6 thoughts on music and productivity

Music listener.jpg

Probably one of my favourite things about being at work is I get to listen to music. A lot. Non-stop, for eight hours straight, if I don’t have any meetings or if I decide to be totally unsociable and not talk to colleagues. Thanks to Spotify, my musical knowledge has expanded widely because I listen to many albums, front to end, while tapping away at work. What can I say? Spotify is god.

People are quite divided when it comes to whether music helps or hinders productivity. Here are my observations from endless hours of listening at work:

1. Don’t listen to new music if you want to focus.

If I’m not doing anything that requires a rigorous mental workout, I might browse playlists for something I’ve never listened to. New music is not conducive to focus, because sooner or later, you either 1) come to the conclusion that the playlist/artist/album is no good and frustratingly hunt for something else, killing your line of focus; or 2) completely fall in love with the artist and go on a Wikipedia tangent.

2. However, tried favourites aren’t the best for focus either.

If I listen to a favourite Fleetwood Mac track, I have to stop focussing on everything at a certain point so I can listen to that one awesome part. And if I miss That One Awesome Part, I have to drop everything, rewind the song, and listen to the part again.

3. So, in conclusion, albums you like but don’t like too much are probably your best bet.

4. Classical music and instrumentals win.

I’m an enormous (and pretentious) fan of French post-romanticism and impressionism. The music is quiet enough that it doesn’t distract you or give you a headache, but complex enough in texture, timbre, and structure to stimulate your brain. Baroque fugues, which are often incredibly complex polyphonic (multiple melodic lines) compositions, are a little too stimulating for me and give me miniature panic attacks. Especially since I associate Bach fugues with frustrating practices sessions at the piano.

Non-classical instrumentals are often good, if not better, choices. I am a big fan of Explosions in the Sky, a post-rock group that churns out dreamy, minimalistic, songs. The big, flowing, never-ending, slightly-trippy instrumental interludes in Pink Floyd half-hour masterpieces are also good bets.

5. Listening to the Top 40 at work is an efficient way to up your knowledge so you don’t embarrass yourself at the next social gathering.

I admit it. I’m a bit of a music snob. I never ever ever listen to mainstream radio, so when everyone starts bursting into song at the next social gathering, I’m left in the corner wondering what the hell is going on. As much as I dislike Top 40 hits, I hate the feeling of being left out. (Besides, pop music has its cultural significance). Absentmindedly listening to music at work is an efficient way to remedy that.

And I realize Top 40 is all that bad. Maybe there’s around 3/40 songs I actually really really like. I’ve been quite obsessed with “Rather Be” lately…

6. Absentminded listening is also good for filling in those knowledge gaps.

I grew up listening mostly to classical music. My parents weren’t big fans of pop culture, so I have enormous “knowledge gaps” when it comes to pop culture trivia. (I cringe when I remember the time I thought Billie Holiday was a man.) Spotify at work is an easy way to fill in those gaps because they have a whole Decades section to school yourself through the must-listen classics. (And I have to admit I’ve fallen in love with the ’60s).

So put your headphones on and get some work done 😉

Music listener” by Kashirin Nickolai – http://www.flickr.com/photos/nkashirin/5325053378/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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