How to use music to boost your productivity at work

We’ve all had that feeling of being inspired, uplifted or motivated by music. Whether it’s a thumping beat, inspirational lyrics or a rousing chorus, music has the power to move us.

But music also has the ability to help improve our productivity. And for many of us – whether we’re working remotely, working less or just working differently now – this can be just the kind of simple motivation boost that can add to our days.

“Music has very real effects on different systems in our body,” says Professor Bill Thompson, the director of the Music, Sound and Performance Lab at Macquarie University. “It can boost our mood and energy levels, as well as helping us think creatively. We tend to think of music as entertainment, but it can really benefit your work.”

The golden rule of listening while you work

There’s one thing to keep in mind to find music that will enhance your work – but not distract you from it. “Music very rarely has a significant interference on other tasks,” Professor Thompson says. “But as a general rule, fast and loud music will be the most distracting. If you listen to music that is rapid but soft, or loud but not fast, that doesn’t tend to interfere with the task you are doing. It’s when music is fast and loud that it has an impact on our ability to focus.”

How to choose the right music for your job

The kind of music that will work best for your productivity depends on your job and work environment. Professor Thompson suggests matching the task you’re doing with a particular type of music:

  • A quick-thinking task where you have to make rapid decisions – listen to stimulating, energetic music
  • A task where you need to be creative or open minded – listen to positive music that lifts your mood
  • For a critical or analytical task – listen to complex, contemplative music
  • If you’re in a busy environment – calming, ambient music can help you focus.

If you’re keen to track down music that falls into these categories, try searching terms like ‘ambient’ or ‘energetic’ via a streaming platform and see what curated playlists are on offer.

What if I’m working near others?

Of course, it’s worth considering your work context when it comes to music. “If you work in a booth and want to listen to music but others don’t, then it makes sense to put headphones on,” Professor Thompson says. “But if you’re working around others and listening to music with headphones on, it can be seen as antisocial.”

If you’re keen to listen to music at work with others nearby, Professor Thompson recommends:

  • Talking with your boss and team: “Show your boss and colleagues some of the articles and research about music and how it can boost productivity. Ask them what they think. See if they’d be open to listening to music in the workplace.”
  • Suggesting a trial: It’s often easier for managers to agree to trialling something new, rather than committing to it forever. Look at the kind of music your colleagues like to listen and develop a playlist to try. Ask your co-workers to provide feedback about the music, their productivity and mood.
  • Using music at specific times: “In some jobs you have processes that are routinised and can almost be done automatically. In these situations, the use of music is very unlikely to distract people, but can help remedy stress, help people work quickly and maintain enthusiasm.”

Music can have a profound impact on us: it can even reduce anxiety and stress.  And in times when it’s harder to find your focus, music can be a simple tool to help boost your productivity and find a rhythm while you work.