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Your office playlist could be killing your productivity

A person listening to an office playlist on their phone.

The connection between listening to music and the brain has been a widely researched topic since the 1950’s, with recent studies emphasising the relationship between listening to music and productivity. It is said that certain types of music will boost your mood, productivity, efficiency, creativity and accuracy – while other types will cause a distraction, creating a negative impact on the same factors. With that being said, sort yourself a bomb office playlist and you’ll be tackling your work in the best way possible.

A man sitting at a desk with a laptop, listening to an office playlist through headphones.

How does music affect your brain at work?

In the science of neuromusicology (no, I didn’t make that word up, it’s a thing) studies indicate that music can stimulate complex cognitive, affective and sensorimotor processes in the brain. Sounds pretty confusing right? Basically, music engages different areas of the brain, the trick is to find the music that engages the part of the brain that will help you with the task at hand. Disclaimer alert – as with most things each person differs and the impact of music on the brain will therefore vary from person to person, so find what works for you.

A smartphone with headphones and a laptop playing an office playlist on a bed.

Music in the workplace

Both employees and employers seem to be team music and why wouldn’t they be? With 90% of workers performing better whilst listening to music, 88% producing more accurate work and 61% feeling happier and more productive, the numbers seem to speak for themselves.

Office playlist: You are what you listen to neon sign.

The do’s and don’ts

Lyrics – do they help or hinder? The answer is simple – it really depends on the task. Lyrics can be a distraction in circumstances where you are required to be intensely focusing – think learning new information, performing a new task or using linguistic processing. Contrary to this, music is said to help employees with repetitive or mundane tasks, providing them with a reprieve and a boost in morale.

Genre – classical music is the known powerhouse when it comes to productivity, with studies showing a 12% improvement in accuracy due to the relaxing nature and lack of lyrics associated with this genre. However, classical is no longer taking the top spot when it comes to enhancing productivity. Several studies lean towards ambient tracks as the top choice for concentration – with increases in creativity and 92% of people finding improvements in accuracy of data entry. Additionally, pop music results in 58% of people completing data entry tasks at a faster pace, whilst reducing mistakes by 14%. Genres such as EDM and heavy metal on the other hand can create a distraction and leave your brain over stimulated.

Beat and Tempo – music with extreme, intense tempos or complex music structures may have you feeling energised and ready to hit the dance floor but will disengage you from your work load. Instead hit the productivity sweet spot by opting for upbeat tracks with 50-80 beats per minute such as Halo by Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake’s Mirrors.

Volume – yes, it matters. Studies show that 70dBs is the magic number with music at this level massively enhances creativity levels compared to lower sounds at 50dBs. Additionally, 85dBs were found to be considered too loud, with large amounts of exposure to noise at this level not only damaging your hearing but hurting creativity. To put this into perspective (because I’m sure I’m not the only one who has no idea how many decibels I’m listening to) – the maximum volume that can be heard through Apple headphones is approximately 100dBs.

Familiarity – new songs may be upping your musical game but also tend to become your primary focus as you are subconsciously waiting to see what is to come. This makes them less than ideal for tasks involving deep concentration and focus. Instead, you want to find the perfect balance between songs you enjoy which will boost your mood and songs you don’t care about, so you can let them simply play in the background.

Playlists we love

I used myself as a guinea pig and scoured Spotify for the best office playlists to get your productivity flowing – yes, you may call me dedicated to the cause.

Into general tunes that will please (and focus) the masses? Try The Office Stereo

Want classical tunes that will get the cogs of your brain turning? Try Focus Now

Want to boogy whilst smashing through your to-do list? Try Get Popped!