You probably associate Beethoven and Bach with concert halls and classy parties, not barns and cows. But walk into a random cowshed, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a concerto piping from the rafters -- scientists have discovered that playing classical music to cows increases their milk production by approximately 1.54 pints per day.
There’s also plenty of research confirming music’s positive effects on human productivity. However, unlike the simple playlist a farmer might put together for their cattle, the optimal workday playlist requires some science.
Good news: I’ve done the research for you. Read on to learn your science-backed song line-up for every type of task you tackle.
During Repetitive Tasks: Listen to Upbeat Music
When you’re doing the same task over and over, it’s easy to lose speed. Maybe you wrote and sent that first follow-up email in less than one minute -- but the seventh took you twice as long.
To keep your pace up and your boredom at bay when doing repetitive tasks, listen to cheerful, upbeat songs. Studies show this type of music is optimal for repetitive tasks, boosting both your efficiency and your mood.
Also, it’s key (pun intended) to choose songs in a major key, as these have a greater effect on productivity than songs in a minor key. Not sure if your favorite songs are in a minor or major key? You don’t have to be a musician to tell them apart. Major songs sound much more positive than minor songs: Think Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” versus The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” (Here’s a round-up of major key songs if you need some playlist inspiration.)
But there’s an important catch: To reap the maximum productivity benefits of upbeat music, don’t play it constantly. Instead, play a catchy song every time your attention start to fade -- it’ll act like a shot of energy.
During Immersive Tasks: Listen to Instrumental Music
If you need to focus on your work, however, you’ll need a different type of tune. Any song with lyrics will eat up some of your cognitive abilities, so for tasks that require a high level of accuracy or concentration (like entering data into your CRM or preparing for a product demo) opt for instrumental music.
Songs that are relatively repetitive and soothing actually improve your ability to process information; plus, they reduce stress.
Depending on your musical tastes, your playlist will vary. Electronica, folk, jazz, soul, country, and acoustic blues are all fairly relaxing, mellow genres, so you can pick and choose based on personal preference.
Not picky? Check out this mega-playlist of instrumental music. Alternatively, you can borrow from Modern Farmer’s “Playlist to Milk By,” which includes Simon & Garfunkel and REM. Hey, if it works for the cows …
Before Stressful Tasks: Listen to Your Highlight Reel
Next time you’re about to tackle something stressful -- like atttempt to close a huge deal or talk a buyer off the ledge -- play a song you’ve loved for years and years. There's a proven link between how well you know a song and how much it de-stresses you, meaning you’ll get far more mileage out of that song you discovered in college than the random one served up by your “Pump-Up” Pandora channel.
Sports psychologist Bradley Busch advises athletes to play music that reminds them of their “highlight reel” before big games. The same trick works for sales reps. For example, if you associate Kanye West’s “Stronger” with that month you absolutely crushed your quota, listening to it right before an important call will put you in winner’s mode.
After Stressful Tasks: Listen to Rhythmic Music
Music is one of the best ways to “come down” from high-pressure situations, of which there are no shortage in sales. And make no mistake, it’s just as important to take a couple minutes and mentally readjust after you walk out of that meeting or negotiation as it is to prepare beforehand.
Stress was intense but short-lived back when we were running from hyenas and bears. But today, as Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky explains, we’re constantly stressed-out -- and the impacts on our mental and physical health are pretty grim.
The upside is that soothing music reduces the stress hormone cortisol. To reap this benefit, scientists say you should listen to music with a steady, rhythmic beat -- the slower, the better, since a slow beat can actually reduce the frequency of your brainwaves.
Native American, Celtic, Indian, drum, and flute music fits this bill well. For more specific suggestions, browse through this list of songs in the 60-80 beats per minute range.
Music’s ability to change our mood, body, and mind is pretty amazing -- and now that you know the details, you can wield its effects. So, go ahead and press play.