Should We Listen to Music at Work?

I was desperate. All week I racked my brain trying to come up with a topic that inspired me. I’m the type of writer who must feel everything I creatively write about. Friday evening as I talked with my lovely co-worker, Emily, the light bulb came on. Music.

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony.

(Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.63-66)

I once spoke about the importance of music at work in college. In 2004, when I gave that speech, most arguments supported music in the workplace. As I cruised through Google this weekend, I noticed that opinions are now split 50/50. WebMD says music is distracting. The NY Times says music increases productivity. So, what should we do?

Do whatever works for you.

I grew up with music playing all around me. I had a favorite song at 2 or 3 years old, and at 9, I fell in love with U2. Music is important to my soul, and I usually have something playing while I’m doing anything. When writing, I pop in classical, jazz, or metal instrumental. In fact, as I write this I am enjoying a Soul Radics playlist. If I am cleaning up photos, going through data, or working on something mindless, I find something fast and peppy such as Godsmack, Greenday, or Pendulum.

At the store I worked in, there was always music. It made sense because we were usually involved in physical labor and needed the boost. We’d sing, sometimes dance, and worked faster than without music. Our longest nights were when storms knocked out the satellite.

There are a few times when music is distracting. If I’m proofreading, I don’t have music playing because I am internally listening to myself read. I can hear my own voice, and I have a tendency to sing, so it’s not a good mix. Also, if my office is chatty – we’re all guilty of causing that – I’ll take my earbud out because it’s too much noise.

So, be smart about it.

Music almost always evokes an emotion or a memory, so you should also consider how the song or playlist will affect your mood. For example, I can’t listen to techno while proofreading because it makes me fidget. I don’t listen to sad love songs because they depress me. The point of music at work is to keep you energized while you perform workload tasks.

If you listen to music at work, what are your favorite bands or genres? Do you think it increases your productivity or makes work more tolerable?