Listen Up: Best Music Genres to Boost Work Productivity

Whether it’s the snooze-inducing soft jazz of the dentist’s chair, or the bad cover versions of old hits that waft out of supermarket speakers, most of us don’t have great associations between music mixes and getting ish done.

And why should we? We’ve long been told that music–even the stuff we love–can serve as a major distraction that ruins our concentration, right?

Turns out the correct answer is “not always.”

The market research company Mindlab International conducted a study with 26 individuals over the course of five days. Participants were instructed to complete a series of tasks including equation solving, proofreading, data entry and abstract reasoning–while listening to music and in silence–in order to find which produces the fastest and most accurate results.

Researchers also measured the individual effects of various categories of music. They tested different musical genres against each other to see if certain styles affected performance in a particular way. The results demonstrated that what kind of music we put in our ears really does affect the quality of work.

Regardless of genre, 88% of the study’s participants were more accurate when listening to music than when working in silence. Additionally, 81% of them were faster at their work.

So should we leave the tunes on all day at work? Not exactly. Aside from the problems that could arise when musical tastes among co-workers collide, researchers at the University of Toronto and Macquarie University in Australia found that listening to background instrumental music can negatively affect reading comprehension. Seeing as the whole “comprehending” part of reading is rather important, you’ll want to take it down a notch if you want to understand the sentences in front of you.

But for data-entry, proofreading and simple math? Here’s how to rock on:

THE TASK: Proofreading your start-up’s Marketing Plan before sending it out.
THE MUSIC: Electronic
WHY: Listening to dance music resulted in the highest accuracy rates in spell-checking and increased proof-reading speed by 20 percent.


THE TASK: Creating budgets
THE MUSIC: Classical
WHY: If you’re facing number-based tasks, try plugging into Mozart. Classical music was found to be the best genre for boosting the solution rate for everyday mathematical problems.

THE TASK: Entering past-month expenses into a new database
THE MUSIC: Ambient
WHERE TO LISTEN: The Free Music Archive
WHY: Also known as “downtempo,” ambient music puts atmosphere and mood above rhythm or melody. Ambient pioneer Brian Eno actually says ambient music should be “ignorable”. While it might not get your toes tapping, Mindlab says it improved the accuracy of their test subjects’ data entry significantly.

THE TASK: Whatever-it-is-I-need-to-get-it-done-in-the-next-hour
LABG_MusicProductivity_3THE MUSIC: Pop
WHERE TO LISTEN:’s top pop stations
WHY: When you need to up your overall output but just can’t handle an eighth cup of coffee, it’s time to turn on the Top 40. Over half of the study’s participants increased their data-entry speed while listening to pop music. Hey, they don’t call her Taylor Swift for nothing.