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Sep 15, 2019 21:12:15

Music and Productivity

by @basilesamel PATRON | 594 words | 628πŸ”₯ | 679πŸ’Œ

Basile Samel

Current day streak: 628πŸ”₯
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Should I listen to music while I'm working? My Youtube tab accompanies me every day. It makes everything enjoyable, from my daily work to my late-night parties. 

The problem is I tend to spend more time choosing the right soundtrack to my life than doing actual work. Sometimes, I end up wasting several hours of my day watching a recommended playlist. Procrastination at its finest. It has to stop.

It hasn't always been this way. Back in high school, when most of my lecture materials were on paper, I didn't need a computer to work, and I had nothing to browse except the knowledge that was given to me. I just listened to the same playlist over and over on my MP3, or I used to let the silence run its course.

My ability to concentrate has been deteriorating ever since, or perhaps it's my memory playing a trick. Everybody is listening to music while studying or working, why shouldn't I?

When you research the impact of a few musical notes on productivity, you find paradoxical information leaving you in a deeper state of doubts. 

Music releases dopamine, but the wrong song can be counter-productive depending on the nature of your work and your personality. For example, listening to an upbeat track will make you more productive at performing repetitive tasks or a workout, but the resulting emotional investment will negatively impact more complex work.

The relationship between music and productivity is a complex equation from which I'll spare you the details. However, it appears clear to me listening to music while doing deep work is a bad habit.

All the studies I read regarding cognitive musicology agree on the kind of music we can benefit from while performing challenging work: classical music, jazz, ambient noise, funk, and soundtracks - without lyrics or hard beats. Familiar music that's just engaging enough to provide a background noise. Music to keep your brain awake. If it goes further than that, you lose yourself to the music. If it's boring, you don't trigger the sweet dopamine rush. In any case, studies show it'll still interfere with your learning process.

I find it a tad absurd. Maybe the problem is not the way we perceive music, but the way we perceive silence. People hate silence. Silence reminds us we are alone, and we hate hearing our thoughts, to the point of drowning them with whatever we find: a TV, a radio, a Youtube vlog, a podcast... 

Music is a hell of a drug when you think about it. A wine you have to consume in moderation, otherwise it will hurt your ability to pay attention (and your eardrums). Just like we don't need alcohol to have fun, we have to re-learn to be comfortable with silence during deep work. In this context, music is more about escapism than actually getting things done.

  1. Why music affects your productivity, Quartz at Work, Mayo Oshin, https://qz.com/work/1573440/why-music-affects-your-productivity
  2. How Music Affects Productivity, Business News Daily, Skye Schooley, https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/11294-music-effect-on-productivity.html
  3. The Science of Music and Productivity, Zapier, Sam Kemmis, https://zapier.com/blog/music-and-productivity/
  4. How music affects your productivity, Sparring Mind, https://www.sparringmind.com/music-productivity/
  5. How silence can help your productivity, Chris Edgar, Productive! Magazine, http://productivemag.com/8/how-silence-can-help-your-productivity
  6. The Power of Silence, Belle B. Cooper, Zapier, https://zapier.com/blog/silence-health-productivity/
  • πŸ’Ž 2



  • 1

    @basilesamel Dude!
    I'm loving this post. Music is by far, one of my favorite topics to write about. In fact, I wrote about his very same topic about a week ago: https://www.200wordsaday.com/words/using-music-for-deep-work-265025d707e82a96ef. Although in my post I focused on my personal experience with music and how I use it for productivity. I like the approach you have taken and the thorough research you've done here.
    I will not dispute whether working in silence can help you achieve higher levels of focus, concentration and be more productive overall. I have no doubt of the benefits of silence when learning. And, honestly, I think your conclusions on the subject are really sound and thoughtful.
    However, just like with many other science studies, just because it makes scientific sense, does not mean it is practical in real life.
    I think whether or not to use music for focused work, and even which one to listen to is very dependent upon personal tastes/prefernces along with how and where you practice Deep Work. Not everyone has access to a quite place when they are most productive.
    As a personal example, I do my deep work in the wee hours of the morning at my local Starbucks because it is one of the few places that are open at that time and because if I do it at home (where it is silent), I will be too tempted to go back to bed or get distracted by family. I need my music to tune out the conversations and other distracting noises around me at that time when I'm most productive.
    Also, for a lot of poeple (like myself) who work at an "open space" office during the day, a good pair of headphones and the right playlist can be one's best friends.
    If you're struggling to find a good playlist, you're more than welcome to use this one, which I have personally curated for over a year and contnues to deliver pretty good results: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2i2e9wG4ZKRTOFBcuDA2e7
    Anyhow, thank you for giving me an idea for what to write about today! :)

    carlos beas avatar carlos beas | Sep 15, 2019 16:52:55
    • 1

      @carlosbeas Nice reply :) I agree with what you're saying. It's best to do what works for you. It's a complicated topic and I don't think there is any unifying answer.

      Basile Samel avatar Basile Samel | Sep 16, 2019 11:57:49
  • 1

    @basilesamel Your articles are very interesting 🀩 In my experience, it helps me stay for longer durations during coding, and makes it much more enjoyable. Sometimes it needs more concentration so I listen to no vocal music, and sometimes it’s so repetitive that I listen to fun podcasts that doesn’t need concentration.

    In other activities like writing and reading, music makes it so hard for me to focus, so I either play no vocal, or nothing at all.

    But I’m sure it helps me in coding lol And it gets better with time, because coding starts to use less of the brain.

    But I try to not choose tracks, I just shuffle my likes from my phone and leave my phone closed.

    Ali Salah avatar Ali Salah | Sep 15, 2019 21:41:47
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      @alisalahio do you have your own custom-made playlist or just random songs?

      Basile Samel avatar Basile Samel | Sep 15, 2019 21:57:20
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      @basilesamel I used to have many playlists, but I'm trying to simplify things a bit. So now I just have liked songs (around 1,200) and one small no vocals playlist (that I use rarely)

      Ali Salah avatar Ali Salah | Sep 15, 2019 22:34:31
    • 1

      @basilesamel (and not to make it seem like it's perfect) sometimes I interrupt myself if I don't like a song and click next next next till a song that I like appears. On Mondays and next few days I often listen to spotify's discover weekly, so I have to favorite a song if I like it, which is an interruption. But I try to minimize these :D

      Ali Salah avatar Ali Salah | Sep 15, 2019 22:40:44
    • 1

      @alisalahio using Spotify is already much less likely to distract you than Youtube :) nice

      Basile Samel avatar Basile Samel | Sep 15, 2019 23:06:51
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      @basilesamel @alisalahio Yessss, this is the approach I use as well.
      Also, once you have amassed a good amount of songs you "liked" and that serve the same purpose, you can make a playlist out of these corpus of songs and let Spotify's algorithm figure out what other songs to recommend for that same playlist.

      carlos beas avatar carlos beas | Sep 15, 2019 16:59:01
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