Listening to Music While Working

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I love listening to ambient music while working, writing, thinking and reading. Having some relaxing, lyric-free music ticking along in the background helps get me into a productive zone, isolates me from distractions and eliminates time from my mind. I quickly slip into a meditative-like state and typically become highly productive.

The opposite side of the coin is listening to music with lyrics while trying to write or read. The results are disastrous. I just can’t seem to produce quality work. On the other hand, if I’m editing photos, or updating my website, I can listen to music containing lyrics with no problem. It seems my brain is unable to concentrate on reading and writing while subconsciously trying to digest lyrics in the background. But if the task doesn’t rely on reading or writing it’s not an issue. How interesting.

smcoates-Music-Working-2I did some digging and found out I’m not the only one to experience this phenomenon. A story on edutopia.org tackled this very topic, interviewing Dr. Nick Perham, a lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, who confirmed my experiences. “You’ve got semantic information that you’re trying to use when you’re reading a book, and you’ve got semantic information from the lyrics.” “If you can understand the lyrics, it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, it will impair your performance of reading comprehension.”

It seems that whether you think you’re listening to lyrics or not, your brain will try to cognitively process the words, putting pressure on its ability to focus on reading and writing. I feel better already knowing it’s not just me and I don’t have some neurological deficiency!

Being a former business owner and now managing a team at work, it’s commonplace to see employees with earbuds or headphones on while working. It’s certainly not within my, or any boss’ rights to dictate what music team members can listen to, but it should be a concern in relation to quality productivity.

A Business Insider article explored what music individuals listen to at work, citing that 61% of people listen to music while on the job. According to a study done by music streaming service Spotify, which was cited in the article, they surveyed 1,146 people and found the most prevalent music to work to is popular pop music. And most of that music is lyric-heavy, potentially creating great distraction issues for workers (and concern for business owners), whether they know it or not. Here are the top three reasons the survey found that people listen to music while working:

  • 36%: Music helps them feel more productive
  • 20%: It’s a welcome distraction from work
  • 16%: To drown out noise and colleagues

smcoates-Music-Working-3Regardless of the reasons people listen to music while working, the practice is likely here to stay. Now when I see people working and listening to music, I can’t help wondering what they’re listening to and if it’s hindering their ability to perform? For me, the more ambient music is, free of distracting lyrics, the better my ability to read and write becomes. In an effort to spread the gospel to others, here are some of my favorite, lyric-free, musical sources:

Soma FM’s Groove Salad is chock full of laid-back, chilled-out grooves which quickly get me in to a productive zone. Digitally Imported features a wide range of channels, with their Progressive, Chillout and Space Music being my favorites. And good ol’ classical is a favorite too, although I do find on occasions I end up focusing on the complexities of the compositions, which can distract, but not nearly as much as lyrics.

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