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Music and Productivity: Should You Listen to Music While Working?

Is a quiet environment really the best place to work or study? Conventional wisdom would have you believe that any form of external noise is detrimental to good productivity. Studies, however, may be turning this outdated notion on its head. Music may indeed stimulate the mind and lead to improved output in the office or factory floor. However, before you play some Taylor Swift or Nicki Minaj over the office radio, keep in mind that music in the workplace can also be counterproductive. We’ll go over the pros and cons so you can decide when music is suitable on the job.

The Pros of Music in the Workplace

Music is recommended for monotonous and repetitive tasks, such as working an assembly line or driving a transport truck for long hours. Music in this scenario keeps your brain aroused and stimulated. This is certainly helpful for fighting off boredom or preventing that “zoned out” feeling that people get when doing the same task for hours on end.

Furthermore, a 2010 study revealed that listening to music for 10 to 15 minutes before the start of work can increase productivity. Listening to relaxing music, such as Mozart or other classics, causes a release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is known as the pleasure hormone and is known to cause deep feelings of pleasure and relaxation.

Finally, music may also provide a more pleasurable alternative to a workplace environment that has a lot of existing background noise. Examples may be the sound of heavy machinery in a factory or construction zone, or the sounds of ringing phones and people talking over one another in an office setting.

The Cons of Music in the Workplace

Playing music in the background, however, may not always be beneficial. You should not listen to music while working if you work in a white-collar environment that requires a lot of analytical thinking. When music is playing, your brain has to perform double duty by processing the work-related information AND the music. Listening to music is especially counterproductive when engaged in reading or processing information verbally, such as hearing someone speak or listening to a recorded instructional message.

If analytical thinking is required, and the work environment is inundated with background office noise, then consider classical music or musical tracks with no verbal singing. In one study, 48% of participants listed intelligible chatter as the most distracting form of auditory output.

Play ambient music in the background in a moderate volume. Too much screeching and loud basses just becomes as big a distraction as the office noise.

Recap

To sum it up, music is beneficial for the following instances:

  • 10 to 15 minutes before beginning work

  • While engaged in repetitive tasks

  • In a work environment with a lot of existing background noise

Music should not be listened to when:

  • Engaged in tasks requiring analytical thinking

  • Engaged in reading, writing, or listening to verbal instructions

Here’s a few other final tidbits of advice:

  • Listen to music you like. This releases more dopamine

  • Listen to music you have never listened tobefore This also releases more dopamine as the brain processes the unfamiliar auditory output.

  • New music, however, should be avoided during New music is surprising to the brain, and you’ll be more inclined to shift your focus to it to listen to what comes next.

Music is pleasure to the ears and has been a source of entertainment since the beginning of time. However, there are times when it’s beneficial and times when it’s a hindrance. Know when it’s productive to make the most of it in the workplace.

Dan has worked in the event management industry for five years and is currently an event manager for the UK-based company City Nights Discos. His portfolio includes many successful event planning projects for companies across various niches. He is currently a regular contributor for his company’s blog site. Follow him on Twitter at @DanCarthy2.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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