What Music To Listen To For Increased Productivity

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
By Kelsey Manning

As a graphic designer by day and a writer by night, I’m fascinated by the types of music that help me focus best. I am notorious for working while dancing in my seat— head bopping, foot tapping, or otherwise jamming out with my pink headphones. What am I listening to? Most likely Taylor Swift, which, for many productivity and music experts, is a huge no-no. But ask anyone on my team (even my bosses), and I promise, they will rave about my efficiency.

For graphic design, I find that bouncing along to catchy pop is perfectly viable (and, in fact, preferable to the dead silence of my open-plan office). On the other hand, any music with lyrics while I’m reading, writing, or really doing anything involving language is certain failure. I can’t focus at all. So, I took to the experts to ask about my bifurcated situation and suss out what types of music really do help one find ultimate focus.

The first company I encountered that addresses this very problem is Focus@Will, a Los Angeles-based startup that uses neuroscience to create music specifically designed for extending focus, reducing distractions, and retaining information. Focus@Will’s founder, Will Henshall, said that the idea for the company came about because thousands of people are in my exact situation.

“About half of all of employees in North America work in an open-plan office,” Henshall said. “For millennials, it’s up to 75%, so if you’re working in a situation like that and you have to get some targeted work done, you instinctively reach for the headphones. You want to block out the noise. The problem is, what do you listen to?”

With his background as a hit songwriter and musical researcher, Henshall was acutely aware of the ways in which music engages us. “Pretty much anything you listen to is designed to engage you one way or another, so if you put music on in the background that you like or that’s connecting with you, it’s actually going to distract you more than if you didn’t put it on, because the part of your brain that is emotionally or intellectually reacting with the music is going to be engaged,” he said.

For productivity’s sake, that wasn’t going to work. So Henshall gathered a team of music analysts, neuroscientists, and psychologists to research what music would keep people focused on the task at hand, rather than the music itself.

Click ahead to find out what they discovered and how you can up your productivity with some choice tunes.

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