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Many people listen to music while they’re working. But does it really help you concentrate? Let’s find out.

Everyone listens to music. We listen to music when we’re travelling, at home, when we’re sad, happy, or angry. There’s music for every occasion and emotion. But what about when we’re working, and we need to concentrate? Research has found that music has a definite beneficial effect on creativity and freeing up the mind. When it comes to other areas of performance, however, the impact of music becomes more complicated.

Why does music affect your focus?

When you think about it listening to music to help yourself focus doesn’t make much sense. Why would having two things going on at once make you more focused, not less? Some people say having music on is distracting. As amazing as our brains are, it’s not good at spending prolonged periods of time thinking about one thing. The mind has two attention systems. A conscious one that allows us to direct our focus towards things we know we want to concentrate on (doing our work) and an unconscious one that shifts attention towards anything our senses pick up that might be significant. The unconscious one is linked to emotional processing rather than higher reasoning. Put simply, and the unconscious attention system is what causes you to be distracted. It is constantly searching for something to be distracted by. Since it is linked to emotional processing when it picks up on something (A noise in a quiet room, a co-workers conversation) you will find it difficult not to be curious what the distraction is. It’s in our nature to be curious, and we can’t help it.

This is all getting a little bit complicated, so here’s the main point. Even if our conscious attention system is occupied on our work, our unconscious attention system doesn’t shut down and is constantly searching for distractions. Especially if what you are working on is unpleasant or dull. This is where music comes in handy.

Music provides non-invasive noise and pleasurable feelings, not only boosting your mood and improving your day, but it effectively neutralises the unconscious attention systems ability to distract us! It’s comparable to giving a small child a new toy to play with, so you can get some work done without them disturbing you, although, in this situation, that small child is part of our brain!

How do different genres affect work ethic?

It seems obvious that the type of music is important. For example, if someone is listening to modern pop, or classical music while they work that wouldn’t seem unusual at all. But if someone were listening to thrash metal, although it may work for them, by the majority it would be thought very strange indeed.

The nature and style of the music can trigger certain responses in the brain, upbeat funky songs with a good melody will make you want to dance, and motivational music makes you want to keep fit etc.… Some studies have come to the conclusion that what you listen to when you work is completely down to personal preference. Music that you like increases focus, while music you don’t like worsens it.

Surely music is distracting?

Some people argue that listening to music is distracting because you will want to listen to the lyrics or move to the beat. But since you’ll be in a workplace while listening to the music, I highly doubt you’ll be getting up and singing. Well, it depends where you work! Although this could be considered a valid point, the average person is capable of multi-tasking at least two tasks. And don’t forget, your unconscious attention system is what’s being occupied when you’re listening to music, so you’re not losing any focus. If you really can’t stay still while listening to music (like me), a simple tap of the foot is an easy, non-distracting way to be slightly involved with the music.

Video game soundtracks 

According to some, the best genre of music to listen to when needing to concentrate is video game soundtracks! This may seem strange at first, but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Video game soundtracks are specifically designed to create an immersive environment and to facilitate, but not distract, from a task that requires constant attention and focus. So in a work environment, this fits perfectly! Most of the time these soundtracks are instrumental which some may prefer if they find themselves being distracted by lyrics in a song they love.

Personal experience & tips

What I find helpful is having a collection of my playlists available for different moods, which I highly recommend doing if you are an avid listener. Just make sure to create them in your own time! Apps such as Spotify also offer pre-built playlists that are specifically made for deep concentration. There are lots of options out there, in another one of our news stories 8 Digital tools to stay organised at work or college we talk about an app called Noisli which isn’t for music, but rather it has a variety of different background sounds such as waves, wind, and rain which a lot of people find very helpful to have in the background. Some companies have even started playing these noises out on speakers in offices along with other sounds such as white noise! 

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/aug/20/does-music-really-help-you-concentrate

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