The Best Music to Get Through Your Work Day Is Definitely Not What You Think

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Based on a study performed by Spotify, most of us listen to music at work. Based on a whole lot of other studies, if you're one of those people, you're doing yourself more harm than good.

Science says that listening to music you like increases dopamine levels in your brain. It makes sense, then, that listening to music while you work increases performance: You feel good, so you work better. But there's a limit to what the human brain can handle. Listening to music that's too loud or cognitively demanding (music with complicated lyrics or changing patterns) actually decreases performance.

The best music to listen to while you work isn't technically music at all. It's ambient noise, it actually improves your performance and there's a whole host of places to find this magic music online.

Source: YouTube

Set aside the pop. There's a definite limit to the complexity of music that the human brain can handle before it's overloaded and unable to perform complicated tasks. With too much noise, your brain becomes overwhelmed and can't process new information. If you're working on a task that requires learning or coming up with creative ideas, lyrics especially can get in the way of your brain's normal processing functions.

But a little bit of noise helps creativity. Noise distracts your brain just enough to throw it off its normal patterns, causing your brain to come up with a more creative approach to the task at hand. You're struggling just enough to process information that you're forced to come up with alternate solutions. 

The study in question says, "Instead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one's comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly and thus generate creative ideas." The best middle ground between music and silence is ambient noise: the sounds you hear while you're at a coffee shop or library lounge, and even during thunderstorms and around crackling fireplaces. 

But if you can't literally "walk out" of your comfort zone because you're chained to a desk, there are some great options popping up on the Web. Sites like Noisli, A Soft Murmur and Coffivity are perfect substitutes to music if you're working on a difficult task. The websites are free and even have apps you can download to take the ambiance with you wherever you go. 

Source: Noisli

So it isn't about stopping the music, it's about changing what you're listening to. Listening to Katy Perry while you work can be useful when you're doing mindless tasks like cleaning out your inbox, but when it comes to actually focusing, the sound of a fire is going to do you more good than "Firework."

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Kate Beaudoin

Kate is a staff writer for Mic's music section. With an M.A. in journalism from NYU, she's written for Salon, NewYorkMagazine.com, and RollingStone.com. Kate hails from Montana, but eats pizza like a New Yorker—often and aggressively.

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