Music is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. But listening to it at work is divisive. Whether you’re teleworking or back at the office, there are always two teams: those who can’t do without their headphones, both to concentrate and to relax, and those for whom it’s impossible to write a word if there’s a melody around. So is working to music necessarily beneficial for concentration? And how do you make it your best working ally? Answers to this question
Do work and music go hand in hand?
Music enhances our abilities
I have to say, a little Eye of the tiger from Survivor always makes you feel like you’re ready to take on the world. But is that scientifically proven? Does music increase our abilities?
There’s been a lot of research into that. PRS and PRS for Music, two Anglo-Saxon copyright management organizations, subjected participants to several math and spelling exercises testing their concentration, speed and enthusiasm, and the result was unequivocal: 88% of individuals scored better when they took the tests while listening to music.
Indeed, Hervé Platel, a researcher in neuropsychology at the University of Caen (France), explains that when we listen to music, several areas of our brain are solicited, and mainly areas related to learning and memorisation, such as the hippocampus. As a result, memory circuits are constantly stimulated, which allows our brain to be alerted, making intellectual tasks seem less tiring.
If music makes us more lively by boosting our intellect, it also acts on our energy gauge and our good mood. Already in 2001, a study by neuroscientists Anne J. Blood and Robert J. Zatorre showed that music promotes the release of dopamine, or “happiness hormone,” which stimulates the brain’s “reward circuit,” like after a workout or when eating chocolate. A good boost, whether it’s to concentrate or to motivate oneself.
It’s not for nothing that the many Athletics associations have banned listening to music during off-stage running competitions since November 2015! Music is indeed perceived by Federations as a precious help for their runners. Make your mind about that…
In addition to the performance itself, music can also have a positive effect on inspiration and creativity. Researcher Teresa Lesiuk, in charge of a music listening therapy program at the University of Miami, conducted a study of engineers and found that those who had listened to music while working had “better ideas”. She explains that music reduces stress and anxiety, and prevents people from limiting themselves to their “own way of thinking”. In short, it promotes open-mindedness and can open the door to unexpected avenues of thought.
But it can also parasite our thoughts
It’s not always easy to concentrate on writing, brainstorming with colleagues or communicating with a client when listening to Celine Dion at full volume! According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of This is your brain music, music can sometimes devour our resources. If it brightens the moment, it can also divert our attention. For Levitin, it would actually be most effective when we’re dealing with mundane, daunting tasks… not so much writing, communicating or reading.
If the virtues of music at work are real, they also depend a lot on the personal sensitivity of individuals. To optimize its effects, it is therefore necessary to find its balance.
So it’s pretty much up to you to make the best decision.
How to make music an ally at work?
In order to make music a strong ally, it is nevertheless important to choose it carefully so that it does not become, conversely, harmful to oneself or one’s colleagues. So you have to ask yourself the right questions before pressing play…
Create ideal listening conditions
It is essential to find listening equipment that is both comfortable and practical. Good-quality, soundproof headphones are ideal for creating a bubble (especially in open space), but some people prefer lightweight and practical equipment, such as shape memory earbuds, which adapt to the shape of the ears, or wireless headphones, which allow for greater mobility.
Listening bias is also important. To avoid having to continually change the music, and thus interrupting your activity, it is better to create a few playlists in advance.
And if you can share this pleasure with your colleagues, it’s even better, as Thibault Taupin, co-founder of Tracktl, a collaborative music service, informs us. Because it’s true that having headphones on your ears all day long can make you slightly associative, and sometimes even counter-productive. That’s why platforms like Tracktl allow several people to connect to a shared playlist to listen to each other’s favorite tracks. A good way to share your desires!
Adapting to your needs by choosing the right playlist
It is obvious that depending on the moment and the aim, the musical selection can be very different. You have a choice: Tracktl, Deezer, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Soundcloud… so many sites that offer playlists themed according to the time of day and the tasks to be done. All you have to do is choose!
According to a study by the University of Cambridge, it is better to choose neutral music, preferably instrumental, to help concentration and to avoid music that contains lyrics. Jazz, classical or ambient music can be used to isolate oneself from external noise pollution while respecting a linear rhythm. There are also tools that allow you to create your own “sound bubble” such as :
- Simply Noise which proposes a variety of background noises randomly programmed by an algorithm, so that each listening is unique.
- Coffitivity, which recreates the musical atmosphere of a café (voices, laughter, clattering dishes) to boost your creativity and help you work better.
- Noisly, to mix different sounds and create the sound environment perfectly adapted to your desires of the moment.
- but also MyNoise or A Soft Murmur.
Inspiration through music obviously depends first and foremost on one’s affinities and tastes, but certain musical categories prove to be particularly effective in this respect. The vaporous and hovering atmospheres found in electronic music with astral sounds as well as in psychedelic riffs or lyrical flights of fancy allow one to let one’s spirit escape.
The most effective way to motivate yourself at work is to choose sunny tones and groovy, rather mid-tempo tracks to avoid falling into excess and sliding towards the “workout” type playlist. It’s important to concoct your “pleasure” playlist, which makes you smile in all circumstances, both in the headphones and in the open space.
In the end, as Thibault from Tracktl points out: “Everyone’s musical sensibilities are different, and two people can have the same gain in productivity by listening to Beethoven’s 5th in C minor, and the other one a live extract of the most satanic heavy metal band in Finland” so we shouldn’t hesitate to test different playlists and atmospheres to find THE soundtrack that will make us fuel up!