By Katie Middel

Want a simple, effective solution to your mid-day slump?

Turn up the tunes.

Jamming to your favorite station has its ups and downs. Research has shown that listening to music while you work makes you more productive and can come with great health benefits.

And while music can help clear out the clutter, there are times when you should avoid listening to anything at all. Here’s a few helpful facts on music and productivity, plus what we’re listening to (or not) while we work.

Stick to What You Know

When you listen to music, the stimulating sound triggers the release of the dopamine – leaving us feeling happier and improving focus. That being said, productivity has more room to thrive when you are listening to songs that are familiar to you. Your brain has to process everything going on in your environment, so introducing new music can be detrimental to your focus. When listening to unfamiliar music, your brain focuses more on the lyrics you’ve never heard before, diverting your concentration from the task at hand.

Drown out Distractions

If your work setting is noisy (cough, pinball machine, cough), it’s best to cancel out distractions by plugging in your headphones. When there’s too much going on around us, we tend to get stressed out and bogged down, which inhibits our focus and depletes our energy. Our body releases cortisol – your body’s main stress hormone – when there is too much auditory data to process, which negatively affects our executive functioning. Use music as an escape portal to block out the world around you.

Shuffle Wisely

Turns out, the type of music you listen to also plays a large role in your workflow and productivity. While I write this, Joep Beving’s classical ballad, “Apophis,” is flowing into my ears, making me feel more like I’m in a sci-fi movie rather than sitting at my desk. (Maybe not the best thing for my linguistic processing.)

Depending on your line of work, music impacts productivity differently. According to research conducted by neuropsychologists at Mindlab International, classical music is best when you’re completing calculations and your attention to detail needs to be spot-on. Upbeat music, like pop and dance, are proven to help proofreading speed by 20 percent, while reducing mistakes by 14 percent. And ambient music is proven to improve accuracy of data entry in 92 percent of people tested. Pick your playlist wisely and start getting in the groove!

Our Musical Go-tos

For us marketers, the task at hand ranges throughout the day – from writing copy for a landing page, to calculating quotes in a spreadsheet, to designing a creative logo. Whether we need to be in a state of deep concentration, be creatively ambitious, or to rely on attention to detail and accuracy, music can be a source of guidance to help us get the job done. So, we decided to ask some folks from the Bonfire team about the type of music they listen to when completing different tasks and why. Here’s what we found out:

Would you say that music helps your productivity while you work?

Bailey, Copywriter:

It depends on the project. If I’m working on something that requires more creative inspiration and free thought, I like to listen to instrumental music. But if it’s a more technical, research-intensive project, silence is golden.

Stephen Back, Project Manager:

YES!

Trais Barhaug, Designer:

YES

Drew Todd, Designer:

Yes, I would say that music helps to give a less distracting backdrop while you’re working. Especially if you work in an open concept office; people talking, phone calls, or a pinball machine (ahem… Trevor) can all add up to a lot of noise while you’re trying to figure out a problem or coming up with a concept for a new asset.

Ben Aaker, Account Director:

Music without English words? Yes.

Does music help with your creativity?

Bailey:

It can help center me or energize me. It can also help me block out distractions in the office (cough, cough… pinball games, pantone debates, and random conversations that automatically call for eavesdropping ☺). But there’s a fine line as a writer too. Music can kill my creativity if there are lyrics or loud sounds taking my attention away from finding the right words for the project I’m working on.

Ben:

It can. It can also distract, though. Music is a mood-setter, and evokes emotions and tone. But silence is important and certainly has an intricate role in life and creativity – just ask anyone who has had a great idea in the shower.

What is your go-to work playlist?

Bailey:

Instrumental folk: Michael Hedges, Tommy Emmanuel, Antoine Dufour

Instrumental covers: The Vitamin String Quartet, 2 Cellos, The Piano Guys

Stephen:

Honestly, it depends on my mood and/or the day of the week. Chill House or Laid-Back Jazz early in the week with Country, Alternative, or Top Hits come Thursday and Friday.

Trais:

Singer songwriter

Chill

Chill, no-vocals EDM

Weird hip-hop

Mishmash

Drew:

Well, every Friday I gotta listen to Release Radar. I like Griz Radio and Have a Great Day! If I’m feeling more of a coffeehouse vibe, I go to my Coffeehouse playlist. And, of course, All Out 70s.

Ben:

Lo-Fi Beats playlist on Spotify.

Do you listen to different genres when you complete different tasks? Why or why not?

Bailey:

I tend to like calm, instrumental folk for when I’m needing to write more copy. But when I’m brainstorming brand positioning ideas, brand names, or high-level messages, I prefer more upbeat instrumental cover songs that keep me energized without being distracting.

Stephen:

If I am really needing to focus, I’ll listen to acoustic or instrumental music.

Trais:

Sometimes music with no words is better while doing complicated tasks.

Drew:

I don’t really change music when I’m done with a task. I really jump around a lot throughout the week. Each day is a different genre and all dependent on my mood.

Ben:

Usually pump it up a few octaves when the energy levels start to drop in the afternoon… maybe bust out some throwback tunes (Counting Crows, Third Eye Blind, Everclear) or hip-hop (Lecrae, GAWVI, NAS, NF) or EDM (Bieber, Sam Feldt, Marti Jensin, Mike Posner). When I have a heavy heart or need to re-focus on life (which is a daily deal), I find a quiet spot and turn to some worship music… I’m a fan of WorshipMob’s spontaneous worship covers, Will Reagan, Jonathan David Helser, Kim Walker, etc.

Are there certain tasks that you opt to complete in silence?

Trais: Pooping, staring deep into my own eyes in the mirror, writing, reading. Putting on lipstick and crying while singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler

Drew Todd: Writing emails, proof-reading, hiking.

Ben Aaker: Honestly, not really. We have surround sound inside and outside of our home with Google smart speakers everywhere. I love music. And am a firm believer that in the same way you pick up before guests arrive and turn lights on, you should turn the right music on for the mood. If you are making burrito bowls, throw some Jose Alfredo Jimenez on! Hanging on the back porch grillin’? Country! Drinking wine and chilling? Ella Fitzgerald.

The Unique Case of Trevor Sides, Project Manager

Full disclosure: I can’t give a very straight-forward answer to questions about my music at work because my approach to listening to music is, um, kinda weird.

I only listen to certain artists/albums/songs at specific times of the year. I have three summer playlists, one fall playlist, a Christmas playlist, a winter playlist, an early spring/Lenten playlist, and one other spring playlist. Those playlists are only listened to during those respective seasons. For example, the songs on my Authoritative Fall Playlist are only and always played from about mid-September through mid-November. They never make an appearance in, say, June. The songs on the fall playlist were added to that playlist because I first listened to them during the fall, or I have strong memories that associate said songs with the fall.

So it goes with each of my playlists.

Listening to the same songs at the same time of the year helps me understand when and where I am in life. Music is built on time, moves in and through time. Seasonally segmented music gives my life a time signature by which I move in and through. It’s a cadence of comfort.

All that to say, what I listen to at work is almost entirely dependent on what season I’m in. There are some exceptions, of course. I’ll occasionally check out Spotify’s Discover Weekly or the pre-built classical playlists. But in the last year or two, I have grown to appreciate silence while I work, especially if I’m writing.

Right now, my Essential Spring Playlist is getting heavy rotation. There’s lots of stuff from my “formative” years — a variety of emo outfits, The Tragically Hip, early-stage Coldplay, Counting Crows — as well as newer music from the likes of Julien Baker and Typhoon.

So there ya go. You learned way more about me than you expected and I don’t know if I talked much at all about how music intersects with my work. Enjoy the emo.