One of the most challenging obstacles in the working world is procrastination. Meeting deadlines and assisting co-workers with daily projects can normally help obliterate any spells of lassitude or laziness, but sometimes getting started on a project—or just knowing where to begin in the first place—can be the toughest part (three to five cups of coffee every morning can supply an extra dose of adrenalized motivation, or just an onslaught of heartburn). Establishing everyday routines and communication with colleagues are both useful ways of finding a diligent groove, but in my years of partaking in this great big nine-to-five experiment, I’ve found that the best expediter to those slow-moving, languid mornings is music.
Just about anyone could argue that music is now more embedded in our every day lives than ever before; with the advent of the digital music era, streaming services, MP3s, iPods, YouTube, and hosts of other services, apps, and programs, music is both more widely accessible and, unfortunately for artists, cheaper than the days of waiting in line at Sam Goody and Tower Records. That old eighties song you can’t stop humming that’s been stuck in your head for weeks—now you can hop online and find it in just a few clicks. Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora (and the recently unveiled Apple Music) are all providing catalogs of millions of songs to subscribers at insanely low fees. At this point it’s second nature for me to start my day with a pot of coffee and some pump-up anthems by The Misfits or The White Stripes, just as I start the early morning process of unthawing and checking my email inbox. While office life does require a certain unavoidable quota of interaction—board room meetings, conference calls, and the like—it’s been proven and documented in various studies that listening to music can help enhance concentration and productivity.
At my previous job, I worked in an open office: essentially, one huge room with multiple desks and no dividers or cubicles, nothing to induce privacy or silence. The IT lady who sat in the corner desk to my right often held entire conversations about Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones with the secretary on the opposite side of the room, their voices flooding over my desk and racking my brain. The only way that I could tune them out and transition into my own workload was with the earmuffs of my Sony headphones (which I was allowed to wear since I was technically sort of kind of a graphic designer and had explained to my supervisor that in order to get things done I had to enter the “design zone”—another plane of existence deep in the grid lined dimensions of brain-scattering Adobe files where I concocted print ads, tradeshow displays, and website banners).
Of course there are times when listening to music at work isn’t appropriate, but I find that when it comes to hunkering down and getting something started and eventually finished, nothing helps spark my momentum quite like a steady current of tunes. It still takes tremendous concentration and participation in a sort of work-focused fugue state to stay on task and get things done.
A recent study conducted by Mindlab International, a UK-based neuromarketing research firm, found that participants were more prone to making mistakes, errors, or needing breaks when not listening to music while working. The study even went into more detail by suggesting genres and styles of music based on the kind of work the participants tackled. According to Mindlab, an overwhelming nine out of ten workers performed better when listening to music (88% of participants produced their most accurate test results while music was playing). The experiment results were based on the scores of 26 participants who were administered a variety of tasks: spell checking, abstract reasoning, equation solving, and mathematical and word problems. The participants completed these tasks over a stretch of five consecutive days while listening to one of four music genres including pop, dance, classical, and ambient. The results of the study concluded that the focus group listening to dance music scored the highest grades across almost every category, increasing proofreading speed by up to 20% and completing abstract reasoning tasks more quickly.
Scientific studies aside, there’s almost no denying it: listening to music, above all else, has the power to inspire. The right song at the right time can help channel the necessary mood to push you forward in your work. Even on groggy weekend mornings I prefer to take my coffee and bagel while listening to some wake-up tunes on my iPod, lurching around the kitchen like a zombie and trying to decide what to do for the rest of the day. Recent articles claim that the average American listens to four hours of music each day, and I find that I’m no exception, whether at home, or at the office. So next time you find yourself in a rut to get started, look up some bands on the more mellow, easy-listening side of the vast rock/pop spectrum: I recommend Real Estate, Kurt Vile, Mac DeMarco, and Beach Fossils. Keep your coffee close by and make sure you’re up to speed on recent emails. Prepare yourself for the day—and the work—ahead. Jot down a list of everything you need to get through before COB. Take a deep breath, and let the music take you away.
By Collin Myers