Are You More Productive With Music In The Background?

When it comes to the debate over whether workers who listen to music while working are less productive, there are a variety of opinions. There are three kinds of people. Some need complete silence while working, and others say they are not bothered by ambient noise. At the same time, another group will argue that music helps them get more done.

What does science say?

One study found that music helps workers cope with repetitive tasks.  A JAMA study reported that surgeons working in labs found that music helps them keep their focus.

Another report, published in Trends in Cognitive Science, said music was better than anti-anxiety medicine to calm people about to undergo surgery.

The Psychology of Music shared findings that people who listened to music between projects allowed them to stay on task for more extended periods.

Other researchers find that music inhibits your ability to do “deep work” if there’s music in the background.

So who do you believe?

It’s probably safe to say that your personality plays a part in deciding to work with music or in silence.

For example, one study suggests that introverts work better while in a quiet environment. Extroverts who listened to music during a memory test had better short and long-term recall. On the other hand, introverts performed significantly worse on memory tests if they listened to music during the tests.

I like to have music in the background when I’m working unless it involves a lot of reading or I am memorizing material.

Here are five things to try if you want to listen to music while working.

  1. Try instrumental music, so lyrics don’t distract you.
  2. If you don’t like instrumental music, consider music in another language.
  3. The opposite approach is playing the music you are familiar with to tune them out.
  4. Keep the volume low.
  5. Listen to music until you have to do more complex work and then turn it off.

Now, if you find that music or any other external distractions keep you from doing your best work, consider wearing noise cancellation headphones. I knew someone who wore headphones but never used them to listen to any music. He used them to drown out other noises in the office and as a signal to coworkers that he was concentrating and didn’t want to be disturbed.

Research into this subject is continuing. One thing that is becoming clear, the more engaging the music is, the worse it is for concentration. You can decide what playlist, if any, will work for you.

I find it interesting how much research has been done on productivity. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been reading lots of these reports in a wide range of academic journals (usually with a bit of music in the background).  While I share some of these reports in these blog posts, I’ve put together an on-demand online course where I share lots of research that I’ve personally tested.

The course is called “ Pathway to Productivity and Better Time Management.”  I know you will find it interesting and helpful. Find out more at …and click on courses.  Work smarter!

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