Music matters: increasing productivity in the workplace

We all know how hard it is to focus in a bustling office full of conversation and ringing phones. So, does it really make sense to add more noise to the din? For some reason, yes it does.

How does it work?

Focusing on a specific task is a lot like focusing your eyes on a certain object. When you start trying to concentrate, your brain takes in all external stimuli and hones in on what it should be focusing on.

Where does concentration go wrong?

There’s unfortunately more things that interrupt your concentration than things that aid it:

  • In evolutionary terms, we’re hardwired to have our wits about us. Dogs go a bit ‘weird’ when the weather changes, and cats always seem to notice things in the corner of the room that you can’t see. It’s the same with us, just slightly more diluted considering our rather cushy surroundings. If our brain senses any kind of danger or changes to the accepted environment, concentration can be interrupted.
  • Generally, concentration is linked to happiness and contentment. If your overdraft is suffering a little bit this month, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to concentrate very well.
  • Multitasking if the enemy of concentration: Put quite simply, if you’re handling a million things at once, your brain is predisposed to make more mistakes – Jack of all trades, master of none. Therefore, you can’t expect to slip into a blissful concentration if you’re constantly interrupting yourself with different tasks. In fact, research suggests that we actually interrupt ourselves 44% of the time that we lose focus – so you can’t blame Sandra taking loud sips of her coffee every time your concentration is broken.“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.” – Steve Jobs


Taking you out of the moment.

Hearing a song from your childhood takes you out of your present environment and puts you in the past. This in itself means that you’re less distracted by what’s going on around you, and more able to focus on the task at hand.

How exactly does music help?

 Being happy generally insinuates you’re not being distracted by a multitude of issues bearing down on you, leaving more room for your brain to find something important to focus on. Listening to music that makes you happy is therefore a pretty decent bet if you’re trying to focus.

There’s some common beliefs about music vs concentration:

  • Classical music is the best for concentration. For some, this is true. But lets not forget that Sonata No.14 by Beethoven has a distinctly different tone to his Sonata No. 5. It’s all about your personal taste, and whether you prefer twinkly piano or strong staccato-filled epics.
  • Wordy songs ruins concentration: Trying to concentrate whilst listening to the quick vocal stylings of Eminem might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The theory here is that the more obtrusive the rhythm, phrasing and pace of the vocal, the more easy it is for your focus to trip up on it. However, this isn’t the same for everyone. Steady rhythms, even if they are fast, often help to keep the brain centred.
  • You can only focus when the music is quiet: Again, not always strictly the case. Loud external stimuli can help to eclipse other distractions.
  • The genre/mood is important: Studies show that it actually doesn’t matter what genre you’re listening to, as long as you’re a fan of it. The person next to you might not find Led Zeppelin particularly zone-inducing, but it might be just right for you.

How important is music in the workplace?

Log onto Spotify, and you’ll see tons of playlists dedicated to office listening. Now, generally they tend to be full of poppy chart hits, which seems to suggest that the best way to please everyone in the office is to play something non-assuming and not particular ‘genre-y’. According to PRS, 73% of warehouse workers say that they’re more productive when background music is played.

However, that’s based on treating a Spotify playlist like a radio station for the whole office. Research suggests that allowing workers to listen to their own music improves productivity and their general attention levels. 65% of business owners report that allowing employees to listen to their own music leads to a higher general morale -which can only be a good thing.

Do you want to listen to music at work?

Ask anyone in our office and the resounding answer is yes – we love being able to listen to music at work. Granted, we’re in the media industry, so it’s not much of a stretch. If you’re in a workplace that is somewhat stuck in a time warp, bring it up at the next team meeting – it’s worth exploring!

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