Workin’ 9 to 5? Songs to Get Productive

A deadline looms. The clock is ticking. Yet it’s too loud in the office – your desk mate’s yakking on the phone, the coffee machine is whirring. So you relocate, ahhh... No actually, now it’s too quiet. Your mind is adrift. 5 minutes till deadline...

Sound familiar? Sometimes the brain needs a little help to focus and music can be just the thing. While there’s a lot of research out there on music cognition, I thought it’d be fun to simply share some music suggestions for various work tasks, as brought to you by our brilliant SearchLove speakers. If blasting these through your headphones doesn’t appeal, get busy suggesting your own tunes in the comments section below.

Sifting through emails

It’s morning time. A barrage of emails awaits, involving some typing but nothing too mentally taxing.

Choice of song? Apparently music that’s 60 beats-per-minute is conducive to putting you in a positive, relaxed frame of mind. If you’re into classical, try Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. For pop/rock, whack on something like Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Mumford & Sons, The Smiths, and some good ol’ fashioned Motown are mainstays in my playlist. David Mihm, Moz

Writing jobs

Now you’ve had your coffee, it’s time to break out the writing pad. When picking that album, chances are you’ll want to avoid songs with lyrics. Because your brain can’t help but mentally process the words, these will distract you from the task at hand.

Still hankering for some vocal? Try music in another language. Or a bit of Sigur Ros’ invented idiom.

If I'm coding or designing, I listen to electronica. If I need to focus on writing content articles, I pick some good piano music, but I still have to find some good "focus" music that helps with writer's block. Grace Ng,

Solving complex problems

According to the The Mozart effect, listening to Mozart boosts intelligence and possibly IQ scores. Unfortunately, this is only temporary but hey, it's better than a slap in the face with a wet fish.

Try Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major.

Soothing sounds in general can help to focus the mind.

 I listen to the Rainymood app. Weather white noise heaven. Molly Flatt, 1000heads

Spreadsheet stuff

It’s after lunch and the spreadsheets are calling. That might mean it’s time to crank out the power metal (or thrash/speed depending on your preference), which can be conducive to productivity when waist-deep in endless rows of numbers. And, funnily enough, some people claim there’s a link between a love of heavy metal and high intelligence.

Another idea: try listening to music you’re not familiar with. Though it’s tempting to return to your old favourites, these can slow you down – you’ll be waiting for that really great guitar riff near the end, or reminiscing about the first time you heard it (...those sticky dance floors, eh?).

Nothing gets my brain going like house music when I’m diving deep into data. John Gagnon, Microsoft


Tasks requiring long periods of focus can call for a particular type of music. House or trance might be a good choice. Unlike other dance music genres like drum ‘n’ bass, they’re relatively uniform in structure. Predictability is important here so that, rather than keeping the mind guessing, the music can operate on a more subconscious level.  

In the same way, film and video game soundtracks can sometimes be right on the money. They provide atmosphere without pulling too much attention. Try the Tron Legacy or Jonny Greenwood's Bodysong soundtrack.

An all-time coding favourite was, and will be for many years I imagine, The Social Network OST. Iain Haywood, The Competition Agency

Repetitive but easy tasks

Time to motor through some of the more menial stuff. Generally, you can get a bit more adventurous here. Go for something fun with a decent pace to get you moving.

I don’t listen to much music unless I’m doing a menial task. In those cases it’s Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Z, Drake. When I code I listen to Blockhead or RJD2. Michael King, I Pull Rank

If I'm super tight on deadlines and need motivation to get shit done fast, I whack on some Drum 'N' Bass. Phil Nottingham, Distilled

Getting creative

Ambient music may help get those mental cogs spinning. Go for a moderate sound level just above the noise of the office - this should kickstart your thought process without overwhelming you.   

How about plugging in some Efterklang?

For brainstorming, I like Stromae because he's quirky. David Sottimano, Distilled

Before a meeting

It’s almost the end of the day and the sofa beckons. But first you need to impress your boss or some important bigwig. Choice of song? Unlike pretty much all the tasks mentioned above, this one should grab your attention and affect you on a more conscious level.

For motivation...

For guts...

For energy...

I find that high-tempo electronic music is great for working to – it seems to make me type faster. Generally, lyrics harm my ability to get work done and if I get bored of the electronica, I sometimes stick on some classical. Will Critchlow, Distilled

And then it's home time. As you fly out the door, how about a little you-know-what?


...Or maybe you like no music at all.

I can’t work with music, even instrumental music, because my writing starts to follow the rhythm and form of what I’m hearing. Fast, staccato rap? I’ll write short, choppy sentences. Flowing, mellifluous tones of Mozart? Expect long clauses and even longer sentences. Margot Bloomstein, Appropriate, Inc

If the area of music cognition interests you, take a look at Focus@Will, a music tool scientifically designed to improve attention spans while working.

So, what music blasts through your headphones at work? Care to share in the comments below? And if you fancy meeting any of the SearchLove speakers quoted above, check out our events page. Our next two-day online marketing conference is hitting London on October 27/28th. And in case you’re wondering, yes, there’ll be some great music playing.

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