Experiment: How Music Affects Our Productivity

Takeaway: Over the next month I’ll be diving deep into how music affects our productivity.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minutes, 36s.

MusicThe deeper you look at productivity, the more things you discover that impact how much you get done every day. That includes some weirder things such as what you eat, whether or not you exercise, and even how fast you try to work. This idea is what has made it possible for me to continue exploring how to become more productive after my productivity project finished—while I thought I would have run out of things to explore long ago, so far the well hasn’t dried up.

Music is yet another one of those things.

If you’re anything like me, you may listen to music for much of the day—while doing everything from working, to exercising, to commuting. For me, most days music is so intertwined with my day that I often don’t realize I’m listening to it in the first place.

This observation led me to ask a curious question: how does music affect our productivity, if at all? Do certain songs and genres and tempos lead us to focus better? Does this vary depending on our personality—like whether we’re an introvert or an extravert? Are some songs more conducive to working on certain types of tasks? Is everyone wired differently? Does it depend on how we’re feeling on a given day? What does the science say?

Over the next month, I intend to find out.

For fun, over the next five weeks, in addition to diving deep into the research around music and productivity, I’ll also mix up what I listen to, to not just look at the science, but to explore the idea subjectively as well. For the next month, I plan on listening to only:

  • Instrumental music the first week
  • Slow jams the second week
  • Pop music the third
  • Rock music the fourth
  • and absolutely nothing the fifth

while maintaining a log of how much focus, energy, and motivation I had throughout the day.

I’m excited to see how this one goes!

  • Christiane Dupre

    I’ve been exploring isochronic tunes on youtube – supposed to help you focus better. It seems to work. I’ve also trialed focus at will – they play music that has been specifically created to alter your brain patterns to help you focus. Wondering if you want to try these in your experiment as well?

    • I hadn’t intended to, but mostly because I hadn’t heard of them! I’ll give both a shot for sure.

    • Dennis Nehrenheim

      Yep! [email protected]! Changed my life! :D I use it daily to get into flow state. I think that everyone can do so, too, but it is not easy to find the right flow-mix for yourself ;) [email protected]! helps you with that!

  • I think music clearly affects your productivity, both positively and negatively. If I’m doing something that requires a lot of focus, such as studying, listening to music is bad, and I find myself focusing on the tunes, the lyrics and so on. On other cases, if I am required to do repetitive work, or while exercising, music can be a great “escape” from the tedium of the task.

    In the first case, I don’t think the negative effect on productivity depends on the type of music, except perhaps white noite. I find that going through some youtube videos with sounds of the wind, rain and waves really help to cancel other noises in the room. But that’s not music right?

    In the second case – repetitive tasks – music genre may be important. Electronic music really help me while running because of the beats.

    • Cool! I almost feel that for simple, repetitive tasks, music consumes the extra attention you have left over, which prevents you from getting distracted. I’m super curious how subjective that is, though!

  • ReadySetGoalnet

    Yes! I run my own business/blog from home with a 3-year old and an 18-month old … using music (I just tune into Pandora) to drown out my external environment dramatically improves my focus and productivity.

    I notice that I am more focused if I choose the music that fits my mood. If I’m tired, I like to listen to classical guitar. It’s more fast paced and somehow perks me up a bit.

    But, if I’m irritable (I’m a WAHM, I’m allowed) then, plugging into the “instrumental for studying” is calming and I can let go of my frustration and get to work.

    And, on the rare occasions I go to work at the coffee shop and feel like socializing – I plug into the “instrumental hip-hop” station. Somehow it tricks my brain into thinking I’m having fun :)

    • Interesting! I get the feeling that mood is a huge determinant of what music will help our productivity the most, even just a couple days into this one!

    • Christiane Dupre

      So true! Mood or even the intention behind your work. I find when I’m brainstorming at the start of a project Baroque music really helps me, and when I was under the gun on a project, some classic or harder rock really energized and motivated me!

  • Can’t wait to read your results, Chris!

    I’ve been experimenting with classical piano on repeat. My n=1 results when writing (doing creative work) have been fantastic.

    I’m using Chopin’s Prelude in E minor Op. 28 No. 4. Here’s a 60-minute track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xgDNhe0nS4.

    On repeat, the music becomes part of the background. My brain recognizes it as “nice,” but isn’t distracted by it. In fact, the loop seems to help me to focus, making it easier to ignore distractions in my immediate environment (for example, a coffeeshop).

    It has worked wonders for me. But of course, your mileage may vary. :)

    Looking forward to the results of your experiment!

  • AerynnD

    I’ve also been using [email protected] for grading essays, dissertation research, and writing. I like the fact that I can choose the style and tempo of music – I change it to whatever suits the task ahead and my energy levels. I set the timer as well so I remember to take breaks.

  • Elise HN

    Can’t wait :)

  • Quentin Amendi

    What is your Myers Briggs personality type ?

  • Mark Bishop

    Hey Chris – Anything to report on this topic? I’ve experimented with listening to ambient style music with no defined rhythm or melody to grab your attention since you posted this article. There are several channels on YouTube including Focus @ Will that I’ve used. Interesting enough, for me it instantly gives me clarity and focus to work, even at very low volumes in the office. Just curious to hear more about your findings.
    Cheers,

    • I do have a few curious things to report, but a big part of me wants to save them for my next book! Planning on piecing together an article on my findings in the coming while, though :-)

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