The Best Kind Of Music To Listen To While Working

Productivity experts share their advice for making a work playlist.
There's research to suggest some genres of music are better for productivity than others. 
There's research to suggest some genres of music are better for productivity than others. 

As many of us continue to work from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen big shifts in the way we conduct business.

Without the background noise of the traditional office setting, many people have implemented music into their work days to fill the sound void and break up the monotony. Others have turned to music to help drown out the chaos of their home lives while they work.

Music can help stimulate the senses and get the creative juices flowing. A 2005 study linked listening to music while working with quicker and higher-quality results. But research has also shown that some kinds are better for different work contexts than others.

“Since we’ve been on lockdown, we’re all looking for productivity hacks to help us as we continue working from home,” productivity expert and author Holland Haiis told HuffPost. “If you want to boost your productivity, you’ve got to be strategic with the type of music that you choose.”

To that end, HuffPost asked Haiis and other productivity experts about the best types of music to listen to while working. Read on for their insights.

Avoid music with words...

“Research tells us that pop songs and music with lyrics can be distracting because we focus on the words and message of the songs,” Haiis noted.

Indeed, multiple studies have indicated that pop music with vocals can impede reading comprehension and information processing skills.

“And let’s be honest, when you hear your favorite songs, you don’t want to work, you’d rather sing, hum, drum, and very possibly get up out of the chair and dance,” Haiis added. “Clearly not the best choice for productivity unless you’re designing a cool dance routine.”

...Unless you’re doing a mindless task.

“Music can help with workflow, provided it’s the right kind of music to help with the task at hand,” said Haiis.

Keeping things instrumental is best for cognitive work like writing a report. But if you’re doing a more repetitive task like data entry, upbeat music with lyrics can help you stay alert and motivated.

You can also look to noninstrumental options to shift the mood while moving from one kind of task to another.

“Transition music works, too,” said productivity coach and author Grace Marshall. “For example, feel-good songs to get you ready for a big presentation or an interview.”

Consider the “Mozart effect.”

“Classical music can help people perform their tasks more efficiently and improve concentration,” Haiis said. “This theory is called the ‘Mozart effect,’ meaning that classical music is the catalyst to enhancing brain activity.”

The term “Mozart effect” dates back to 1991 and is most associated with a 1993 study in which scientists learned that listening to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K. 448, improved spatial reasoning skills.

“So turning on and tuning in to Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms can get you over the midday slump and back on track to finishing your project,” Haiis noted.

“Research has shown that it’s important to pick work music that is enjoyable ― but not too familiar, which can risk distracting from the task at hand.”

Try favorite film scores.

Film scores are a fun category of instrumental music that can make the work day feel more epic (imagine typing away to the tunes from “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.)

“I always stick to a particular soundtrack when I’m book-writing,” Marshall said. “My brain gets used to it, so when I turn that music on, it helps me brain to slide into book-writing mode much quicker.”

Productivity expert Mark Struczewski told HuffPost one of his go-to work playlists is a selection of instrumental movie scores.

“The reason why I like these types of music is because they are sans words,” said Struczewski. “And they are not familiar so my mind won’t hook onto the melody. Music like these helps me to focus.”

Research has shown that it’s important to pick work music that is enjoyable ― but not too familiar, which can risk distracting from the task at hand.

Explore other instrumental genres.

Marshall emphasized that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to productivity-boosting music.

“Personally, I find that music without lyrics works best for me, as a lot of my work involves words,” she said. “It’s also great for setting my mood. So if I’m doing accounting for example (expenses, invoicing, etc), which I find boring and a bit repetitive, some light cafe jazz helps me to tap away happily without getting frustrated.”

She added that other people may thrive with drum and bass music or even Spotify’s “Atmospheric Calm” playlist, which she listened to while writing her upcoming book. There are countless instrumental options, from jazz and classical to lo-fi hip-hop to ambient sounds like rain.

“If classical music isn’t your thing, try listening to the ocean, a babbling brook, or a waterfall, because these sounds help to reduce stress and improve concentration,” Haiss suggested. “This also aids in our decision-making and problem-solving skills as well. So the next time you’re feeling behind on projects and worried about meeting a deadline, put on a little music and let your creativity and productivity soar.”