Music for Studying and Working
and how it affects productivity & attention
Last updated: 14 May 2020 / First published: 14 January 2018 /
Welcome back to The Curiosity Concept!
Over the past few weeks, I've done a lot of essay-writing. (Christmas 2017 was basically spent trying to translate Danish law for an essay on the European Union. Yay sjovt).
Like a lot of students, I have a habit of listening to music whilst working. I tend to like instrumental music, sometimes classical music (usually just Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker on repeat), because my subjects involve a lot of reading and I can't focus on the text when song lyrics are competing for my attention.
I've also started working in total silence or with minimal background noise, especially when the task I'm doing or the content I'm studying is challenging and requires greater focus.
There is a lot of research out there investigating the effects of music on productivity, concentration and attention. For more detail on this, see the end of this post.
When I want to listen to music whilst doing lower-intensity work, I use a variety of YouTube videos and save them to this playlist. I also use different websites for background noise.
In this post, I share my favourite videos and sites with you.
Check them out!
The Curiosity Concept - A delightful bossa nova playlist for a positive day working from home
Cercle - FKJ live @ Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia for Cercle
청각예술 Auditory-Art= - 🕘9:00am : shining morning time (Indie/Jazz)
Chillhop Music -🍁Chillhop Essentials - Fall 2019 - chill & lofi hiphop beats
Audrie Storme -1 hour music playlist ♫ lo-fi jazzhop beats
Background noise websites:
A Soft Murmur - 'Ambient sounds to wash away distraction'
Coffitivity - 'Coffitivity recreates the ambient sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better'. Naturally, Lunchtime Lounge is my favourite.
Hipstersound - 'Ambient noise generator to create a positive work environment. Stay focused, improve creativity, relax by creating a unique environment.' My favourite atmosphere is Les charmants café de Paris.
Research on music and productivity
It's difficult to delve into the details of the information on this topic without literally turning this post into a research assignment, so here's a basic summary:
When we are doing a task, we have a limited attention capacity. Certain types of music can 'drain' this capacity so we end up having less attention available to apply to the task, even though we're still doing it. (This links with what I wrote in 'Declutter Your Mind' about the myth of multi-tasking.)
P.T. Chou points out an interesting difference between listening to music and watching TV whilst working:
Watching TV 'shifts' your attention, so you know you're not paying attention to your work anymore.
Listening to music doesn't shift your attention, it drains it. So, whilst you'll still be doing your work, you might be putting less effort into it than you think you are.
In Chou's research, the findings showed that students who listened to music whilst completing a reading task were affected by this draining effect and achieved lower scores than students who didn't listen to music. This draining effect might, therefore, explain why we sometimes don't perform as well as we hoped on assignments or exams that we thought we put a lot of effort into. It's all about attention.
The Learning Scientists explain that besides the music itself, there are a plethora of factors that then determine the effect of music on your ability to concentrate when studying/working.
Because of this, The Learning Scientists answer whether studying with music is good or bad in a way that captures the essence of the research in this area:
Seeing as there isn't a definitive answer, why not mix it up?
For work that doesn't require a lot of your effort or attention, listen to music. For tasks that are more demanding, silence might help you make the best use of your attention capacity.
Experiment, to see what works for you.
I hope you find this post useful and that you try a couple of the sources here to find what really works for you. Feel free to leave a reply or send me a message with your thoughts and opinions on listening to music whilst working, or any music recommendations!
I'll be updating this post as I find more music and background noises, so make sure to come back frequently for new suggestions!
As always, onwards and upwards!
Effort and Attention - Daniel Kahneman (Capacity model of attention)
'Attention Drainage Effect' - P.T. Chou (The effect of background music on concentration)
'Listening to Music while Studying: A Good or a Bad Idea?' - The Learning Scientists
'Can Music Help You Study More Effectively?' - College Info Geek