June 16

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Understand which music will help you focus better

By Ralph Varcoe

June 16, 2020

productivity hacks

6.9   Music but No Rap

Productivity hack no.61 from '60 Ways to Hurray! by Ralph Varcoe.


There’s something called ‘neuromusicology’. It looks at how our nervous system reacts to music. Music activates a number of different areas of the brain and these vary from person to person. Largely it depends on the type of training and interaction the person has had with music as to how many of the areas get lit up.

Despite these individual differences there are some common things that seem to affect us all. Research has shown that music can reduce confusion and delirium in patients and that if we listen to sad or happy music it can influence whether we perceive people to be sad or happy. This is a well understood phenomenon that’s used by film and television programme makers as they seek to influence our emotions during a drama.

A study from 2012 suggests that creativity increases with ambient noise (meaning music) in the background if played at a moderate volume. If too loud then creativity plunges. The sound of a flowing stream can improve mood and productivity, apparently (though at my age is more likely to make me want to pee!). Another study from 1999 showed that playing classical or rock music to a group of people enabled them to identify numbers more quickly and accurately than a control group. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association music increases the accuracy and efficiency of surgeons. Next time you are in for an operation ask the surgeon what they’re going to listen to while they poke around performing their cut-and-slice magic.

There’s a bit of a debate about whether music with words has a beneficial or detrimental impact on levels of productivity and focus. One school of thought says that words stimulate the brain and therefore they can be distracting while trying to concentrate. Therefore if the task you’re trying to undertake is reasonably taxing it is probably best to avoid music with lyrics.

If, on the other hand, the work is relatively repetitive and mundane, studies have shown that songs with lyrics can be beneficial, possibly because the words provide some relief from the boring and mind-numbing tasks being performed.

Whatever works for you is the right type of music. Try different genres and see how they impact your focus, concentration, and productivity.

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Ralph Varcoe

About the author

For over 20 years, Ralph has run sales and marketing teams across large enterprises and smaller start-ups, at companies such as Orange, Tata Communications, Virgin Media, Spirit Ai and others. He brings a wealth of experience in personal and professional development with a laser focus on enabling people to achieve more than they thought possible. He's a published author and musician with a passion for creating - be that change, the right solution, exciting campaigns, the right environment for customers to succeed, or podcasts, videos and written content.

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