Looking for a jolt of inspiration? A creative recharge or a way to focus your thoughts? Check out the sound of music. Nope, I don’t mean the Academy Award-winning Julie Andrews flick from the 1960’s, though it is kind of fun to sing loudly about the hills being alive and all of that. I’m talking about strategically using music to cut through mental clutter, help create a desired frame of mind or find your inner rock star. Doing just that has helped me thrive personally and professionally for decades.
As a teenager, I used to compete in extemporaneous speaking at debate tournaments. This is probably where you insert a joke about me being a nerd and I proudly proclaim that we were cooler than the kids in the chess club. But I digress. The point is that whenever I got nervous about speaking, I’d listen to a specific song called Castle Walls by Styx on my clunky Walkman. Something about the sound of slow breathing at the beginning of the tune calmed me down and enhanced my focus. I’ve continued to turn to music over the years for a helping hand with big projects at work. Even now, in preparing to deliver my first TEDx talk, I’ve chosen a tune to get in the right head space immediately before going on stage called Supernova by Neoni.
Curious about how music can improve your performance? Here are three ways to best leverage songs to bolster your productivity, creativity and focus:
1. Know when to use it.
When I write, my preferred background is silence. Sure, I can crank out work projects or a new article while in the corner of a crowded airport or a doctor’s waiting room. But when the number of voices around me increases, that cuts into my concentration. Don’t get me wrong. I love exercising to In the Ayer by Flo Rida and could never fold laundry without the accompaniment of high energy tunes. It’s just that the same song qualities that get my blood pumping aren’t conducive to deep thought for me. However, bestselling author Rachel Caine has said that music plays a huge part in getting her into and through her stories. At the end of each of her novels, she has a section called Sound Track that lists specific songs by different artists which inspired that particular creative process.
2. Pick your music well.
According to this Inc.com article, research has shown that some music is more effective than others in increasing productivity. For example, the writer reports that “several studies have shown that popular music interferes with reading comprehension and information processing,” while she notes that songs with a more complex musical structure or distracting lyrics can also interrupt your train of thought. But if you are used to working with background music, it can keep you more focused – especially if you are engaged in repetitive tasks. When making a playlist for a certain project, you might want to choose familiar tunes with minimal lyrics to get the best results.
3. Add melodies to mental breaks.
Science has shown that you can bolster mental performance by listening to tunes in between projects. As noted in this Quartz at Workpiece, a study published in the Psychology of Music showed that listening to music between tasks could boost student academic performance and the ability to concentrate on a task for long periods of time. Over the years, I’ve used music breaks at work to get me psyched for big meetings, let my mind decompress between deadlines and more. And it works.
How has music improved your productivity or creativity? If you listen at work, what kind of songs do you prefer?