When I first started at HubSpot I was welcomed with a fresh pair of orange headphones. Not to be dramatic or anything, but I was so excited you would have thought they handed me pure gold.
You might be thinking, "They're just headphones. So what?"
Well, for me -- and many others -- listening to music while working is the secret to my productivity. All it takes is the right Beyoncé track and I go from idle to uber productive. (Seriously, it works like a charm.)
Trouble is, finding the perfect playlist isn't always easy. With endless possibilities at my fingertips, it can be hard to nail down just the right tunes to get the wheels turning ... so I did a little research.
As it turns out, there are a ton of studies that explore the influence of specific types of music as they relate to your productivity levels. So to help you find just the right mix, I've carefully curated six Spotify playlists designed with specific studies in mind. Whether you're into Mozart or Jay Z, I've got a feeling you'll find something that will do the trick.
Note: Some of the playlists contain explicit language that might not be suitable for the office.
1) Classical Music
One of the most frequently cited studies related to music and productivity is the "Mozart Effect." This popularized hypothesis that listening to Mozart would improve the intelligence of the listener stemmed from research conducted in the early nineties by researchers Gordon Shaw, Frances Rauscher, and Katherine Ky.
Their original study, which appeared in the October 1993 issue of Nature, employed 36 Cal-Irvine students who were divided into three groups. Group one listened to a Mozart selection, while group two listened to a relaxation tape, and group three endured 10 minutes of silence. Afterwards, all 36 students were issued the same test, in which the Mozart group averaged an eight to nine point increase in their IQ compared to the remaining groups.
Since then, many researchers have gone on to explore the mental benefits of listening to classical music. For example, according to a 2013 study from American Journal of Occupational Therapy, listening to classical music improved the visual attention of stroke patients dealing with unilateral neglect (UN).
Think classical music might work for you? Check out this classical-influenced playlist to find out for yourself:
2) Video Game Soundtracks
Whether you're a hardcore gamer or you've never picked up a controller in your life, video game soundtracks might just be the solution to your concentration woes.
Think about it: Playing a video game requires a lot of focus. To make it to the next level, players commonly have to avoid traps, dodge obstacles, and escape a handful of "near death" experiences. As a result, the music selection for video games is often very strategic, in that modern soundtracks tend to reflect epic, inspiring cinematic scores rather than just basic sound effects.
While studies have revealed mixed results, there is evidence to support that gamers can experience improved performance by playing a game with the volume on. For example, research from psychology professor Siu-Lan Tan and her colleagues John Baxa and Matt Spackman specifically honed in on the game "Twilight Princess (Legend of Zelda)" and found that participants who played with both music and sound effects off performed worse than those who played with it on.
Of course, the level of influence a video game soundtrack has on performance and concentration will vary from person to person. To find out if you benefit from the accompanying sounds of Halo or Legend of Zelda, check out the playlist below:
3) Nature Sounds
According to psychophysical data and sound-field analysis published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, listening to "natural" sounds could enhance cognitive functioning, optimize your ability to concentrate, and increase your level of satisfaction.
Think: Waves crashing, birds chirping, streams trickling, etc.
The research suggests that these sounds function similarly to white noise, which is often used in offices as a sound masking system. To explore the productivity benefits of these soothing sounds, tune into this nature-themed playlist:
4) Pump Up Songs
After realizing that many athletes arrive at the stadium wearing headphones or listen to music in the locker room, Kellog School of Management professor Derek Rucker and three of his colleagues -- Loran Nordgren, Li Huang, and Adam Galinsky -- set out to answer the question: Does listening to the right kind of music make us feel more powerful or in control?
By using a rating system to determine which "empowering" songs they'd used to conduct the experiment, the researchers deemed Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This,” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” as the winners. To gauge how the music would influence their behavior, they asked participants to listen to the music and then determine whether or not they'd like to go first or second in a debate. As it turned out, those who listened to the high-power playlist volunteered to go first almost twice as often as those who listened to a less powerful playlist.
"Just as professional athletes might put on empowering music before they take the field to get them in a powerful state of mind, you might try [this] in certain situations where you want to be empowered," explains Rucker.
If you're looking for some empowering songs to help you power through you next big meeting, presentation, or interview, check out this carefully curated roundup:
5) Instrumental Songs
A recent study by Carol A. Smith and Larry W. Morris of Middle Tennessee State University revealed that students who listened to "sedative" music during a test scored higher than those who listened to lyrical music.
This isn't to say that it's entirely impossible to cross things off your list while listening to songs with words (I actually prefer lyrical music), but if you're finding that the lyrics are becoming too distracting, you may want to experiment with some instrumental options.
For those times, check out these lyricless tunes (I swear they won't put you to sleep):
6) "Feel Good" Songs
Buried in projects? Feeling trapped in a seemingly never-ending social media scheduling session? Not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? Sometimes the best remedy for productivity loss is a solid dose of "feel good" tunes -- you know, the type that makes you reach for your hairbrush microphone.
Scientifically speaking, when you're listening to music, it's possible for your brain to release dopamine during peak moments of emotion arousal.
That said, I enlisted the help of my colleagues to curate a playlist that blends positivity with tunes that will motivate you to GSD (get stuff done). Here's what we came up with:
What are your favorite songs for getting work done? Let us know in the comments.
Originally published Sep 1, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated June 15 2021