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Working from home can be incredibly distracting. Luckily, music is here to help you focus and get the job done right!
One of the benefits of listening to music while working from home is that it helps you focus when you’re in a noisy environment. Additionally, it improves concentration on repetitive tasks and boosts your mood to make you feel happier and less stressed out while you are working.
Next, we’ll go over three science-backed ways music can help you while working from home. Then we’ll discuss some situations in which listening to music may be more of a hindrance than a help. In either case, the goal is to stay productive while working from home and to enjoy the work you do. Music is one way to bring joy and help you stay productive.
1. May Help You Focus in Noisy Home Environments
When you’re working from home, it can get pretty noisy. Between the sounds of your husband working in the next room, your kids on video calls with their classmates, and your dog barking at every car that passes, you’ve probably accepted that your home office isn’t exactly a peaceful oasis. But don’t worry, that’s where music comes in!
One study conducted in 2006 found that “continuous noise,” like music, can be a great alternative to other noise conditions when working in loud environments.
In the study, the researchers compared three conditions: speech (AKA people talking), masked speech, and continuous noise. They found that the speech condition was the “most disadvantageous” environment since it prevented participants from focusing on their tasks.
This same study found that continuous noise was the “least annoying” condition. While working in a tranquil office setting is considered ideal, you may not have this option, especially when working from home. So, using music as “continuous noise” may help you focus on your work and drown out all of that distracting chitter-chatter!
However, not all music will help keep you focused. Try to pick a playlist with predictable, boring songs that will drown out the background noise without distracting you. Some great options are soft classical music, ambient music, lo-fi beats, or movie scores. Try to avoid songs with lyrics or distract beat changes, as these can be incredibly distracting!
2. Music Helps You Concentrate on Repetitive Tasks
Does your job require you to perform mindless tasks, such as entering numbers into excel or creating lists of clients’ names? Do you find that you often get distracted while performing these tasks, resulting in them taking longer than expected? If so, science suggests that listening to music may be the solution you’ve been looking for!
In one study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers asked participants to perform either a complex or straightforward task while listening to no music, quiet music, or loud music. The music was either complex or simple in nature. The researchers discovered that silence was golden when performing complex tasks. However, for straightforward tasks, the participants performed best when they were listening to complex music.
Another study involving surgeons found similar results. In the study, surgeons performed repetitive non-surgery-related tasks. While they completed their work, they either listened to music they selected, music the experimenters selected, or no music at all.
The researchers found that the speed and accuracy with which the surgeons performed their tasks was higher in the surgeon-selected music condition than in the experimenter-selected music condition. Both of these groups did better on their tasks than the surgeons who didn’t listen to any music at all.
So, why does music improve performance on mindless tasks? Well, the researchers speculated that complex tasks require your complete focus, meaning music can act as a distraction. However, when doing something simple, music can actually prevent you from drifting off and thinking about other things. This improves focus on the repetitive task, making you more productive!
So, if you are guilty of checking your phone, going to do the dishes, peeking in on your spouse, or simply daydreaming while you are working on repetitive tasks at home, music may help you stay focused so you can get the job done in a timely manner.
3. Music Puts You in a Better Mood
Have you ever listened to your favorite jam at work and instantly felt your mood shift from “bleh” to happy? If so, you’ve experienced the powerful mood-altering effect of music!
Beyond just making you feel good, science has found that music can significantly lower your stress levels, which is incredibly important when working from home (especially during a super stressful, life-altering time like the Covid-19 pandemic)!
In one study on music’s stress-reducing effects, researchers analyzed the impact of music while surgeons’ performed in the operating room (lots of studies about surgeons, huh?) They discovered that music increased the surgeons’ subjective sense of wellbeing and helped them feel calmer and happier during their surgeries.
Additionally, they found that music lowered the surgeons’ autonomic reactivity (stress response) during demanding surgeries, allowing them to work in a more “relaxed and thoughtful” state.
Yet another study found that music can also reduce stress levels in patients about to undergo surgery. In the study, patients were either given anti-anxiety medication or were given headphones to listen to music before surgery. Surprisingly, the patients in the music groups’ stress levels were just as low as those who had received medication, indicating both were equally effective at reducing anxiety.
We know neither of these studies was explicitly related to working-from-home-related stress. However, if music can help surgeons calm down while performing life-saving procedures and it can help patients relax before they receive surgery, then why wouldn’t it be able to help you find your happy place when your kids are screaming in the next room?
When Should You NOT Listen to Music While Working?
Below, we’ve listed a few examples of times when listening to music while working at home may not be ideal:
- When you’re trying to solve a problem or learn something new. Music can negatively impact your working memory, making it harder to problem-solve or learn new skills at work. Therefore, you should turn off your tunes and try to make your environment as distraction-free as possible. Noise-canceling headphones can be beneficial!
- When you’re performing a task that requires reading comprehension. Certain types of music, especially music with a fast tempo, can make it difficult for you to understand what you are reading, especially on a complex topic. If you choose to listen to music, pick something with a slow tempo like soft classical music.
- If you’re using music to distract yourself. Sometimes, when you’re feeling sad or overwhelmed, you may blast your favorite tune to distract yourself from your feelings and your tasks, preventing you from doing your work. If this is the case, don’t play music. It’ll do more harm than good!
- When you’re listening to a song for the very first time. When you listen to new music, it excites your brain, even if you aren’t particularly fond of the song. Your body responds by releasing the pleasure hormone dopamine, redirecting your attention to the pleasurable stimulus (the music). This compromises your focus, making you think about the new tune instead of all of the work you need to get done!
Listening to music while working from home can benefit you in multiple ways.
For starters, music can help you focus in noisy home environments, especially when you are distracted by other family member’s conversations.
Additionally, music can help you concentrate when performing repetitive tasks that generally cause your mind to wander.
Lastly, music is a huge mood booster, which can make your work feel more enjoyable. It has also been found to reduce stress levels and anxiety levels, making people feel calmer and more productive while on the job.