Why What You Listen to at Work Can Make You More Productive

By Deanna deBara Posted October 30, 2019


Music and other audio can boost physical performance, improve efficiency, and make it easier to work through tedious, repetitive tasks—so what should you listen to?

Everyone has days where getting things done feels next to impossible. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you’re stressed out. Or maybe you’re just feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks on your ever-growing to-do list. You try to motivate yourself to start tackling your to-do’s, but for whatever reason, you just can’t muster up the energy to actually work—and instead, you find yourself staring blankly at your computer screen.

We’ve all been there. And in those moments, finding the motivation to get things done can be a real challenge. But on those days where productivity is a struggle, there is a solution—and it may be as simple as slipping on a pair of headphones.

What you listen to at work—and, more specifically, the music you listen to at work—can have a profound effect on your mood, your motivation, and your overall productivity. But how, exactly, does music influence your ability to get things done? And, more importantly, when you’re feeling unmotivated at work, what should you add to your playlist to deliver the productivity boost you need to power through?

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How what you listen to at work impacts productivity

You might think of your playlist as background noise to keep your office from getting too quiet—but the truth is, the music you play while you work directly impacts your productivity in a variety of ways. And the first? Your mood.

Stress is a productivity killer; when you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, it’s much harder to focus and get things done. But music can actually lower your body’s stress response and put you in a better (and more productive) mood. In fact, music is such an effective stress-reliever, one study (explored in this meta-analysis on the neurochemistry of music) found that patients who listened to music before surgery experienced less anxiety and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) than patients who were given anti-anxiety drugs. So, essentially, music can help you feel less stressed and calmer, which can put you in a better frame of mind to work through your to-do list.

Music can also increase the quality of your work. One study found that listening to music helped workers perform their tasks faster and think more creatively—so if you’re struggling through a brainstorming session, the right music can help you power through your meeting and come up with your next big idea.

Music can also boost physical performance, improve efficiency, and make it easier to work through tedious, repetitive tasks. Basically, music can make you more productive at work in virtually every way.

But not all music is created equal—and if you want to enjoy music’s productivity-boosting benefits, you need to listen to the right music.

What to listen to at work to boost productivity

man listening to music while working

So, if you want to get the most productivity bang for your buck, what kind of music should you be listening to at work?

Nature sounds

Spending time in nature has a plethora of health benefits—many of which can help improve productivity. But if you can’t get outside in the middle of the workday, it turns out that listening to nature sounds can be just as effective.

Recent research has found that listening to nature sounds can reduce stress (including lowering muscle tension, heart rate, and stress response) in as little as five to seven minutes. Nature sounds were also found to improve focus and concentration.

If you want to harness the productivity-boosting power of nature—without leaving your office—try playing nature sounds (like ocean waves or thunderstorms) while you work.

Want to get a nature-inspired productivity boost? Check out Spotify’s Nature Sounds playlist, which has nature sounds straight from the ocean, sky, forest, and other landscapes.

Classical music

As mentioned, when it comes to productivity, not all music is created equal—and music with lyrics (especially lyrics you’re tempted to sing along to!) can actually be distracting, making it harder to get work done instead of easier (one study found that listening to “familiar vocal music” can actually cause performance to decrease, particularly for introverts).

Classical music is a great choice to reap the productivity-boosting benefits of listening to music at work—without the distraction of lyrics. Research shows that classical music from the Baroque period can improve efficiency and accuracy at work—so next time you’re struggling to get things done, try listening to compositions from Vivaldi, Handel, or Bach.

Want to listen to classical music at work (and get more done in the process)? Tune in to YourClassical Radio for a variety of classical channels, including Peaceful Piano and SymphonyCast.

Binaural beats

Every sound has its own frequency. And when you listen to sounds with two different frequencies (one in each ear), your brain compensates for the difference and creates a third frequency known as a binaural beat.

Binaural beats change the frequency of your brain waves—which you can use to induce a specific state of mind, including increased productivity. One study found that listening to binaural beats in the gamma range (40 Hz and above) increased cognitive flexibility—while another found that theta-frequency binaural beats (four to seven Hz) can help decrease sympathetic nervous system activity (also known as “fight or flight” mode) and help people feel more relaxed.

Are binaural beats music? That might be a stretch. But using binaural beats to improve productivity at work? That’s not a stretch at all.

Want to give binaural beats a try? Check out the Binaural Beats Library on Spotify, pop in your headphones, and get to work!

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Functional music

Clearly, music influences productivity. But if you want to take music’s productivity-boosting benefits to the next level, why not try music specifically designed to enhance productivity?

Brain.fm has created what they call “functional music”—music engineered to induce specific mental states and improve focus. While binaural beats change your brain state by influencing your brain waves, Brain.fm’s music takes it to the next level, impacting the brain (and productivity) using a number of science-backed strategies, including salience reduction (removing attention-diverting sound effects), neural phase-locking (which “allows populations of neurons to engage in various kinds of coordinated activity”), and 3D effects to induce deep relaxation.

And unlike binaural beats or ambient music, which have a distinctly electronic sound, Brain.fm’s functional music is composed by actual musicians—so the music is just as enjoyable as it is productivity-boosting.

Use music to improve productivity

Everyone has days when productivity is a struggle. But with the right playlist, you’ll have everything you need to get focused, get creative, and get back to work. Happy listening!

Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at deannadebara.com.


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