Listening to Music at Work Can Help You Focus

‘I cannot concentrate with that music on’, says gazillion of employees telling their co-workers to turn off the music. But are they really right?

Many people don’t like listening to music while focusing on a task at work. However, according to recent studies, they are on the wrong side. Music actually helps you concentrate at work.

How does music do this though? Isn’t it tiring for the brain because it has two things to focus on?

While it’s not yet totally clear while the brain likes this so much, it does. A cross-section of 400 studies revealed that pre-surgery patients who listened to music showed lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) than those who took anxiety drugs.

The Conscious and the Unconscious

Interestingly, the brain dislikes thinking about one thing for a long time. It actually has two attention systems — the conscious and the unconscious.

The unconscious one is simpler, faster, and linked to emotions rather than logical reasoning. An example of the unconscious system working is when you hear a noise in the middle of the night. You are paying attention to the noise itself long before you figure out what it might have been.

On the other hand, the conscious one is more complex, slower, and heavily linked to logical reasoning. An example of the conscious system working is when you solve a math problem. You have to first think about how to solve it and execute the necessary steps.

While the conscious is focused on what you’re doing at work, the unconscious is still working. The unconscious scans for something to focus on, and because of this, you easily get distracted.

How Does Music Help?

Have you ever worked on an important task only to be driven nuts by a co-worker sipping their coffee, humming, or coughing?

This is where music comes in. Music is a source of non-invasive noise that neutralizes the brain’s unconscious system. It does this by giving the unconscious system something pleasurable to focus on.

Simply put, listening to music is like giving your kid (unconscious attention system) something to play with so you can clean the house (conscious attention system) without any distractions.

Does the Type of Music Matter?

Yes, it does. The type of music you listen to can make or break your concentration at work.

As obvious as it can be, listening to classical music while working will most probably help you focus on the task at hand and boost productivity. On the other hand, listening to rock metal music while working will most probably not help you at all.

Now, we are not discriminating against any type of music here. After all, any type of music can be good as long as it’s enjoyed by the listener.

However, talking from a scientific, work-related point of view, music without lyrics remains the best. Familiar music also helps a lot. Oh, and when you are doing a more physical task, upbeat music pumps up your focus.

So put on those headphones and get rid of that annoying distraction at work.


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