How does music make you more productive?
Update: Thank you to the over 250 followers of the playlist. Please get in touch with song suggestions.
We knew the tracks had to be liked but also enjoyed on a lower subconscious level, sort of slipping between an in-between state of awareness. It seemed to be working, people were enjoying our music, they liked it, but also because they could block out the world and be super productive.
Being intrepid researchers, as every good general practice UXer should be, we wanted to know why it was working. So we did a bit of digging and came across some psychologists, scientists and doctors who could back up our theory with studies and reasoned rationale. Here’s what we found…
It’s all about attention.
We have two attention systems. An unconscious and conscious one. Our conscious one helps move our focus to a task in hand, dedicating a proportion of our cognitive power to solve a problem, but reserving some of that power for your unconscious attention. The unconscious attention is constantly on alert ready to shift towards anything else in your environment that your senses can pick up.
Our unconscious attention is far more simple compared to its more complex conscious counterpart. It operates on a more instinctive level rather than higher reasoning, you react quicker to it, we’re hardwired to its alerts. A way for us to keep ourselves safe even when our guard is down, quite clever really.
Have you ever been trying to focus in an open-plan office, when suddenly you’re unable to fully concentrate because someone behind you is clicking their pen or slurping their coffee? It’s these innocuous peripheral disturbances that distract our unconscious attention and therefore it eats into our conscious attention frame, and the task suffers for it. Because the unconscious attention is so active it doesn’t even have to be a major distraction to disrupt our focus.
This is the reason why music (but not just any old music) can help make us more productive. It can occupy our unconscious attention to a level where it’s not looking for every little sensory interruption to be a distraction, leaving us the mental capacity to take on more cognitively challenging modes of work. It’s kind of lulled into a state of occupied relaxation.
Just because, Science!
Psychologists call the ability to focus your attention on something whilst ignoring competing stimuli, selective attention, and without it, we wouldn’t get anything done.
Music can help put your mind into a specific state, and neuroscientists have discovered it’s because it can activate specific kinds of neuro-circuitry throughout the brain — and not just in the auditory cortex, but other areas like memory, analysis, and creativity. The right kind of music can stop your brain from reaching two undesirable states — distraction and habituation. We’ve just talked about how the unconscious brain can easily lead your mind astray with the simplest of distractions. But Habituation is just as dangerous. Basically, it’s when you become bored, the novelty of the new exciting thing you are doing has worn off, and you consciously or unconsciously seek some other form of interesting gratification. In recent times smartphones have been the main protagonist and antithesis to focussed work, and are a classic example of auto habit taking your task of course.
Why our playlist works
Our Design Sprint X playlist has been curated over many months and many workshops. We’ve listened to it whilst writing articles like this, testing and discerning the right kind of focus tracks. We had to find a balance to minimising lyrics, keeping it ‘chill’ but with enough ‘funk’ to keep you energised. The other key to any playlist or old school mixtape is to make the preceding track relatable to the previous one. We didn’t want to spook your focus by changing gears to a completely different melody. However, that being said there needs to be enough variety so that the brain doesn’t get bored and slip into a habituation cycle.
Don’t just take our word for it. We’ve had over 100 new Spotify followers in 7 days, it turns out they really like it too, here are some of the comments we’ve had…
I can honestly say that playlist has got me through this week! Had a mega tight deadline and it’s proper helped me zone out everything in the office haha!
I’m actually listening to it right now, it’s Saturday and we’re entertaining friends!
It’s a good set of music to almost zone out to, definitely feel like I’ve been able to concentrate better this morning!
So, now you know how to curate the perfect, productive playlist and why there is science behind your musical instinct when selecting tracks. If you haven’t got time to create a playlist or if you’re easily distracted, then give ours a try. We’re pretty sure it will keep your unconscious attention occupied, and stop you falling into a cycle of unproductive habituation. Let the ideas flow and the good times roll.
Update: Thank you to the over 200 followers of the playlist. Please get in touch with song suggestions.