The beat pumping out of our speakers doesn’t just affect how we feel. It also impacts the way we work. The question is, what kind of music can help you stay focused and work more productively?
Not all music is equally conducive to productivity. You need to be careful about what you listen to. Getting work done calls for very different sounds than getting a workout in.
This article will walk you through selecting the best music for productivity. But first, you need to understand how to pick the best focus music for yourself.
Table of Contents
- 7 Rules for Creating Your Focus Music Playlist
- Recommended Productivity Music to Add to Your Playlists
- 1. Chillhop Music
- 2. Andy McKee
- 3. John Butler Trio
- 4. Classical Radio on Pandora
- 5. Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack
- 6. Legend of Zelda Soundtrack
- 7. Nature Sounds and White Noise
- 8. Music to Increase Work Productivity: The Pulse
- 9. The Most Productive Playlist Ever - Songs For Work on Spotify
- 10. Productive Morning on Spotify
- Bottom Line
7 Rules for Creating Your Focus Music Playlist
With so many genres and artists out there, there’s a lot of music to choose from. Before you press play, keep the following guidelines in mind:
1. Try Instrumental
Songs without words in them make it easier to focus. Lyrics can distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish because you might get the words mixed up with what you’re trying to read. If you’re writing something, you might find yourself typing the lyrics instead.
Intelligence and instrumental music are correlated, perhaps because instrumental music is less intrusive. Instrumental music tends to fade into the background, giving you a rhythm without pulling your mind away from the task at hand.
Stay away from instrumental versions of songs you recognize. It’s easy to fill in the blanks with the lyrics if you’ve already committed them to memory.
However, some exceptions can be made. Creatives who produce videos or audio might prefer tracks that get their creative juices going, lyrics and all. However, if you find lyrics to be distracting, switch back to instrumental tunes.
2. Embrace the Sounds of Nature
When you think of listening to rain fall or birds chirp, you might immediately imagine an afternoon at the spa. This relaxing music can put us in a better mood, which can definitely improve our efficiency at work.
It’s not just that the sounds of nature make us feel better. They also affect the brain in the best way possible for improving cognitive function. Since natural sounds often have an element of randomness, they can help improve our focus without becoming a distraction. Sounds related to water appear to be the most effective.
A 2015 study in the The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America found that natural sounds are an excellent way to mask the background din of the open office plan.
3. Get Motivated (And Drop the Bass)
Sometimes you need to feel empowered at work. Music allows us to tap into your inner strength. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University recognized the clear connection between music and motivation. They conducted a study which asked participants to rate songs according to how they made people feel while they were performing different tasks.
The takeaway: songs such as 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” “Get Ready for this” by 2 Unlimited, and “We Will Rock You” by Queen were clear winners when it came to motivating participants. Though these songs all come from different genres, they all have a pumping bass that leaves the listener feeling energized.
Study participants completed their tasks with greater efficiency and used more confident and empowered language when compared to a group listening to less intense music.
4. Turn up Your Favorite Song
While music generally makes people feel better, being able to listen to music you like creates a marked productivity boost.
This is what Dr. Teresa Lesiuk, a professor at University of Miami, found when conducting research on the connection between music and productivity. Since songs tend to relax listeners, they often afford them the chance to explore solutions they may not have considered when in a hyper-stressed state.
5. Play at Your Speed
There’s a reason why we tend to run faster and perform better at the gym when we’re listening to fast music. Even if you’re not actively listening to a song, the tempo can impact your work speed at the office as well.
According to a study from BMS College of Engineering in Malaysia, when looking for a stress-relieving song, choose something with about 60 beats per minute. The tempo is slightly slower than the resting human heart rate. This larghetto beat, neither too fast or too slow, is enough to produce a calmer state without making you want to fall asleep.
Perhaps you need to feel energized. If that’s the case, you need an uptempo playlist. A 2007 research study found that people do a better job with cognitive tasks when they’re listening to songs with a quick tempo. If you’re not sure where to look, Baroque music is a safe bet.
If you’re looking for a more customizable experience, check out Focus @ Will. They have some great playlists for concentration, and they’ll tailor your playlist to fit your needs.
6. Make Sure the Music Is Not Too Loud
It can be tempting to crank up the tunes that inspire us the most, but excessive volume is distracting. A 2012 article in the Journal of Consumer Research discusses the connection between volume and productivity.
Music played at a reasonable volume encourages creativity and abstract thinking. Turn it up too loud though and you won’t be able to hear yourself thing. Anything louder than 85 decibels, the approximate volume of a snowblower, is too loud. On the other hand, your volume should be loud enough to mask the sounds of office chatter.
7. Update Your Setup
Before jamming out to your productivity tunes, make sure you have the right equipment. Invest in a music streaming service so you don’t have to listen to ads. Purchase noise-canceling headphones to avoid distracting your co-workers.
Focus music is all about ambience. Anything that interrupts your flow—whether that’s poor sound quality or glitchy streaming—needs to go.
Expect to spend at least $100 on headphones or speakers. For the streaming service itself, Spotify Premium is the standard at $9.99 per month. Slacker, Apple Music, and YouTube Music are also popular.
Recommended Productivity Music to Add to Your Playlists
Now that you know what to look for in focus music and how to listen, it’s time to build your playlist. Get started with these smooth, instrumental genres, artists, and songs.
1. Chillhop Music
This YouTube channel has almost 3 million subscribers. Its music videos run 24/7 and feature driving yet relaxing beats.
Most songs on this channel fall into a category called “lofi hip hop,” a type of electronic R&B. Unlike traditional hip hop, lofi hip hop songs follow a slow, steady pattern that induces focus and relaxation.
Chillhop playlists can also be streamed on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. Popular artists include nymano, No Signal, and Sleepy Fish.
2. Andy McKee
Andy McKee is an acoustic guitarist who became famous after “Drifting,” one of his early songs, went viral on YouTube. “Drifting” exemplifies the creative, quiet guitar techniques found in the rest of McKee’s music.
Today, McKee has six albums of primarily acoustic guitar. One of McKee’s most popular pieces, “Rylynn,” is a perfect example of his soothing yet upbeat sound.
3. John Butler Trio
The band John Butler Trio became popular after releasing “Ocean,” a 2012 hit with more than 50 million listens on YouTube. Heavy on acoustic guitar, “Ocean” is an intricate ballad that ebbs and flows like the ocean itself.
Known for flowing changes in key and mood, the John Butler Trio proves that fast songs can stand in as great focus music. The group’s long songs—“Ocean” is 12 minutes long—are less disruptive for long projects. Two other favorites by John Butler Trio are “Betterman” and “Spring to Come.”
4. Classical Radio on Pandora
Classical music has long been a staple for music lovers looking to get work done. Pandora’s classical station features a great mix, from Beethoven to modern artists like Maria Callas and Jorge Bolet.
Pandora has radio stations for every genre imaginable. You can generate playlists based on genre, artist, or even a specific song.
Other music apps also offer similar playlists and radio stations you can turn to for your classical music fix. From piano-heavy tunes to violin concertos, you’ll find plenty to perk up your ears.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack
Movie soundtracks are full of amazing focus music. One of my favorites is the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which is lively and adventurous but not in your face.
If you like what you hear, Hans Zimmer, the mastermind behind the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, has worked on a huge array of films. Zimmer also put together the soundtracks for The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Inception.
One thing to watch out for with cinematic music is associations. As iconic as the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack is, if you’re thinking about Jack Sparrow instead of balancing spreadsheets, you should probably switch to a new song.
6. Legend of Zelda Soundtrack
Another hotspot for instrumental music is video games. If you’re not sure where to start, check out selections from The Legend of Zelda.
Anyone who’s played The Legend of Zelda games will immediately recognize what they hear. The soundtrack is light, airy, and full of awe. Keyboards, harps, and flutes feature prominently.
Although you could spend hours listening to The Legend of Zelda music, don’t forget about fan-produced songs in this genre. The video-gaming community is robust, and instrumental re-creations of your favorite games’ soundtracks can be found all over the internet.
7. Nature Sounds and White Noise
This genre may be too relaxing for some, but others prefer less structured focus music. Sounds like thunder, wind, and rushing water can transport you to a quiet, idyllic place to get work done.
One type of white noise to avoid is city-related sounds. Even without lyrics, honking horns or chattering crowds can be distracting.
An advantage of this type of focus music is that it can be set on a loop. If you find a track you like, go ahead and put it on repeat. When it starts over, you won’t even notice.
8. Music to Increase Work Productivity: The Pulse
This playlist sounds a lot like video game music, and it does a great job of waking up your brain without distracting you.
4. 8 Hours of Productivity Music with Binaural Beats by Greenred Productions
Turn this on in the morning and you’ll be set for the entire day. This music has an ethereal quality that will leave you feeling relaxed and help you find your flow state.
9. The Most Productive Playlist Ever – Songs For Work on Spotify
If you’re in the mood for some popular music that will motivate you to reach new heights, this one’s for you. Some of these lyrics are NSFW though, so make sure you’re listening to this through headphones.
10. Productive Morning on Spotify
When “The Most Productive Playlist Ever” seems a bit too intense, try “Productive Morning.” It includes songs from well-known artists, but these are mostly instrumental.
To get the biggest productivity boost from your playlist, be mindful of the volume and tempo. If you’re writing, stick to the instrumentals so that your brain doesn’t try to decipher lyrics while trying to think up sentences for you. Be mindful of your own energy level when you’re choosing music.
Most importantly, play what you like. There’s plenty of science supporting the positive effects music can have on listeners. It’s up to you to find your personal soundtrack for a focused and productive work day.
|New York Post: Smarter people listen to instrumental music: study
|The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America: Tuning the cognitive environment: Sound masking with “natural” sounds in open-plan offices
|Kellogg Insight: Pump Up the Jams and Feel Powerful
|International Conference on Computer and Communication Engineering: Estimation of effects of alpha music on EEG components by time and frequency domain analysis
|Psychology of Music: Exposure to music and cognitive performance: tests of children and adults
|Science Daily: Baroque Classical Music In The Reading Room May Improve Mood And Productivity
|Journal of Consumer Research: Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition
|Noise Help: Noise Level Chart
|YouTube: Ocean – John Butler – 2012 Studio Version