I remember, back when I was in 10th grade, I would put on my earphones while solving math problems. I mostly heard pop and hip hop tracks (unexpectedly, rock is not my thing). Those times were really fun, I would just get in my zone and do questions with ease. And I scored well, too. Above all, my office colleagues working in creative writing also put their headphones on, but occasionally. Seems like music may boost productivity. Let us find out.
What you need to know
Furthermore, the notion that music brings productivity is not new. A 1993 study suggests that listening to Mozart before taking the “spatial-temporal reasoning” section of an IQ test showed better performance. Rather, this looks like a purported fact. Listening to Mozart improves an individual’s mood. Better mood results in better productivity. A meta-analysis (titled Mozart effect-Schmozart effect) stated that the music had little to no effect on performance.
A recent study examined 56 software engineers in two scenarios: working in silence vs. working while listening to music. They observe that there are improvements in mood and quality of work in the latter scenario. One small study found increased mood and concentration on a reading task while listening to Baroque music. Another study found increased productivity while listening to background music for a repetitive task.
Seems like music can improve productivity. Performance is mostly dependent on a good mood and lesser or no distractions.
Make your OWN playlist
Most researchers agree on one thing: music enhances productivity when you really love what you’re hearing. So definitely avoid the music you hate. Different people have different tastes. I am listening to hip hop since 8th grade, mostly commercial. Recently I have Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, and Kanye in my playlist. So it boils down to your personal choices. Even more, people having reading, comprehension and writing tasks can benefit from hip hop. It increases your knowledge of metaphors and vocabulary. Of course, you should exclude the cuss words from your vocabulary. Let’s finish this piece here.
One study states that listening to tracks whose lyrics you understand decreases performance. A study was conducted comprising 334 middle-school students sitting for a reading comprehension test. It ends with the conclusion that top Billboard bangers decreased scores.
So keep in mind that you can listen to tracks you enjoy as long as it isn’t too familiar. Also, I would not prefer those tracks which are lyric-oriented.
Music and work type
During my college days, I had a subject called “engineering drawing”. To be honest, my major in college never fascinated me. Above all, I had to make 12 drawings of engineering components during those six months. Each drawing took 3-4 hours of my life and happiness. So I turn on my “ecstatic” playlist to keep myself going.
Each work differs from the other. Labor work requires physical robustness. On the other hand, creative work like graphic designing requires vivid imagination. Each work requires unique levels of concentration.
Most of the research drawing relationship between music and work has been on repetitive tasks. Which makes complete sense. It is also noted that complex music distracts the mind where high levels of concentration are needed, such as reading test and puzzles. Therefore, if your work is repetitive and boring, upbeat and complex music will keep you aware and inspired. If your work needs problem-solving and creativity, low-tempo and simpler music will help avoid distractions.
Music and the “reward” pathway
The emotions we go through, all have a chemical basis to it. Whether you are joyful, ecstatic, successful, sad or angry, the body releases the respective chemicals (hormones). When we listen to music that we enjoy, the brain activates the reward (or dopamine) pathway. It is the same hormone that is released when we consume food or do exercise. The dopamine release is at its peak when there is an overwhelming emotional response to the music.
A recent study concluded that the same parts of our brain are activated while listening to music that is activated while “eating chocolate, having sex and consuming drugs”. That being said, “whistling while you work” seems like the oldest hack to boost productivity. In a nutshell, music enhances awareness and rewards you for a job well done.
Music and noise
So far we have looked at the effects of music, but what about noise?
Studies have found that background noise, such as ceiling fans and low to moderate traffic, increased creativity. Now I wonder why many writers emerge with unique ideas at coffee shops. On the other hand, loud and uncomfortable noise such as machinery and crowded places kill focus and decrease productivity.
A lot of research emphasizes the benefits of nature sounds, such as chirping birds and ocean waves. As these sounds are calm and serene, they “naturally” improve mood and hence, performance. This is an intuitive fact. We are in many ways connected to nature and the cosmos. It is only the five elements of nature that are keeping us alive. You take one of them, you drop dead. So these nature sounds connect us more with the vital life energies. Of course, taking a walk in the park has the same effect.
Ambient noise is a viable option if you find your music distracting. In fact, research says that ambient nature sounds have a better tendency to lower stress as compared to silence or even classical music. Hence, switch to ambient noise if music distracts you.
Finally, the research on science between music and productivity is still on a beginner level, but it is fascinating. We hope to see more eye-catching studies on this, till then, study yourself and find out your taste. You can even create a new playlist and update it regularly. Be happy with what you do, and keep hustling.