When Music Makes You More (& Less) Productive

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As I write this, my favorite smooth jazz station streams in the background. The saxophone wails over the oomph and tsk of the drums while both bass and electric guitars harmonize eclectically.

It’s my favorite way to write.

You could argue that this music is distracting me because it’s all I’m writing about at this moment. But I have written close to one hundred words in a matter of minutes while this music plays.

We’ve all had this argument before. Either you are begging for the music to be turned off so that you can concentrate or you’re itching for a rhythm that someone else has silenced.

So which is it? Does music make you more productive or less productive? Can it really be both—or neither?

That all depends on what end result you’re trying to produce.

When Music Makes You More Productive

If you have a repetitive task at hand that doesn’t require much brainpower, such as checking your email or folding laundry, then music can make you more productive.

Just check out the research:

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  • This study shows that those who listened to music were more efficient in their work, even when music played over unpleasant sounds like machine noises.
  • This study found that IT specialists discovered better solutions as well as finished their assignments faster than those who didn’t listen to music.
  • This study found that participants were more productive when the music they listened to was played in a major key.

I found a common theme that repeats throughout all these studies. And it’s this: Mood plays a significant role in your productivity.

So it’s possible that it’s not exactly the act of music that increases productivity for these kinds of tasks, but rather that an elevated mood inspires productivity.

When Music Makes You Less Productive

If your task isn’t repetitive and requires significant thinking and/or creativity, then it’s best to turn off your stereo. That includes studying, writing and anything involving creating something.

READ: Most of the time, music makes you less productive.

Insert groans here.

That’s not true, you insist. I get a lot of work done when music plays.

Perhaps you do and perhaps you think you do. The truth is that music we like puts us in a good mood and it feels like we’re more productive.

But are we?

According to this study, not so much. The research found that participants had a harder time recalling a multipart task than those that didn’t listen to music. That’s because it takes brainpower to listen to music, taking away from cognitive functions pertinent to the current task.

The research found that listening to music for fifteen minutes before your work session generated the most productivity. Lucky for me, that’s the length of my office commute.

If you listen to music to drown out the noises from your workplace or at a coffeehouse, try putting on headphones without the music. Simply the act of covering your ears can inspire creativity and focus that the task at hand needs.

What do you think? Does music make you more or less productive? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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