Complete silence or a non-stop Pandora playlist? People are often divided on what type of work environment they prefer. Whether you're a frequent loud music listener or you can't stand any kind of background noise, chances are you're pretty set in your ways.
No matter your stance, music has a number of important effects on our workplace performance—and it could make you a better, or worse, worker.
Though your coworkers may hate trying to get your attention when you're jamming away with earbuds in, tuning out your environment and turning on a playlist of songs you enjoy boosts your mood, creativity, and productivity.
Music triggers our brains to release dopamine, a chemical that typically makes its appearance when we're feeling happy. Dopamine increases the positive feelings we experience when hearing music, helping to keep us in an upbeat mood.
Seeing our workload in a positive light motivates us to get working and opens our minds to a broader range of possibilities and solutions, according to University of Miami assistant professor Teresa Lesiuk in an interview with The New York Times.
If you dread the hundreds of emails that flood your inbox overnight, make the task easier by turning on some music while you read through them. Why? The less immersive, or mentally demanding, a task, the better it is to turn up your music.
Work that's easy to understand and repetitive benefits from background noise—partially due to the way in which music improves our moods. Yet, as researchers J. G. Fox and E. D. Embrey discovered in their study, workers who listened to some kind of background music while completing monotonous tasks became happier and more efficient. No matter what kind of music you hear in the background, your productivity will pick up—but it'll increase even more if you like what you hear.
However, keep in mind that when faced with projects that require a great deal of creativity, or involve a variety of skills and mindsets, it's better to work silently.
Distractions are easy to fall into when you're not exactly thrilled about sitting down to work. Though giving in to temptation and letting your mind run free might seem like a good idea, reigning your brain in will help you stop wasting time.
Typically, an unfocused mind is a sign of unhappiness. To get back on task, the work before us needs to become more enjoyable—or, at the very least, appear less misery-inducing. That's where music comes in.
When we listen, the tunes snap our minds out of their funk and help us block out distractions. With a little background music, you'll forget about your coworker's loud typing, and better ignore those chattering away.
When trying to master a tricky new skill, or understand a complex problem, it's better to tune out than in. Although you might think your favorite music makes learning fun and easy, silence is actually best.
Attempting to complete a task for the first time requires your brain to focus on every little detail. You need to memorize and grasp each step in order to perform it again at a later time. When music is thrown into the mix, it becomes a source of distraction. Researchers found that, when learning and listening to songs, people became unable to properly execute the task. Music didn't keep them focused; instead, it drew their attention and brain power away from memorization.
So, you might want to keep the music off until you've learned all you need to know and the task becomes easy and familiar.
Music isn't always a source of joy—in certain situations, it can actually add stress. In a study by Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard, adults who were asked to recall different sounds in order were unable to do so when music played during the task. Silence, meanwhile, led to considerably better ability to remember and reorder the sounds.
Similarly, as Time reports, a study conducted with operating room anesthetists discovered that when music plays during surgical procedures, it can create problems.
Time reports that anesthetists reported that music "reduced their vigilance and impaired their communication with other staff." Even more concerning: half of those medical professionals surveyed stated that music distracted them in the operating room and was particularly unhelpful when they faced a problem with patients' anesthesia.
Rather than relieving stress, music can compound difficulties. Don't run the risk of complicating your work by adding music if it's a sensitive task that requires every bit of your attention.
Tempted to sing along while getting down to work? According to researchers, it's better if you keep your mouth shut. A study conducted by Christina Rudin-Brown found that music becomes increasingly distracting when we get in the groove and start singing.
Researchers tested drivers' responses to road hazards while singing along with popular songs. The drivers reaction time slowed, and they were less focused on what was occurring in their field of vision. Because listening to the music and singing along required increased brainpower and focus, drivers' attention waned on the road. They scanned the road less frequently, zoning in on only what appeared immediately in front of them.
Similarly, when you need to get focused, getting engaged in music can create negative effects. The more mental energy you spend listening to song lyrics and mouthing (or singing) along, the less your brain will devote to the work before you. If your workload requires careful attention, you might want to shut off the music to ensure the task is completed more efficiently and without error.
Listening to music while working has its positives, but can also be detrimental to your productivity. If you want to get more done at your desk, spend some time thinking about what kind of tasks lay before you.