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Can listening to music at work increase your productivity?

Music is a huge part of my life which I’m sure many people would agree with however have you ever questioned what impact music has on your work life and more specifically which types of music have the most impact.

When you listen to music, a part of your brain called the nucleus accumbens activates. This triggers the release of the “pleasure chemical” dopamine that lives in a group of neurons in your brain called the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA):

This pathway in the brain is called the Reward System and Dopamine is strongly associated with it. Dopamine is the same chemical that gets released when you eat your favourite food or when you get a new follower on Twitter, causing you to want more and more.

From the perspective of evolution, there’s something deeper about why you feel pleasure when you listen to music. Neuroscientist and musician, Jamshed Bharucha noted that creative domains, like music, allow humans to connect in a synchronized way, helping us develop a group identity and makes us more likely to work together - which was an immensely important advantage for keeping the human species alive.

Benefits of listening to music at work

Music helps you finish boring tasks faster

If you’re not looking forward to cleaning out your email after getting back from a vacation or sifting through vast amounts of paperwork music can help.

Because listening to music you like is pleasurable, it will not only make the task seem more enjoyable but as research shows, it can actually help you complete the task faster.

You can press pause when learning something new

When you’re presented with new information that’s complicated, it takes more focus and mental energy for you to grasp and apply that knowledge you have the option to shut the music off.

If you’re good at what you do, music works

The magic of music comes into play the most when you’re an expert at what you do, even if it’s something as challenging as surgery. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that surgeons worked more accurately when music they liked was playing in the background (music that they didn’t like was second best, and no music was least helpful of all).

Furthermore, lare Mann, a psychologist employed by Spotify, says that music and the ability to choose that music, improves both our worth and work. Self-selected music can be a means for people to seize control over their surroundings and emotions. Choosing the right tempo and sound for example, can make people better manage their stress levels.

Mann highlights that music is proven to have a positive effect on moods. “The more time spent listening to music, the greater the increase in positivity”. This is true! Faster paced music can boost energy levels and it is really beneficial in overcoming lethargy especially after the slump that we usually face after lunch hour.

However a Spotify survey found that although four out of five office workers were allowed to listen to music at work many companies are against the idea because they believe it to be a distraction for workers. The same research showed that listening to music at work doesn’t provide automatic benefits. For those people who don’t usually listen to music while working, it takes a bit of time for them to get used to it and reap the rewards. At the same time, once you’re used to having “work music,” your productivity and work quality are slightly diminished when the music is taken away.

Personality may have a role in determining how music affects work. Extroverts felt reduced anxiety whenever music was playing, while there was no measurable effect for introverts. In a previous article, Anne Zelenka discussed personalizing your work music. She was right — the effect of work music depends on several factors, among them your personality.

The type of music you listen to also matters. In a study published in the Journal of Music Therapy, excitative music tends to increase feelings of vigor and tension, while sedative music eased tension. That may be stating the obvious, but here’s the interesting part: Listening to your favourite type of music, whatever it is, lowers your perception of tension. This means you don’t feel as stressed or tense. But your heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure is higher when listening to excitative music, even if you like it.

So should you listen to music while working? Evidence shows that over time workers who chose to listen when they want, as they want, is beneficial for the quality-of-work, and time spent on a task. In other words, go ahead. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little to see what works for you.



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