Can Music Make You a Productivity Powerhouse?

The best songs and playlists for getting stuff done

Taking Note
Published in
5 min readJul 25, 2018


Whether you’re working nine to five or burning the midnight oil, a pair of headphones and a killer playlist may be the secret to getting more done, faster.

Listening to music releases dopamine and serotonin into the brain, helping you relax and stay focused. Music has an energizing effect, so your mood naturally improves. This state of mind helps you get in the zone and accomplish more.

A playlist for every project

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what to listen to and when, but we do know that different genres of music work especially well with certain tasks.

Here are the most common work activities and the best tunes to help you stay productive:

Tapping into your creativity

When that blank screen or piece of paper isn’t speaking to you, blast some songs at 50–80 beats per minute to spark your creativity. Dr. Emma Gray of The British CBT and Counseling Service worked with Spotify to research the benefits of certain types of music and found that tempo in the range of 50–80 beats per minute, like Katy Perry’s “Firework” or Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” can make your mind more calm and alert. And, most importantly, it can help induce the alpha state in your brain, the waves that are associated with that “eureka moment.”

Learning something new

While an epic playlist might make you feel like you’re on the verge of a breakthrough, music can actually hamper your ability to absorb new information and focus. The more mentally demanding a task is, the less room your brain has for processing other information, like melodies. So, the next time you’re learning a new tool or process at work, turn to classical music — one period specifically.

One study found that Baroque-period songs, like Bach or Vivaldi, had a noticeable impact on productivity. The study only had eight radiologists as subjects, however all but one reported that classical music had a notable improvement on their concentration.

Churning through repetitive tasks

If you’re trying to knock out dozens of email replies or hours of manual data entry, Vivaldi just won’t cut it. To keep you motivated and engaged during repetitive tasks, listen to upbeat music. Studies show that it can boost both your efficiency and your mood. Be sure to choose songs in a major key, as these have a greater effect on productivity than songs in a minor key. Not sure how to tell major and minor keys apart? Major songs sound more uplifting — think “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles or “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson (here’s a quick cheat sheet of songs in major keys). On the other hand, minor songs sound more melancholy, like “Yesterday.”

But, don’t go blasting those tunes on repeat. To maximize productivity, play an upbeat song every time your attention starts to wane — it will act like a boost of energy.

Finding solace in the open floor plan

Sometimes you need a playlist that doesn’t necessarily fit with any specific scenario. Rather, you’re looking for music to help you find your center.

Not all of us are compatible with open floor plans, especially introverts who tend to be more productive when they’re not surrounded by dozens of side conversations. While we can’t escape the office forever, ambient music can help improve your daily work experience.

MyNoise is a free noise generator that lets you pick a “color” of noise based on a spectrum of low to high frequencies, each with its own properties and effects. “White” noise, for example, is a fuzzy, static sound that can help drown out office chatter. We all react to color mixtures differently, however, so experiment with a few.

If color noise isn’t your thing, try nature sounds. Rainy Mood plays the comforting sound of rain hitting the roof, even giving you the option to adjust the amount of thunder or chirping birds you hear.

Prefer a more urban soundtrack? Coffitivity recreates the ambient sounds of your favorite cafe, complete with the clanging of coffee cups and murmurs of conversation.

Prepping for a presentation or important meeting

You’re nervous, but on the surface you look calm and ready. Sound like you before a big presentation or meeting? Take a note from President Obama’s book and listen to your favorite pump-up music before stepping out on stage.

Sports psychologist Bradley Busch advises athletes to play music that reminds them of their “highlight reel” before big games. This same idea also works for business — if you associate Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” with that time you knocked a pitch meeting out of the park, listening to it right before another major meeting will put you in the right mindset.

Everyone’s highlight reel will be different, but here’s a playlist with some of the top hits.

Lowering your stress levels

Some work days call for a glass of wine or piece of chocolate cake. But, before reaching for that fork, have you tried listening to some flute music? While not as immediately obvious for de-stressing, soothing music can reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Look for music with a steady, rhythmic beat — the slow beat can actually reduce the frequency of your brainwaves. Celtic, Indian, drum, and flute music can all help take the edge off after a stressful day.

Pump up your productivity

Music has always been there, helping to soothe a broken heart or keeping you company during your daily commute. There’s no reason why it can’t help you create a more enjoyable way to do your work, too.

A simple playlist with the right kind of songs can turn you into a productivity powerhouse. From pink noise to pop, music has the potential to lift your spirits, calm your mind, and sharpen your focus.

So, the next time you’re in a slump and battling procrastination, turn up the jams and rock on.

What’s your favorite ‘productivity playlist’? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Written by Emily Esposito on July 25, 2018.



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