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Does listening to music make you more productive?

Mathew J Maniyamkott
12th Sep 2016
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It is not often that you have to put up with mundane tasks when you are a sales guy. But on those few occasions that I have to sit staring at an Excel sheet filled with data, I take refuge in Ilayaraja, The Beatles and MLTR. A lot of us are guilty of listening to music while at work, and we would all agree that music is a good antidote to get us through the daily grind. With almost all work being done on a desktop or laptop these days, music has organically found its way into the workplace. When you listen to music, regardless of whether it is Sukhvinder Singh crooning Chaiyya Chaiyya or Adele saying Hello, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which is also referred to as the pleasure chemical.

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Given that we all plead guilty to it, let’s find out if listening to music at work makes us more productive or less.

Repetitive tasks made easier

The effect of music on a listener’s productivity at the workplace depends on the level of involvement that the task he/she is engaged in needs. Copy pasting random nuggets of data from the internet is different from preparing a pitch deck for your startup. Obviously, the latter deserves more attention. Research suggests that when a task is clear and repetitive in nature, music is extremely helpful. In fact, assembly line workers displayed signs of increased happiness and efficiency while listening to music. Many studies say that it is not just the pleasant distraction that the music brings to work that counts, it is also the familiarity that comes with your favourite music that boosts productivity.

Press pause when you learn something new

If there is a task at hand that requires a lot of focus, into which you need to put the full power of your brain, and there is complicated information to ingest, it is advisable to put your headphones to rest. Your ability to learn new things that are intellectually demanding decreases when you are listening to music.

Music works when you are an expert

If you are an expert at something, even a task as complicated as surgery can be completed while listening to music, says a study. Published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, this study concluded that surgeons worked more accurately when their favourite music was played in the background. When you are really good at something that you do repeatedly as part of your work, listening to music will only boost your performance and make it error-free.

Listen to music if your workplace is noisy

A noisy workplace is a mood and productivity dampener. Open offices are not a new thing, but with the mushrooming of a lot of startups, the trend just got bigger. Yes, open offices encourage collaboration, but the rising noise levels may turn out to be distracting for at least a few employees. These people can improve their productivity by listening to music that soothes the soul and ears.

Do not listen to new music

When you listen to new music, your body does release dopamine, but it also brings in an element of surprise, causing you to feel increased pleasure. Now, the music becomes more appealing to your brain than the task at hand.

This will lead to making compromises on your work. So have a ready playlist with a set of your favourite songs before you sit down to work.

The next time you see your co-worker or your employee pounding on the keyboard with their headphones on, do not secretly wonder if work is getting done. They are working for the greater good.

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