DePaul University Career Center's Blog

To Listen or Not to Listen: Music vs. Productivity

By: Gracie Covarrubias, DePaul University organizational and multicultural communication major ’18 and Career Center communications assistant

It’s hard to imagine a world without music nowadays; we’re determined to find the right song for every moment—even the job search requires a special playlist. Spotify and Apple Music have completely revitalized the way we approach music, especially when it comes to playing tunes in the workplace. In the academic world, however, there’s a raging debate as to whether or not listening to music while we work will have positive or negative effects on our productivity.

So, what exactly are experts saying about the dispute?

Don’t always listen to music with lyrics

This debate in particular is central to researchers. Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford University, states, “Music with lyrics is very likely to have a problematic effect when you’re writing or reading.” It makes sense; when you’re focused on a comprehension-heavy task, the lyrics to your favorite song are likely to distract and therefore impede your success. However, music with lyrics may not affect mathematical tasks due to the decreased reliance on the language parts of the brain, according to Nass. In that case, perhaps you’re much better off listening to lyric-filled music when formatting a resume as opposed to when you’re creating content for a cover letter.

Understand your mood and pick music accordingly

Studies have proven that listening to music affects your mood drastically; researchers have even gone as far as sharing the benefits music has on individuals coping with depression.

Now, if you’re desperate to listen to music while working, it’s important to assess your mood before picking that perfect playlist. For example, let’s say you’re faced with a complex multi-step task at work that’s making you anxious; in this case, researchers would suggest electing for a calming musical playlist and saving Skrillex for later. If you’re feeling upbeat and want to keep the momentum going on an assignment then a jazzier playlist would perhaps better suit your situation.

When it comes to music and the way it impacts your productivity, it’s not a matter of just playing your favorite playlist; it’s more about consciously catering your music choice to your mood and the assignment at hand. Don’t know where to start? Check out 100 Most Uplifting Songs Ever on Spotify, for those days where you’re conquering job applications and updating your resume. Need some motivation to get you through the workplace hustle and bustle? Try listening to At Work. Need some calming vibes because the job search is stressing you out? Listen to Relax and Unwind.

At the end of the day, music is going to have a profound impact on your productivity and it’s up to you to channel that impact into the momentum you need to finish a work assignment or power through the job hunt. One thing is for sure—the soundtrack to your life should be filled with the kind of motivation that best suits you. Make sure you take the time to identify what does and doesn’t work for you!

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