Sounds of Productivity

Jess Thompson
Jess ThompsonCommunications ManagerMore about Jess

If you’re a bit worried that this article is going to tell you to turn the music off because it’s inhibiting your productivity and restricting your creativity, leave your worries here – the opposite is true, and even science says so! Studies have shown that some levels of noise, whether it be music, ambient sound or white noise, can be hugely beneficial to your productivity, creativity and even accuracy in your work.

A peer reviewed study from the University of Chicago found that being a little bit distracted helps you be more creative. When you think of when your best ideas strike – in the shower, brushing your teeth, on your way to work – it seems that if you’re not focused too intensely on the task at hand you have awesome brainwaves.

Before you go cranking the celebratory power-ballads, there are a few things to consider:

LYRICS ARE DISTRACTING
Sorry, this is disappointing, I know, but this is what science is telling us. Especially when you’re concentrating on language-based tasks, like writing, you’ll find it hard to stay on track with what you’re doing if you brain is wanting to sing/rap/yodel along.

BUT, for tasks that require lower cognitive immersion, knock yourself out. A poppy melody with upbeat lyrics could be just the thing to get you through a repetitive task, or one that doesn’t require too much thought. The best news is that music can even help you get through it faster by increasing your output and your mood, making it easier to power through the dull stuff so you can get back to the nitty gritty. If keeping your mood and motivation up is what you’re after then look for any kind of music paced at about 60 beats per minute. This is thought to be the perfect BPM to keep you in a light and upbeat frame of mind.

MUSIC DOESN’T DO YOU ANY FAVOURS WHEN IT COMES TO LEARNING
When you’re reading or trying to take in complex new information, music (especially the sing-y or emotionally charged kind) is taking valuable resources from your brain that you need to be able to retain the new information. Consider hitting pause when you’re trying to learn something new.

AMBIENT MUSIC, OR NOISE, COULD BE THE PERFECT BALANCE
Ambient is the perfect spot between noise and silence. It provides enough stimulation to boost your cognitive performance and is especially good for giving your creativity a zap without taking too much of your attention. Ambient music is fairly consistent in that it doesn’t have intense highs or lows, is free of lyrics and is easy enough to tune out when you’re in the zone. Brian Eno, ambient music pioneer, famously claimed that ambient music needs to be “as ignorable as it is interesting”.

If you still find music too much, you might want to try some light ambient noise, let your work be guided by the gentle din of a coffee shop. I’ve just discovered my new favourite work soundtrack to be from webapps, Coffitivity and Rainy Cafe Machine, which both mimic the bustle of a coffee shop, with the later also adding the soothing sounds of rain.

IF YOU NEED MUSIC, LET IT BE THIS
We’ve touched on avoiding lyrics and ambient music, so what does that leave you with? Movie and videogame soundtracks are awesome for getting work done. It totally makes sense, since it’s music developed to stimulate and accompany without pulling you out of the movie or the game by stealing precious concentration. Alternatively classical music (especially baroque) jazz, or downtempo electronic is great. A study conducted by MusicWorks found that workers performing mathematical or problemsolving tasks improved their accuracy by 12% when listening to classical music versus silence. Baroque is also said to be a favourite of productivity guru, David Allen.

IF MUSIC ISN’T YOUR JAM
If you’re still sceptical about all this but you still want to escape unavoidable office noise, consider a white noise player to mask the clamour around you. If you think of a flashlight turning on and off in a dark room, the light is very obvious and distracting.

Now if you imagine the same thing happening in a light room – you barely notice the flashlight anymore. The same applies with sound. Noise generators mask sounds around you and neutralises interfering noise.


RESOURCES
Focus@Will    Coffitivity    Rainy Café Machine    Simply Noise    ChatterBlocker

Related content