Should we listen to music while working? The designers answer.
I recently published a post asking if listening to music while working was a good thing or not. I gave my opinion and asked some productivity experts what their thoughts were on that topic, the post had a lot of comments from fellow designers.
Following is the opinion of my fellow designers, most of them being music listeners when working. Some of them listen to music because they think it helps them to get in the zone and others do so to override external noise. Most seem to agree that not every type of music is suitable for getting things done.
I got my start in design through music, by learning to design stuff for a band i was in. Ever since then music and design have gone hand in hand, there are times when i need the quiet, but there are also times when tuning the world out with some good music helps me focus and be more productive.
I think it really depends on the person whether or not they should have music going. I almost have to have it sometimes. I work much better with some motivational tunes than I do listening to my officemate yap his jaws off on the phone.
Interesting the difference in opinions on this subject. I personally have found myself to be productive with music and without music. I think it really depends on the project and what the overall atmosphere you’re trying to create to be more productive.
We were discussing just yesterday how bad it would be to go blind. I argued that I would probably be even worse to go deaf. I know the impact music has on me and know how it can turn a bad day into an OK day… The type of music, now that is a whole different cup of tea. But music, yes please…
Peter Monbailleu (Mirko’s comment: I’d rather go deaf for sure)
I think music stimulates creativity in its initial stage. I always like listening to music when I come up with concepts and ideas, it relaxes me and puts me in a great mood. However, when I am in the last stages of a design, or writing, it happened to me to realize after hours of being into it that music stopped playing a loong time ago. So my concentration level gets so high that even if music is playing in the background, I don’t hear it.
I think the wrong question: it should be : WHAT music should we listen too…
Music is an inspiration to people for ages and i think if you hear the right music while you work then i think our work can be much easier and as you can see in our braintalk section on sharebrain.info most designers listen to music while they work.
Thomas (Mirko’s comment: the fact that most people do it doesn’t make it the right thing to do)
The hard part about a debate like this, is that it is largely based on individual experiences. That being said, I will just share my experience.
I work at a startup (www.techrigy.com), there are only a few of us in the office. My role in the company is pretty versatile so I end up working closely with everyone. This creates chaos at my desk. Constantly dropping one project to start another, only to be interrupted for a third project.
There are days (and nights) when I don’t want to access client info from the database, I don’t want to answer support calls or emails…I just want to write code. These are the times when I put throw my ear buds in and turn my iPod just loud enough that I wouldn’t know if an atomic bomb was dropped.
I have to say I am very productive, and when it comes to coding I feel displaced if I am not listening to music while doing it. Maybe it has just become such a standard that I don’t realize I’m even listening to music. But I am very focused and not distracted by things around me. I am also a musician, so perhaps music is just more a part of me than I realize
I definitely think it’s a very personal, individual thing, as I have designer friends who must have absolute, nearly-zen-like silence when they design / work, whereas if I do not have a constant musical soundtrack, I am basically useless in terms of creative productivity.
I need to listen to music whilst working, as ironically I find noises a huge distraction. If someone is eating, tapping etc it can cause me huge grief, but I can happily listen to music at loud volumes.
I’m the same as you really – for the stuff that need real brain power, I normally don’t listen – but if for example im sketching out some ideas or doing something repetative then music all the way!
Music is a great source of inspiration and stress reliever when working on projects. I know many need silence.
Music may be more indusive to production work then for designing. I find that it works well for both stages.
It is good thing definitely! Even more, I am more productive while creating something or writing if I listen to my last.fm.
I noticed that when i listen to classics, e.g. Mozart or Debussy – I am in perfect focus for work.
This doesn’t mean that I am skipping indie music, rock, alternative, nu-jazz. It depends on demand level of concentration while working something.
One of the reasons I always have music in the background is to exclude the outer noise of my neighbours or passengers from the street coming inside.
The music I chose for that article was definitely a personal choice, and studies do show that multi-tasking makes us less productive – this would include listening to music while working. On the other hand, if you turn down the music low enough, or if it is inherently ambient, or if you’ve listened to the song so many times that it has no novel value, then it intrinsically requires less cognitive attention, and the multi-tasking fact may not apply (I would argue it indeed doesn’t with the certain types of music).
Tyler Hayes (Mirko’s comment: ooops… sorry for the mistake)
I would say that the biggest factor of music’s effect on productivity is familiarity. When I’m working on something that requires my concentration, I listen to an album I’ve heard 5, 10, 100 times before. By that time, I know the melodies and all the words so well that I don’t even have to fully “listen” to understand what’s going on.
Conversely, if I’m listening to an album for the first time, or Last.fm radio, the music is totally unfamiliar, and requires more concentration than usual.
So if I’m in the middle of coding, I usually end up putting something old, familiar, and comforting like The Beatles. Some might find the music distracting, but personally, I find the lack of sound even more so.
Cognitive science research has indicated that associations such as musical genre and especially individual songs lend to remembering. (In particular, one study foudn that students that sat in the same seats for an exam they took the course in did better than those randomly rearranged or in a different room altogether. There is also evidence that shows smelling the same smell as when you studied leads to enhanced recall ability.)
It may also be the case that tasks that are similar (not necessarily always repeated the exact same way) such as working your way around Photoshop or working on CSS markup) would be aided by the cue of associated stimulus. This agrees in part with Kris Rowlands of Fresh Focus, who I think has gone on to oversimplify the matter. He speaks of intution when it comes to dancing, but this is merely memory of the steps – both physical and mental – and then performed unconsciously. Your brain is still ‘remembering’ what to do without you having to be ultimately aware of it. The same applies for, say, Photoshop. You don’t sit and think about the keybindings you already know, you have enhanced productivity on account of unconsciously using them without having to consider the actions each time you perform the task, and it seems automatic. Saying that this is confined to physical activities is simply incorrect unless one admits that the act of pressing a key combination is a physical activity and far too splified.
That music distracts from thinking activities in a statistically significant way is not documented as far as I recall, though at the moment I don’t have my compendium of reseach databases at my disposal. In fact, at my university the Centre for Disabilities approves students with certain concentration related disorders to listen to music while writing exams in private or semi-private exams settings.
There is no black and white answer to this question and ultimately it comes down to whatever works for the individual. It is interesting to hear what other people think about it via their anecdotes, but keep in mind anecdotes are influenced by personal experience and we end up back at ‘whatever works for you.’
Angelina Fabbro (Mirko’s comment: my favourite answer, agree 100%)
My best work is done when listening to ‘my’ music. my concentration is much higher and focused. my job involves software programming. i say ‘my’ music has the music i listen to during work has to be what i regularly listen to and like. listening to the radio would definitely throw me off track.
Personally, I used to be someone who couldn’t do serious work with noise in the background. Then even that because difficult until I discovered Tai Chi. 7 months was all it took. Now, 10 years later, my focus is still so strong that I can work with music and kids playing in the room. When I’m done a task, I’ll realize that I simply didn’t hear the music, it’s like it wasn’t even on.
Jacob from Group Writing Projects
I definetily cannot work without music or any of sounds in the background, but that’s just me )
Good question! I have an interesting contrast between the music I listen to at work and the music I listen to at home or in my car. My computer is filled with ambient, trip hop, instrumental and classical while at home or in the car I tend to listen to metal, industrial, ebm an synth pop.
My last.fm profile (http://www.last.fm/user/subsomatic) does lie either, Bonobo is my all-time favourite work music!