It's no secret that music can be powerful. Music is an inherent part of just about every culture on the planet, and in addition to being a central force for entertainment and everyday discussion, music might even have hidden health benefits.
But what about using music to make yourself more productive? Whether it's a teenager claiming their earbuds help them do their homework faster or a manager getting a better speaker system for the office, you've probably encountered many people who insist that listening to music can make you more productive.
But does music really make you more productive? And if so, how?
How Music Works Its Magic
The truth is more complicated than a simple "yes" or "no" here, but there's no denying that music can and does have a profound effect on how you think and act. In fact, there are three key ways that music affects your productivity:
1. Immersion. Background music helps you become more immersed in your work, especially if your tasks are repetitive or tedious. Studies show that assembly line workers, who repeat the same steps over and over, tend to be happier and work more efficiently when listening to music. If you want to get "in the zone" and get over the boredom of a repetitive task, listening to music could be the best way to go.
Similarly, music is also useful for blocking out the otherwise distracting noises in your office environment. Rather than hearing the sounds of footsteps, phone calls, and nervous foot tapping, you only hear the sounds of your favorite music, at a constant volume--and that can help you focus on your own tasks, with fewer distractions.
2. Relaxation and mindfulness. Next, there's the ability for music to help you practice mindfulness--and this effect has two important elements to consider. First, mindfulness (a state of present-focused attention and awareness) is demonstrably proven to have positive effects on workers. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University found that employees who practice mindfulness on a regular basis can focus better, hold their attention longer, and engage in more positive behavior. They're even less stressed on a long-term basis.
So, what does this have to do with music? Research from the field of music therapy has found that music can support individuals with positive physiological and psychological outcomes. Humm.ly, a music wellness app affiliated with the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), is an example of how technology is intertwining with music therapy research to support positive outcomes for individual wellness, as it provides content created by board-certified music therapists.
Music, when used to achieve a state of mindfulness, supports a more productive working environment by reducing stress and anxiety, as well as helping to balance your emotions. Interestingly, listening to music also causes physiological changes to the body. Music-assisted relaxation can improve respiration, lower blood pressure, improve cardiac output, reduce heart rate, and relax muscle attention, according to findings presented by Humm.ly.
3. Inspiration. Music also has the ability to help your mind wander. Its rhythms, tonal expressiveness, and lyrical content collectively help your brain to relax and explore new areas. This might sound like a distraction from work, but there's an important benefit here that can't be overlooked; a wandering brain is a brain capable of coming up with more creative, original ideas.
If you're stuck on a problem or can't' find the motivation to start a project, music could be the key to that next step.
Of course, there are some caveats to this. You can't just crank whatever music you can find and suddenly double your output.
- Volume. Music and ambient noise, at moderate volumes, are conducive to a more productive environment--but the line between relaxing and distracting is thin. All it takes is one loud noise, or music that exceeds a certain volume to throw everything off.
- Music choice. You also need to consider the type of music you're listening to. Music with clearly intelligible lyrics might be more distracting than noise-driven or instrumental music, for example, and music you have a personal distaste for will likely be unenjoyable.
- Other factors. There are dozens of other factors that could affect how music impacts your performance as well, such as whether there's any other ambient noise, the quality of the music you're listening to, whether the music is interrupted, and what kinds of tasks you're doing.
If you're looking to improve your workspace or increase your productivity, consider adding music as an element to your environment. With the right selection, the right volume, and the right timing, you might find yourself in a position to work harder--and come up with better ideas as well.