What is the perfect music for more productive work?

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 This is the wrong question. Instead you should be asking “what is the task at hand?”, “How much engagement is required to complete the task?” and “What music meets this level of engagement?”

Think about these two examples and how they relate to your work.

Example 1. You are driving down the street looking for a house and you need to focus. What do you do? Turn off the radio. Any music is too distracting.

Example 2. You have a long road trip ahead and you create “Road trip playlist 2” with all your favourite energetic songs. You sing along to stay engaged, energised & focused for the long drive.

These are two very relatable experiences, and this is how you should treat music when you are on the job. Different tasks have different attention requirements.

What music features require the most of our attention?

There is evidence that music with lyrics can negatively impact on reading comprehension. It would be fair to assume that lyrical music would not be beneficial to many writing or reading tasks. Again, this would depend on the reading comprehension required. For example, clearing out spam, trash or skimming through emails may still be effective under lyrical music. I would recommend against blanket statements regarding what music to use for specific tasks.

Instead consider how much attention you require to complete the task and then consider the following features of music which can distract you;

– emotionally expressive music
– loud volume
– lyrical
– strong rhythm or pulse
– dynamically expressive
– have strong personal meaning to you

How do we know if the music is too engaging or not engaging enough?

Watch your thoughts.

  • Mind wandering off or you are drifting off? – the music isn’t engaging enough for you to be focused
  • Thinking about the music instead of the task at hand? – the music is too engaging and distracting

We are all different. Some individuals with attention deficit disorder cannot focus without music and ambient music can be an effective solution. Musicians on the other hand tend to listen to music analytically and this can make any music distracting. Music can also be effective for masking out talking co-workers or unpleasant noises (see my blog on masking)

What about music for very complicated tasks?

The Can’t Sleep App has a mode for focus. This mode is ideal for very complicated tasks because you can remove parts of the music to make it less distracting. This includes disabling the melody, harmony, bass, percussion, sound effects and environment sounds included in the music. If you want sound without a decline in cognitive performance consider the Can’t Sleep App. Important: under no circumstances do I recommend using Can’t Sleep App whilst driving or operating heavy machinery.