How Music Can Increase or (Sometimes) Decrease Your Productivity

Music is surely one of the most powerful forces on earth, being capable of moving us to tears, making the hairs all over our body stand up in awe, or causing us to give complete control of our limbs over to the music as we lose ourselves in joyous dance.

However, the power of music goes well beyond just the emotions it can elicit says longtime music executive and GUION PARTNERS CEO Lindsay Guion, who helps musicians and other clients publish their work, find sponsors and partners, and build their brands. 

He notes that playing an instrument has remarkable effects on the brain that includes changing its structure, boosting mental alertness and long-term memory, improving reaction times, and even making multitasking easier, all of which can dramatically increase your productivity. 

But what if you’ve never blown into a saxophone, tickled the ivories, or smashed a drum with a stick? Fear not, because simply listening to music can also make you more productive under the right circumstances. 

Music Can Zap Your Productivity-Sapping Stress

In a broad sense, music can accomplish this through its ability to greatly reduce stress and anxiety, the presence of which can understandably make it rather difficult to maintain your focus. And when your focus is lacking, so too is your memory, which makes it far more difficult to remember key data or points from whatever it is that you’re working on or studying.

Music doesn’t only benefit those while at the office or in a study session, it can even help an athlete’s productivity and performance on the court. A Victoria University study showed that basketball players who were prone to “choking” made more high-pressure free throw shots after they listened to music they found uplifting.

That latter point appears to represent a key aspect of music’s varying, somewhat random impact on individuals says Lindsay Guion. He points out that in a separate study that measured how music affects cognitive performance, it was found that the music in question needs to improve the listener’s emotional state to have any outcome on their mental performance.

How Music Speed Affects Productivity

Music can also boost a listener’s motivation, which will in turn make them more productive at whatever task they’re undertaking. In one study of cyclists, the speed of the music was far more important than the musical tracks themselves. Small increases or decreases to the speed of the tracks that the study participants listened to while cycling likewise changed the speed at which they rode, with the faster versions of the tracks getting the best performance out of the riders. It was found that the cyclists also preferred the faster tracks.

While faster, harder-hitting music may be your best choice for increasing your productivity during an athletic activity, the opposite appears to be true when it comes to work or study productivity. 

Multiple studies have come to the conclusion that slower, steadier music that is played at a lower volume is better for limiting physiological arousal (which certainly sounds distracting) and improving performance. On the flip side, reading comprehension is most likely to suffer when music is faster and louder. 

Personal preference does again come into play, as songs you enjoy appear to have a more profound impact, regardless of other factors. There is a dual effect there as well, as music you’re already familiar with is also a better productivity aid than music you haven’t heard before. 

If all else fails, Lindsay Guion of GUION PARTNERS says to give classical music a try in the background, as it’s capable of dramatically improving cognition and memory.