Are you having trouble staying motivated working from home lately? You’re in a different workspace, many distractions close by, and not to mention there is a global pandemic happening, which I’m sure is taking up some space in your brain. A recipe for disaster for your work. But is there a way to fix this? Or at least help you productivity?
Well, I believe that listening to music whilst working or studying is the best thing you can to do to boost your productivity and improve your quality of work. The main reason is that music can lift your mood, and make you feel more relaxed and motivated to get things done (Hewitt 2020). In these difficult times I think we need music more than ever in our daily lives. Don’t we all need a bit of joy in our day?
In this blog post, I am going to discuss some of the research around listening to music whilst working, and then share some examples of what to listen to whilst working from home, the office, or anywhere. So let’s get started with the research.
There have been many debates about whether you should listen to music whilst studying or working. Several studies have shown that background music can increase productivity when doing physical work, and motivate people to do ‘boring’ or unpleasant work like exercising (Oudyk 2017). But what about when doing more ‘mental’ and cognitive work?
In one study, twenty-four university students read four different texts in four different conditions: listening to preferred music; listening to non-preferred music; listening to café noises and listening to nothing. It was found that students performed the worst on a reading comprehension test while listening to non-preferred music, followed by silence, preferred music, and café noises (Johansson et. al. 2012). So, listening to music that you enjoy may assist in improving your overall quality of work.
However, the type of music that is effective depends on what kind of work you are doing. For example, when completing repetitive work, music of almost any type appears to be helpful, as long as it is enjoyable to the listener (Landay & Harms 2019). In this case, music is improving mood and making the task less boring. When doing more complex tasks, however, music can impair the quality of the work you are doing, particularly if the music is loud and has lyrics. Studies show that when working on complex tasks that require intense focus, silence is probably the best option (Avila et. al. 2012).
It was found that moderate levels of background noise or music can increase productivity when doing creative work. However, it is crucial that this music is at a medium volume, otherwise it may become too distracting and hinder performance.
The type of personality you have may also have an effect on whether you should listen to music whilst working. A study conducted found that extroverts performed better in both a memory test and reading comprehension test than introverts, when pop music was played in the background. It was also found that extroverted people are more likely to work with music playing in the background than introverted students (Furnham & Bradley 1997).
To conclude, we know that music can improve mood and productivity in some cases, when the music is familiar, not too loud and does not have any lyrics.
TYPES OF MUSIC YOU CAN LISTEN TO WHILST WORKING
So, now we know the criteria for music to listen whilst working. Here are some examples of types of music that fit this criteria:
Movie soundtracks are great things to listen to whilst working. They can motivate you to keep working (Rocky theme anyone?) and can improve your mood, especially if you are listening to the score from your favourite movie! It is important, though, to listen to the instrumental or orchestral score of the movie, rather than theme songs with lyrics like “Ghostbusters” or “The Power of Love”. You can cater the intensity of a score to the work you are doing: for example, if you want some calming music for creative work, something like the “Inception” soundtrack would work well. Conversely, if you are doing ultra repetitive work and need some motivation, “How to Train Your Dragon” might be better suited. Majority of orchestral scores of popular films can be found either on YouTube or Spotify, so it should be easy to find the score from your favourite movie!
Some of my favourites:
- Back to the Future
- Star Wars
- Shrek (I used to listen to this in Chemistry class at school!)
- How to Train Your Dragon
- Lord of the Rings
2. Classical Music
I’m sure you have probably heard of the Mozart effect, which researchers in the 1990s believed that listening to Mozart would improve your scores on an IQ test. Whilst many studies since then have proven that this is not entirely correct (the scores improved because of mood, not specifically because of Mozart), listening to classical music whilst working is a very good option. However, only listen to classical music if you are a fan and enjoy the music, as otherwise it is likely it will not do anything to help you and will only lower your mood. There are several study or work music playlists on Spotify based on classical music. Some of these include Intense Studying (piano music) and Mozart Study.
3.Instrumentals of Your Favourite Songs
This is probably my favourite thing to listen to while I am working, as it fits all the criteria perfectly. You can still listen to your favourite Taylor Swift or Billie Eilish song, just without the lyrics! Thus, you will still be motivated and listening to music that you enjoy. Also, if picking a piano and acoustic guitar cover of a song, the music will not be too loud or intense. If you don’t like this, you can also listen to karaoke tracks of your favourite songs.
I have a whole YouTube playlist of some of my favourite songs being performed by YouTube musicians as instrumentals. Check it out, and then create your own playlist of your favourite songs as instrumentals!
Another really good option for listening is ambient noise. There is evidence to suggest that listening to café sounds or rain sounds can help with creating new ideas. Also, in times where we can’t go to cafes, it is nice that we can recreate that experience at home! There are several websites around that allow you create your own mix of ambient noise, from café noises, to thunder, to birds chirping. These include Noisli and Ambient Mixer.
There are also videos on YouTube and websites that allow you to listen to ambient sounds from your favourite films or TV shows, so you can pretend to be in the world of your favourite characters!
Some of my favourites:
- Harry Potter sounds = harry-potter-sounds.ambient-mixer.com
- Hogwarts Library Sounds = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20XE6GM7xWo
- Back to the Future Hill Valley Rainy Night = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62ALOeaBdQE&t=35s
- Star Trek: TNG Bridge Sounds = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKBvaOLDem0
- Star Trek Original Series Enterprise Bridge Sounds = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnU2qn6-hz4
5.Your Own Favourite Songs
Now I know we said that there should be no music with lyrics in order for the music to have a positive effect, but sometimes we just need that push to get our work done. That’s why when I need a bit of extra motivation to continue working, or during my breaks, I put on my favourite songs to get me going again. Have a playlist or go-to album that makes you happy and play that when you get up for a break. I guarantee you’ll be in a good mood and ready to keep smashing out that work. (Read about one of my favourite albums here!)
Here is a summary of the content of this blog post:
I hope that this article has convinced you to listen to music whilst working, and that it helps you in these tough times. Let me know what kinds of music you like to listen to when working or studying, I’d love to hear your inputs!
Enjoy listening to the music, and good luck with your work 🙂
Avila, C., Furnham, A. and McClelland, A., 2011. The influence of distracting familiar vocal music on cognitive performance of introverts and extraverts. Psychology of Music, 40(1), pp.84-93.
Furnham, A & And Bradley, A 1997. Music While You Work: The Differential Distraction of Background Music on the Cognitive Test Performance of Introverts and Extraverts. Applied Cognitive Psychology 11, pp. 445-455.
Hewitt, J., 2020. Discover Why Music Can Help Or Harm Cognitive Performance. [online] jameshewittperformance.com. Available at: <https://jameshewittperformance.com/discover-why-music-can-help-or-harm-cognitive-performance/> [Accessed 26 May 2020].
Johansson, R, Holmqvist, K, Mossberg, F & Lindgren, M 2012. Eye Movements and Reading Comprehension While Listening to Preferred and Non-preferred Study Music. Psychology of Music, 40 (3), pp. 339-356.
Landay, K. and Harms, P., 2019. Whistle while you work? A review of the effects of music in the workplace. Human Resource Management Review, 29(3), pp.371-385.
Oudyk, K 2017. Should you listen to music while you study if you’re an introvert?. [online] Music, Mind & Technology. Available at: <https://mmtfinland.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/should-you-listen-to-music-while-you-study-if-you-are-an-introvert/>[Accessed 26 May 2020].