Music and Productivity: When to Press Play vs. When to Tune Out

Music has always been held in high regard because of its power to make us feel a wide range of emotions. Often, the most common reason we listen to music is to feel good, to put us in the right mood. We also listen to music to relieve stress and motivate us to become more productive at work.

The role of music in the workplace has been studied numerous times, and a majority of the research points toward the same conclusion: listening to music can enhance work performance and boost productivity.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going to use music as a productivity tool. Let’s take a look at these and discuss when it would be alright to play as you please and when it would be wise to choose silence.

Work preps

Prepping for a big presentation, a meeting with clients or a whole-day training? Go ahead and listen to the music you enjoy before doing so. Listening to music you find pleasing can boost your mood and motivate you to face even the most difficult tasks ahead.

Tasks on repeat

When doing repetitive tasks that don’t involve a lot of cognitive processing – such as transferring files, filing away documents, and copying and pasting text – listening to music can help keep you entertained yet focused and alert. Upbeat music is recommended for boosting energy and attentiveness and also for improving accuracy and efficiency.

Learning and other cognitive tasks

It’s best to choose quiet when you are learning something new, analyzing data and other tasks that require a hundred percent of your focus. If you need your headphones on to drown out a noisy environment, you can stick to white noise (yes, there’s a playlist for that) or calming, repetitive background music without lyrics. Keep the volume low – just enough to mask the other sounds. You’ll need to ‘hear’ yourself think!

Noisy surroundings

Workplace chit-chat can be really distracting. If you find yourself in this situation, plug in your ‘phones and go for classical music or tracks with nature sounds. It’s recommended to skip songs with distracting lyrics if you’re wanting to escape chatter in the first place.

Customer interaction

If you work in customer service and interact with customers in person or on the phone, it’s best to put your earbuds or headphones away. You need to focus on addressing customer needs and be approachable. Listen to your music before your shift, during breaks and after work hours to get your audio fix. 

Workplace safety

It’s also important to consider workplace settings when listening to music. For example, if you work in an industrial setting (a warehouse, for example) where being aware of your surroundings and staying alert can mean life or death, having music blaring in your ears may not be wise. You’ll need to be able to hear alarms, coworkers calling your name and other sounds that can alert you if something is wrong, so save your music for later. Safety first!

Those are just some work-related situations where listening to music can be beneficial or a distraction. Remember to keep these things in mind before you plug in.