Many of us listen to music while working, particularly when working from home. 75% of employees working remotely listen to music, 40% choosing to do so every day and 35% doing so at least once a week, making it a pretty reliable co-worker. Those who listen to music in traditional work place settings turn to their trusty companion: headphones. And, some companies have even introduced it to in-person work spaces, broadcasting it across the office. Needless to say, music has become a frequent consideration of work life. But, does it productivity? And, how might the music we listen to effect our ability to get work done?

Let’s muse on music in the work place.

Some refuse combining music and work, concerned music might be a distraction. Bill Gates reportedly stopped listening to music for 5 years in his 20s. In fact, to fully dedicate his attention to software, he gave up most forms of entertainment. However, he also did not have access to the Carroll Technology and Innovation blog to give him listening suggestions, so you might need to take the route he ventured down to create the next publicly traded software company.

When you are required to learn at work, it might be best to press pause powerful lyrics. When we are learning, the brain is processing information – analyzing and storing them. When lyrical music is playing, the brain is processing auditory data. This multitasking can result in the brain doing incorrect or inefficient processing of the inputs you hoped to meaningfully learn, struggling to decipher between what data to store and how. So, consider turning off the music during learning, especially if you are learning through a verbal or written stimulus and the music has lyrics.

You could switch the lyrics out or opt for ambient music. Ambient noise, such as background chatter of people or birds, can enhance performance on creative tasks when encountered at medium levels. If you’re a coffee shop worker like me, this may come as an affirmation to your work preferences, and a bullet to add to your list of rationale for spending $5 + on a cup of coffee. When looking for the comfort of ambient noise, try ambient music. This style of music sets a mood or the texture of a scene. For example, I created a Spotify playlist with the inspiration of meandering through an art museum, and frequent it for creative work such as writing this blog.

If you don’t want to support my playlists, Baroque-period music in particular seems to have an positive impact in productivity (if you’re a Spotify user, try it out for yourself with this playlist; if you’re not a Spotify user, I don’t know how to help you). Similar to ambiant noise, there is little to distract you in the form of lyrics, yet much to ground yourself with. Baroque-period works may have an additional edge. A study from many moons ago, conducted by researchers nearby at the University of Maryland in Baltimore and Harbor Hospital in Baltimore, and the less nearby University of Pennsylvania Health System, found positive effects in regard to mood and work satisfaction when radiologist subjects listened to music while working. Within the study, they reference other studies that report a correlation between baroque classical music listening and improved spatial reasoning, attentiveness, and concentration.

So, mind your music choices – and your desk neighbor if you have one – and listen to your hearts content. If it’s not the music made for optimal productivity, that’s okay. Pick something that makes you happy and trust the rest will fall into place!

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