The perfect playlist is an art.
Productivity

5 tips for creating the perfect work playlist

The modern workplace can be anything from a bustling open-floor plan office, a room in your house, a seat on a crowded train, or a busy coffee shop. With so many options, there is a real danger in distractions draining your productivity. But there is a solution.

Listen to the right playlist.

Why work playlists help everyone

Whether you realize it or not, disruptive background noise increases stress, which raises your cortisol level and inhibits dopamine to parts of your brain associated with memory and complex thought. For some creative personality types who are more attuned to their surroundings, known as “highly sensitive people,” sound is an even greater distraction that can cause a total shutdown.

Several studies show eliminating these stress factors from loud machinery, constant telephone rings, and the cacophony of conversation does increase productivity in nearly all jobs.

Music’s mental boosts may seem self-evident to us now, in this age of Spotify and YouTube, but research on its actual effects are still relatively new. A study published by psychologists Fox and Embrey in 1972 was one of the first to show that music did raise the efficiency of subjects doing repetitive work. Having the right music can extend your mind’s maximum period of sustained attention for tasks like plugging data into spreadsheets, for instance, or coding.

How to create the perfect workday playlist

  1. Tune in to nature

Next time your neighbors are distractingly noisy, sounds of nature may be the right playlist to help you concentrate.

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America conducted a test demonstrating that “natural sounds” had the ability to block distracting background noise and enhance cognitive functioning. This team was specifically focusing on offices with open office spaces (currently about 70% of all businesses).

If nature sounds soothe you, they’re easy to find on YouTube, with videos that play for hours in the background.

2. Music you dislike will derail you

Playing music you like is also an important factor in picking a productive playlist.

A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information concluded that listening to music that you actively disliked was equally as debilitating as distracting background noise. When listening to strongly preferred music, people report they often experience creative thoughts and memories.

Keep that in mind next time the coffee shop’s playlist is something you hate.

3. Lyrics can be distracting

Lyrics also make a difference. If you are trying to dampen surrounding conversation with music, music that has lyrics may be less effective, with the same effect as chatter in a room.

Research finds that instrumental music seems to be a greater productivity boost. According to a study from Cambridge Sound Management, 48% of workers shifted their focus from work to the songs lyrics in order to distinguish speech, versus those with pure instrumentals.

4. Go upbeat

So what kind of instrumental music should you choose? Don’t go for the swoopy, emo strains of Mahler. Studies have shown that uptempo music boosts mood and concentration.

Research from the University of Maryland in Baltimore found that subjects who listened to baroque music of an “uptempo nature” improved mood and increased productivity.

“Baroque music, such as that composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, that is 50 to 80 beats per minute creates an atmosphere of focus that leads students into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state,” Johns Hopkins University advises educators.

For those of a scientific bent who want music with the exact right beats per minute, there’s a site that categorizes all songs by how many beats per minute they have.

5. Video game music makes you productive

If classical music doesn’t work for you, another approach may be listening to video game music — not the machine guns of Grand Theft Auto, but the inspiring beeps and swoops of Super Mario or the Legend of Zelda.

While it may seem a surprising choice, video game music is composed to help players concentrate and progress through levels, while remaining unintrusive in the background. A playlist of music from your favorite video games has many of the advantages of upbeat, ambient music.

The main key. We’ve all experienced the productivity boost music can provide. Ringing phones, co-workers chatting, whirling espresso machines and anything else in the background can dissolve away with the right soundtrack.

Tom Edathikunnel is a science and tech writer located in Astoria, New York. Previously an Editor at Patch, he covers the latest discoveries in evolution and astronomy, as well as emerging tech in renewable energy and climate change. When he’s not writing, he’s playing bass guitar and collecting vinyl records.