’re working on. When it tries to comprehend two different types of language at once, it can get confused and slow down your process.
Think about the last time you tried to hold a conversation with someone while another person talks over you or plays an instrument right next to you — it can be difficult to focus.
If you’re an artist or designer who doesn’t use language much during the day, this rule might not apply. Many software developers say music with words didn’t harm their workflow, and actually improved it. But, for any other profession where you’re reading or writing, it’s best to steer clear.
Take a 15-minute jam break
If none of these tips seemed like your cup of tea, you’re probably the kind of person who needs complete quiet to be productive. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you could find yourself missing your tunes while you work.
If this is you, studies have shown taking a 15-minute break and listening to music can boost your creativity. So instead of powering through your entire day in total silence, schedule short “tune time” into your day so you can get everything done without going crazy.
So, while listening to music could seem like a distraction to some, there are certain situations where it will improve your productivity compared to silence. This is especially true for people who are often doing repetitive tasks at work. Just remember to listen to songs you already know and keep the volume at a reasonable level, and you’ll be able to jam out while still getting done everything you normally would.