First thing I do after booting up my computer in the morning is to click on the Media Player – a CD is already in place and ready for the next song.
(Yes, I do subscribe to Pandora, but with 779 CDs in my collection, I like going through them, A-Z, so rarely use other services – plus, no commercials.)
The reason I bring it up is that I’ve recently come across several articles and studies on the benefits of having music in the background, including increasing creativity. Here are five ways to use music while you work —
1. Use music to maintain focus
In a recent post on “15 Smart Hacks for Maximizing Productivity,” S.J. Scott, an expert on habit-setting, and best-selling author, listed listening to music as a way to maintain focus and stay productive, but with a caveat:
“However, everybody is different, so it may take some experimentation to find music that helps you focus. A good tool for this is Focus At Will — it uses music scientifically driven to improve your concentration.”
2. Use music to limit your distractions
Total quiet can amplify the call of distractions like Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, email, and other digital pings and beeps. Music can dull, even mask, those intrusions.
If you find these distractions intruding on your important projects (and for some reason cannot just turn them off), you might do a test – See how many times you’re pulled away from your productive work by these distractions when the room is quiet – then how often when you have music playing in the background. If the distractions are a big problem, and if it’s convenient, try the music through ear buds or a headset. The results may surprise you.
3. Keep the music to a moderate noise level – and improve creativity
The Buffer Blog had an interesting post, “8 Surprising Ways Music Affects and Benefits our Brains.” Perhaps the most useful section was on your music’s optimum loudness level –
“We all like to pump up the tunes when we’re powering through our to-do lists, right? But when it comes to creative work, loud music may not be the best option.
It turns out that a moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity. Even more than low noise levels, ambient noise apparently gets our creative juices flowing, and doesn’t put us off the way high levels of noise do.
The way this works is that moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty, which promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity. In other words, when we struggle (just enough) to process things as we normally would, we resort to more creative approaches.
In high noise levels, however, our creative thinking is impaired because we’re overwhelmed and struggle to process information efficiently.”
4. Can music enhance your creativity?
LERA Blog published a post this past December addressing this question. Among their key points:
Research has proven a direct link between music and cognitive ability. It has also shown that workers who listen to music are more productive. … But creativity is more difficult to measure. … Perhaps the best way to measure the function of music in relation to creativity is to test it for yourself. Perform a self-test: alternate days in which you listen to music and days you do not, and track the work you completed each day. Later, go back and see which work you deem most creative, then see if you listened to music on the day you produced it.
The post goes on to suggest similar testing on different types of music. Methodical person that I am, I have my CDs lined up A-Z by artist, then on those with multiple performers, A-Z by title. Then I play them in order. And having a very eclectic collection (country to Broadway to rock-n-roll to opera), I avoid any “creative ruts” the author warns against:
You will also have to consider familiarity. If you do discover that music enhances your creativity, you might also find that you build a sort of “tolerance” for it over time, and the effect music has on your creativity wears off. … but if you do, you could revert to alternating “music days” or simply to employing music whenever you hit a creative rut.
I like my way better 🙂
5. Use music to enhance your mood
The New York Times reported on research by Dr. Teresa Lesiuk, an assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami, who explores how music affects workplace performance.
In one study, she found that workers who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn’t, because the music improved their mood.
“When you’re stressed, you might make a decision more hastily; you have a very narrow focus of attention,” she said. “When you’re in a positive mood, you’re able to take in more options.”
Carrying this a bit further, if you write fiction, it could be interesting to see if turning off the music helps your mood “darken” for those non-upbeat scenes. Or, does changing the music genre change your mood – which, if it does, could help you write better and faster as your book moves through its different “moods.”
Dennis Becker talks about this in his Unlock the Creator in You:
Music reaches in and touches your soul. It can bring you up, and it can bring you down. It can bring you to a particular moment in your history. It can spark amazing new ideas and get the juices flowing for you to be more creative than ever before.
Related information: Music and Creativity, research at Georgia Tech, supported by the National Science Foundation