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Does Listening to Music Help or Hurt Productivity?


If you want to start a fight at your next team meeting, just ask the group if they think listening to music helps them work better — or totally kills their concentration. In no time at all, you’ll have people lined up on two sides of the room, snapping their fingers and advancing on one another in a menacing fashion, like Sharks and Jets in button-down shirts.


(Photo Credit: William Brawley/Flickr)

That’s partly because the question of whether to listen to music at work has far from a clear-cut yes or no answer. Short version: some music helps some types of work, some of the time, but listening to music constantly probably isn’t doing you any favors.

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Writing at Quartz, Adam Pasick says that one study “found that the benefits of music disappeared when it was constantly played. And sometimes your brain just needs all the cognitive resources it can get. One 1989 paper wryly noted that ‘complex managerial tasks are probably best performed in silence.'”

So What’s the Best Type of Music for Work?

Music with lyrics is better for repetitive tasks that don’t require a lot of brain power. Once we ask our brains to decipher lyrics and do something that requires reading comprehension or memorization, Pasick reminds us, we’re dealing with heavy-duty multitasking.

If you can’t find music without lyrics, choose something in a language you don’t understand. Italian opera might as well be random (beautiful) noise, if you don’t speak the language.

Boost Your Mood

Feeling blue can affect our productivity, not to mention our job satisfaction. Studies have shown that listening to upbeat music not only improves mood, but physical health. It might ever boost your salary.

Just remember to keep those headphones handy. Your idea of a mood booster might be someone else’s aural equivalent of a rainy day, pouring down on their cube just as deadlines draw near. Or they might understand that language that’s washing over your cognitive centers without impeding your workflow.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you listen to music while you work? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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