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Tuning Out With Some Tunes

If you work in a cubicle, chances are that at some point during your professional career, you’ve wanted to throw on a pair of headphones and drown out some of the office chatter so you can get some work done.  But does listening to music actually help or hurt your productivity at work?

If you’ve ever listened to music before and let’s face it, who hasn’t?  You already know that music can affect your mood.  How can you not be happy when listening to Pharell’s 2014 hit, “Happy”?  How many times have you pushed yourself to run that extra mile when listening to Rachel Platten’s, “Fight Song”?

Researchers have consistently found that reading comprehension and memorization both suffer when music is playing but that it can help with repetitive tasks that require you to focus but do not require as much cognition, as evidenced by a landmark study in Applied Ergonomics. It found that factory workers were more efficient even when the music they were listening to was in competition with the noise of the machines.

In terms of work that is less repetitive and does require more cognition, such as prepping your presentation for that big sales meeting tomorrow or putting the finishing touches on your new client’s marketing report, music might interfere with successfully completing those tasks because you are multitasking.

“Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking,” writes author and renowned psychologist Dr. Daniel Levitin in his latest book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.

But working in a noisy office can overstimulate your brain and cause you to lose your train of thought, right?  Dr. Kimberly Sena Moore, a professor at the University of Miami, suggests that if you still want to listen to music while you work try listening to music with no words or words you can’t understand. Try listening to Taiwanese rock band, Mayday.  For some no words music choices, a quick click on the classical section of iTunes should do the trick.

“As soon as you add words, you activate language centers in your brain, which interferes with any other language “tasks” you may need to work on (reading, writing, talking, etc.),” Moore wrote in a recent post for Psychology Today.

There is one thing that researchers agree on though, if music helps motivate you before a big meeting, helps drown out a boisterous conversation in the cubicle next to you, or just makes you feel good, then go for it.  Just be aware your work could be compromised.  Comment below and tell us, “Do you listen to music in your cubicle?  Why or Why not?  What songs do you rock out to if you do?

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