Headphones on yellow background

Does Music Improve Work Productivity?

Headphones and earbuds are a common sight around the Issuetrak office. Many of our employees have their favorite playlists running throughout the day to help wake up, focus in, and even boost productivity.

But does listening to music actually make a person more productive? Or is it ineffective,  or worse, a distraction? Luckily, there’s no shortage of research on how music affects our brains, and plenty of studies focus specifically on music and productivity or mental performance.

One of the most popular and controversial studies gave life to a phenomenon called the “Mozart Effect.” Researchers from a 1993 study hypothesized that listening to Mozart’s music improves cognitive function. They tested this by playing part of a sonata for college students, then having them perform spatial reasoning tests and comparing their results against those of students who had listened to something else, or nothing at all. The students who listened to Mozart showed a short-term improvement in their spatial reasoning over the other students.

Since then, the Mozart Effect has been debated and challenged, but its legacy has encouraged more research around the subject of music and the brain.

One study from 2014, focusing on people over 60, found that background music boosted participants’ cognitive abilities — but the type of improvement depended on the speed of the music. Upbeat music tended to increase processing speed, while both upbeat and downbeat music improved memory.

Another study from 2007 looked at 56 software engineers, tracking their work over several weeks while they listened to different types of music or worked in silence. The engineers who listened to music showed improved mood and higher quality of work than their counterparts by the experiment’s end.

The above studies suggest that listening to music will, in fact, make you more productive. But for each study suggesting music can boost productivity, there’s also research that suggests music has no effect, or can even have a minor detrimental effect. Researchers came to this conclusion after analyzing 97 studies in a 2010 meta-analysis: background music can have both positive and negative effects on workers depending on music tempo, the specific task or activity, and other variables.

So what’s the verdict? Is it good or bad to listen to music in the office — or does it matter? Scientists don’t have a definitive answer; however, anecdotal evidence tends to skew in favor of the positive effects of listening to music during the workday. There are plenty of focus and productivity playlists on Spotify and Youtube. Hubspot has its own “Productivity Playlists,” featuring everything from video game music to songs infused with nature sounds.

Here at the Issuetrak office, we all have our preferred workday tunes to help get us through the day.

Social Media Coordinator Sarah Buchholz turns to film scores when she wants to focus and work quickly, especially those by Hans Zimmer and John Williams.

“Film scores typically don't have words and best of all, the music is more upbeat and intense than classical music. This gives me the focus and the drive to push through to the finish line,” said Sarah.

Meanwhile, DevOps Engineer Brian Painter flips between fast-tempo music for productivity and slow, soul-style music for concentration and focus. Software Engineer Jordan Upperman chooses music with few or no lyrics for more involved thinking, and switches to a mix if he’s doing something more repetitive.

Others at Issuetrak enjoy anything from country classics to 80’s rock to the Beastie Boys to keep their brain power flowing. If it works for them, we say crank up the volume!

What’s your go-to productivity-boosting music? We’d love to hear your recommendations on our Facebook page or in our Issuetrak User Network on LinkedIn!