Music has a way of expressing that which cannot be put into words.
It is for this reason (and many more) that music is regarded as one of the triumphs of human creativity–but does music itself help one to create?
This is an important question to examine, because music has increasingly become apart of the modern-day work session.
The soldiers of yore may have faced insurmountable odds to the sound of trumpets, but we desk jockeys are typically left to fend off our piling inboxes with nothing more than iTunes.
With so much of our work now being done at computers, music has become an important way to “optimize the boring.”
Though it may be a fine way to avoid habituation, the question remains: does music actually make you more productive? More focused? More creative? Or is all that a placebo?
People like me need to know. For nearly all of my work sessions, I have music playing in the background. I once wrote 10,529 words on customer loyalty (how exciting) listening to nothing other than the SimCity 2000 soundtrack–and yes, more on that later.
Am I actively sabotaging myself, or is music spurring me to do better work?
Let’s take a look at the research.
When evaluating music’s effectiveness in increasing productive output, one element to consider how “immersive” the task at hand is.
This refers to the variability and creative demand of the task–writing a brand new essay from scratch is synthesis work that demands a lot of creativity; answering your emails is mundane work that does not.
When the task is clearly defined and is repetitive in nature, the research seems to suggest that music is definitely useful.
A series of experiments has investigated the relationship between the playing of background music during the performance of repetitive work and efficiency in performing such a task. The results give strong support to the contention that economic benefits can accure from the use of music in industry.
More modern studies would argue that it perhaps isn’t the background noise of the music itself, but rather the improved mood that your favorite music creates that is the source of this bump in productivity.
Music with a dissonant tone was found to have no impact to productivity, while music in the major mode had different results: “Subjects hearing BGM (background music) achieved greater productivity when BGM was in the major mode.”
The effects music can have in relation to repetitive tasks were further explored in this study, which showcased how assembly line workers displayed signs of increased happiness and efficiency while listening to music.
Despite the somewhat variable effects of music on the individual, one thing is definitely clear: A noisy workplace can end up halting productivity in its tracks.
Perhaps a pair of headphones may not be as distracting as some bosses tend to think:
[pull_quote_center]Dr. Lesiuk’s research focuses on how music affects workplace performance. In one study involving information technology specialists, she found that those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn’t, because the music improved their mood.[/pull_quote_center]
Again we see that mood is the main argument made.
The idea that headphones might beat out the constant yapping of your office co-workers has caused somewhat of a debate due to the rising popularity of open offices.
While the open space may encourage more collaboration, the chatter can be too much for some people to handle–I know that when I’ve worked in an open workspace, I couldn’t focus on writing without my headphones.
When it comes to absorbing and retaining new information, distraction in any form is a huge no-no.