Music has a powerful relationship to our primal need of connecting with others, so how does this translate over to listening to music while you work?
Music helps you finish boring tasks faster
If you’re not looking forward to cleaning out your email after getting back from a vacation or filling out that nasty excel spreadsheet at the end of the month with your finances, music can help.
Because listening to music you like is pleasurable, it will not only make the task seem more fun but as research shows, it can actually help you complete the task faster.
In a study published in the journal of Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology, it was found that a person’s ability to recognize images, letters, and numbers was faster when rock or classical music was playing in the background compared to when there was no music.
A similar effect was noted when workers on an assembly line listened to music. The workers who listened to music were more happy and efficient and made fewer errors.
So whatever type of music you like, as long as you’re listening to something, you’ll enjoy repetitive or boring tasks more and get them done faster.
Press pause when learning something new
When you’re presented with new information that’s complicated, it takes more focus and mental energy for you to grasp and apply that knowledge.
For instance, if you’re learning how to drive or writing your first lines of programming code, it’s best to shut the music off.
Your ability to learn something new that is cognitively demanding decreases when you listen to music. So when you’re tackling something new and complex, put your headphones down and learn without distraction.
If you’re good at what you do, music works
The magic of music comes into play the most when you’re an expert at what you do, even if it’s something as challenging as surgery.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that surgeons worked more accurately when music they liked was playing in the background (music that they didn’t like was second best, and no music was least helpful of all). If you’re working on something that you have done many times before, even if it’s complicated, your performance can increase and errors become less likely when you listen to music you like.
The perfect mix tape: How to use music to create flow
While musical tastes vary greatly, listening to your favorite type of music, whatever it is, lowers feelings of tension. Author Stephen King said that he preferred to work while listening to hard rock music (which for some of us, would be too noisy to concentrate on anything). Whether it’s hard rock or acoustic jams, as long as the music makes you feel like doing things that’s what you should choose to listen to.
Choose music you’ve heard before
If you’re listening to new music (especially with lyrics) while working, your brain may release too much dopamine especially if you find a song you love. You’ll start to focus more on the music rather than the work you’re actually trying to do.
When you learn something new, dopamine levels increase and can cause you to lose focus and interest in your work because it’s not as interesting (and therefore not as pleasurable) as the new song you just discovered.
Stick to your favorites list when you work but, if you must have something new, play songs that have little or no lyrics.
Instrumental music works best
There are a few types of music that have proven to be effective in establishing flow for most people. Classical or instrumental music has been shown to enhance mental performance more than music with lyrics.
For strong focus, music that has little variety and little to no lyrics are best.
Little tip: For creative tasks, the noise from a coffee shop can be enough. Moderate background noise (about the volume of a vacuum cleaner) can create enough distraction to allow you to think more imaginatively!