12 Effective Music Tricks To Boost Your Personal Productivity

The poet Berthold Auerbach once said music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. If you feel your workday life getting stale and your output is dropping, music may hold the key to get you producing like it’s performance review season. It’s true that the scientific research isn’t definitive on whether music really helps productivity or not “” some studies say it helps, some say it hinders. You probably know already if it works for you, and if so, we’ve lined up 12 tips to help it work even better.

  1. Jam Mozart:

    A recent study set out to test the so-called “Mozart Effect,” that says listening to the famous composer improves spatial-temporal reasoning for a short period of time. The scientists found that doctors and surgeons can find more precancerous growths while conducting colonoscopies if they listen to Mozart. If you know how a colonoscopy is done, you know you wouldn’t want the doctor distracted while he’s working if you’re the patient. It seems like solid proof that the man’s brand of classical music is just the ticket for at least some kinds of work.

  2. Target a specific side of your brain:

    To refresh your memory, the left side of the brain controls logical and analytical tasks, and the right side is the creative, experimental, subjective side. You can actually pick your music to boost the performance of the side of the brain you’ll be using. For example, when you need to review last month’s accounting figures (left brain), play music that is up-tempo and in major keys. If it’s a right-brain job like reading or brainstorming, play slow music in minor keys.

  3. Listen to something happy:

    A Penn State University study found listening to music raises people’s mood, and people in a good mood are known to be more productive. It didn’t matter whether the music was pop, rock, easy listening, oldies, classical, or new-age “” all the categories yielded an uptick in mood. However, despite the WebMD write-up that mood improves “no matter what kind of music you listen to,” the study did not test death metal or sad country music, for just two examples. So stick with one of the tested categories and you should be fine.

  4. Organize your playlist by BPM:

    When you want to play fast music, there’s a cool trick to make sure no slow tunes creep in. Go into iTunes, Windows Media, or whatever library you keep your music files, and set the display for each song to include Beats Per Minute. (If you can’t get it to display, there is some freeware out there that can help you.) Then click the little arrow to sort by fastest song first. Keep your playlist above 100 BPM and you’ll be blazing through work.

  5. Stick to music with no lyrics:

    While some people may have no problem listening to music with words in it, most experts recommend avoiding these songs. The reason is because your brain will unconsciously drift toward the words and interpret them for you as it’s supposed to do, and it will take intense focus to keep it from doing so. In other words, you’ll be fighting against the music. When there are no lyrics for your thoughts to latch onto, they’ll stay directed at the task at hand.

  6. Listen to your old stuff:

    Playing music you’ve never heard is a surefire way to distract yourself: you’ll be wondering where the melody is going next, if it will suddenly get loud or soft, and on and on. You want to go with an album or playlist of only songs you’ve heard many times, preferably even that you’ve memorized. One blogger says he puts his music on repeat so that he can develop a rhythm with the beat. When he finds himself unintentionally typing to the music, he knows he’s in the zone.

  7. Use it to help you sleep:

    A 2010 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found employees with moderate sleep problems cost their companies about $2,500 in lost productivity a year. You can use music to improve your sleep and thus improve your productivity. Studies have shown listening to soft, slow (about 60 BPM) music like jazz or classical can improve the quality and duration of sleep, as well as improve functioning the next day.

  8. Listen before you get started:

    A 2010 study out of Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales actually threw a wrench in the music-increases-productivity machine, finding that test subjects were best able to recall a list of consonants when they were introduced in a quiet environment. However, the lead researcher did say listening to music before you get down to business can raise your level of (work) arousal. In other words, it can wake you up and get your juices flowing to help you knock some items from the inbox to the outbox.

  9. Go the ambient music route:

    The goal of ambient music is to stimulate the mind just enough to enhance productivity but not be so distracting that is impedes performance. The people at musicForProgramming(); were good enough to share their findings after “years of trial and error” of the best sounds for aiding concentration. These include fuzz, minor chords, reverb, and noise (admittedly not an attracting list of ingredients). But they claim the tracks on their site will keep your brain from wandering and your productivity from slipping.

  10. Tailor the volume:

    We can’t necessarily say that you should keep the volume “low.” A small percentage of people can work with it blasting in their headphones, but those people are rare. The rest of us need to tailor it to the noise of our work environments: a loud office needs a level loud enough to drown out the noise, while a library of a workplace calls for the volume to be just barely audible.

  11. Base your work segments on song length:

    The art of working in bursts has gained a healthy crop of supporters in recent years: instead of the long, slow grind forward of the “busyness economy,” the “burst economy” is “50 steps sideways and 2,000 steps forward,” as one blogger put it. If this is how you prefer to work, a cool trick is to line up a 15-, 20-, or 30-minute track, hit play, and go hard until the last bar of music.

  12. Sign up for Spotify:

    The Time Management Ninja is a well-respected figure in the world of productivity blogging. He is currently singing the praises of the free (or paid for premium) streaming music service Spotify, saying he hasn’t used iTunes in over a year since switching platforms. If you regularly listen to music at work, he testifies that Spotify saves you time, and thus increases your productivity by doing away with the need for syncing and buying tracks and allowing the saving of playlists.

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