Most of us love to plug in our earphones and drown out the world, even when we have a long list of chores and tight deadlines to meet. In fact, some of us even believe that music gets our creative juices flowing and helps us think better. But, before filling your workday with the sound of your favorite tunes, it may be time to consider the old adage ‘Silence is golden’.
The Best Soundtrack For Productivity
Press Play If The Tasks At Hand Are Repetitive Or Monotonous
Although an early study found a positive correlation between background music and task performance, this can be quite a misleading result. For one, the subjects in the study performed mechanical assembly-line work that did not require serious cognitive attention. Secondly, background music made the task less mundane for the workers, which boosted their mood and may have aided productivity. This goes to show that if the task is not very ‘immersive’, music can definitely help in optimizing performance. Because music increases alertness and arouses good moods, it may be the source of a bump in productivity. In addition, repetitive tasks can actually be performed better with music in the background. For instance, studies have shown that surgeons work more effectively when they play music in the operating room.
For Complex Tasks, Press Pause
If you work at a tasks that require attention to deal and problem solving skills, your response to music can be quite different as compared to in cases where you simply need to do data entry or mechanical chores. Experts have found that when you take into account more complex tasks that are cognitively demanding, people perform better in silence. A study in the 1980s showed that listening to upbeat music leads to maximum impairment in performance, while subjects working in silence perform much better in comparison.
Lyrics Are The Worst
Engaging music with familiar lyrics hampers task performance the most. In fact, attempting a verbal task while listening to a song with lyrics is akin to trying to hold a conversation while another person talks over you; although that’s the best parallel we can draw, it could be even worse. This is because upbeat and catchy music is especially detrimental to focus for verbal, memory, and mathematical tasks that require us to put on our thinking caps and excercise those cognitive muscles. For comprehension tasks too, performance may be severely impaired as the semantic information from the lyrics disturbs the semantic information while reading and trying to comprehend something. For students too, there is bad news, as music may be a big no-no while performing memorizing and rote learning tasks.
Silence: The Best Productivity Hack
A study at Duke University revealed that working in silence causes significant improvements in memory and awareness. It was hypothesized that a state of pure quiet actually promotes cell growth in the hippocampus, the brain region primarily associated with memory and senses. Silence also gives you an opportunity to introspect and engage with your own internal dialog, which can work wonders for increasing your self-awareness and brainstorming, or simply working more efficiently.
Extroverts May Get Away With It
Another study dealing with the effect of music on productivity had surprising findings. Apparently, your personality type can determine the positive or negative influence of music on productivity and workflow. Extroverts and introverts had to memorize images and read a passage while listening to music. For introverts, the songs soaked in much of their attention and their performance was hampered to a greater extent. A possible explanation for this could be that introverts prefer the natural quiet and so work better with silence, as compared to extroverts who are more comfortable with ‘noise’.
Classical Music Or Ambient Sounds Are The Second Best Option
With the concept of “open offices” picking up, some of us may want to tune in to our headphones to block out background noise and office chatter. In this scenario, it is best to play classical music that causes minimal cognitive disturbance. Even better are ‘natural sounds’, such as rain drops or waves that may have a calming effect on your and uplift your mood, without interfering with the task at hand.
So, while listening to music while working may help in certain situations, also depending on your personality, it is safe to say that in most cases, the sweet sound of silence is the most fitting background score for a day at the office.
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