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Life & Work, Quotable Magazine

What Listening to Music Can Do for Your Work Ethic

You glance at the clock. It’s 9:15 a.m. … only 15 minutes into your workday. Time feels as though it is slowing down and speeding up at the same time, drawing your focus in every which way. Your attention goes from the steam rising from your morning cup of tea, to the blinking of your stagnant screen cursor. You’re getting nowhere and you begin to hear the inside of your head humming. Even the silence is distracting. It’s time to remove the earbuds from your back pants pocket and untangle the cord. You are in need of some music.

If you type in the search bar of any music service, “Study playlist” or perhaps, “Music for focus,” you will be met with pages and pages of playlists eager to be clicked—But be vigilant. You might have heard from friends or colleagues that these playlists either work for them or that they absolutely do not. Say that you are someone who is able to up their productivity with these curated lists. Great! You’ve eliminated a step of work for yourself. If they do not work for you, it’s time to break out your mixtape curation skills.

But first…what’s the situation?

You need to be aware of the type of work that you are doing when you make a decision about whether or not to listen to music. If you are working on a task that is a force of habit or a consistency that you have developed a nearly-automatic routine for, such as inputting numbers into a spreadsheet, this is the optimal situation for you to crank the tunes. When completing a task you are comfortable with, music may help to calm your mind and put you at ease, increasing your focus.

However, if you are working on a task that requires all of your mental prowess, such as learning a new skill or deeply analyzing information to engage in problem-solving, it’s time to turn the music down. In this kind of situation, music falls into the same category of chattering voices or, in the world of online work, the sounds of daily life throughout your house or apartment complex. According to an article from the American Psychological Association, researchers refer to this category of noise as “irrelevant sound,” and it serves no purpose but to distract.

Let’s boil it down to a simple question: Do you already know how to complete the task in front of you and have done it many times before? Yes? Then, in go the earbuds.

What Good Can Music Do For You?

According to an article from Codersera, when it comes down to it, productivity is the result of two key elements: a positive mood and a lack of distractions. Music assists in fostering both of these factors. Listening to music that one enjoys has been proven to boost their mood significantly. It can also help smooth out sound distractions by blocking out conflicting noises with a single musical environment. This combination results in the ultimate productivity combo.

It All Comes Down to Hormones

Studies have found that listening to music that we favor is conducive to higher productivity. Although this seems intuitive, the reasoning behind it comes down to hormones. The body’s multitudinous messengers are involved even in your enjoyment of music! When you hear a song that gives you chills down your spine or gets you impatient as you wait for the loading circle to stop its eternal spinning, you have found your genre. For choosing to listen to such a song, your body rewards you with a shot of dopamine. Though this hormone is most commonly associated with happiness, it also assists in giving you a boost of alertness and motivation.

Your Personalized Playlist

You need to create a playlist with music that you like. Seems like a good strategy, right? Feel free to be creative, but we have one important guideline for you: no vocals in any of the songs. We realize that this might very well slash quite a few songs from your list, but it’s a necessary sacrifice. According to an article from a Penn State blog on “Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy,” songs with vocals distract the mind as it tries to unravel the lyrics and their meaning. Multitasking is already a strenuous task; for example, reading through notes while sipping a cup of tea. Now try adding in lyric deciphering and we have set ourselves up in a recipe for disaster. Try thinking of your favorite movie and select its soundtrack, or if you enjoy classical music, your favorite symphony or sonata. Ever wondered why you often hear classical music being played in cafes and restaurants? In most cases, it is played for the purpose of creating a peaceful environment. When the mind is at peace, it is far simpler to accomplish tasks of all difficulty calibers.

Don’t Overdo It!

However, it is possible to overdue this beneficial habit right into detriment, most visibly in a social setting. If you are working at an in-person office, wearing headphones or earbuds all the time may give the wrong impression to your coworkers. Constantly being plugged into music may make you appear cold or unsociable. Make sure that you are still giving attention to people who need your inputs and communication at work.

It is entirely possible that at the end of the day, you might require your entire focus to be on the work you are doing in order to produce quality content. Not a problem. Music while working is not for everyone. But, we would encourage you to give it a few tries before you write off the idea entirely. Maybe you just haven’t found the right songs yet, and when you do, you will unlock another plane of concentration. Happy listening!

Grace Holladay is a third-year student at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. She loves to spend her free time cooking new recipes, binging Marvel movies, and dancing at her university’s rec center.

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