Do you whistle while you work or work best when you're streaming iTunes? You're not alone.
Nine out of 10 workers perform better if they have their tunes playing, and it's not exactly news. A 1972 study from the University of Birmingham in England found that factory workers were more productive if music was playing during the day. More recent studies, like this 2005 study published in the Psychology of Music, have confirmed that music helps us focus and get our tasks done with more efficiency and satisfaction than we might without it.
Basically, listening to music while you work can be one of the most productive things you can do, says Michael Tyrrell, an author, composer and producer of Wholetones, a healing frequency music project that helps improve your health.
Music matters, Tyrrell explains, because there are specific frequencies that promote the body's productivity centers by stimulating the brain and increasing the responsiveness of neurons within the brain. Music comes in handy because it helps you stay engaged, especially given how much of our time is being spent looking at screens.
"Certain frequencies make it easier to think, react and focus on what's immediately in front of you," Tyrrell adds. "This becomes especially useful when you have a repetitive task that you've been dreading. Turning on the right music with the right frequency can help you speed up balancing your checkbook, writing a stale report or even doing the dishes after dinner."
Researchers have also found evidence that that music engages all parts of our brain, both emotional memories and physical movements.
"This means that music can relax us while it exercises our brain, keeping us healthy both inside and out," says Christobel Llewellyn, a music educator and co-founder of Kinderjazz, a big jazz band aimed at encouraging kids through live music. "It can change our mood in an instant as it connects us with our memory, and this can keep us going when working on repetitive tasks as it transports us through our imagination to a higher place."
Then again, it all depends on what kind of music you're streaming — and what task you're doing.
On the one hand, if you're deep in writing mode, classical music (without distracting lyrics) might be more productive. On the other hand, if it's noisy in your workplace and you have a report to complete, familiar songs or even a greatest hits compilation may be better to tune out the clatter. If you love working to a soundtrack, one of the best ways to use music to help improve productivity is to associate certain styles or mixes with certain activities, suggests John Turner, CEO and founder of QuietKit, which provides guided meditation for beginners.
"The way it works for me is that when I'm working, I put a specific mix on play, randomized, so I'll cycle through songs in a random but continuous order," he says. "And, because it's the same mix I've listened to a million times before when working, I now associate hearing that music with working, and when I hit play on that mix, I get right into a work mindset."