It’s too hot. (Or too cold if your office AC is turning you to ice.) Half of your colleagues are away on vacation. You’re either too busy – or not quite busy enough. Instead of letting your workplace get you down, why not turn on some tunes? (But think of others and listen with earphones or a headset, of course!)
The right kind of music can relax your mind, sharpen your focus, drown out distractions, and motivate you to zip through your to-do list. Teresa Lesiuk of the University of Miami’s music therapy program studies the effects of music listening on work performance. Her research suggested that people who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and had better ideas than those who didn’t.
Obviously, there are certain types of music that are better to listen to than others, depending on the result you want to achieve. Here are some of the best types of music to listen to while you work.
- Classical or instrumental music: Need to concentrate? Lose the lyrics. Music with lyrics can be just as distracting as having to listen to a gaggle of chatterboxes. Think of Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, or Handel. A fascinating 2009 study showed that seven out of eight radiologists found baroque music improved their concentration on their work – and even their diagnostic efficiency. Listening to symphonic music can boost your mood, while “calmer” classical pieces (sonatas, piano études…) can reduce stress if you’re feeling under pressure.
- Nature soundtracks: Wishing you were outdoors? Soothing sounds such as ocean waves, flowing water, rainfall, and rustling leaves might be what you need. “With stress such as a heavy workload, our cognitive resources become fatigued with overuse,” says Erin Largo-Wight, a professor of public health at the University of North Florida. “The idea is that nature can restore us cognitively.” Listening to the sounds of nature can enhance cognitive function and concentration.
- “Feel Good” songs: Need to send out important emails when no one’s around to answer you? Sometimes the best remedy for work frustration is a “feel good” playlist of the kind of songs that make you want to grab your pen and use it as a pretend microphone. Scientifically speaking, music can stimulate the same part of the brain as yummy food and other physical pleasures. Why deprive yourself?
- Ambient or electronic music: Feeling a little general stress? Ambient music is designed not to overwhelm but to keep your brain engaged at a lower, subconscious level. It’s perfect if you’re feeling stressed. Trailblazers like Brian Eno developed ambient music as an experiment in composition, allowing algorithms, randomness, synthesizers, and whatever sounded cool to replace the standard components of pop music. As Eno says, “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”
- White noise: Want something to block out people, printers, street noise? According to a Yamaguchi University study, “When carrying out intellectual activities involving memory or arithmetic tasks, it is a common experience for noise to cause an increased psychological impression of ‘annoyance,’ leading to a decline in performance.” White noise is a great solution: it’s neutral, non-verbal background can help block out all types of sound distractions.
Will listening to music be beneficial for you? It depends on whether your office or workspace is noisy enough that a good kind of noise or music is preferable to the natural cacophony. It depends on your personal attention span, and how likely you are to fiddle with controls versus letting a music stream trickle past your ears. Though the results of studies about music at work are often conflicting, the general consensus seems to be that music really can give you a boost at work.