The Right Kind of Music Could Help You Excel at What You Do


The Right Kind of Music Could Help You Excel at What You Do

A friend of mine told me once, after visiting the gym, that hearing a particular techno/dance song in class enabled him to lift around 40% more weight than he otherwise could.

Many people listen to carefully selected playlists that help them run faster and with less effort. It’s also common for public speakers to listen to music before they get on stage because this helps them get into the right state for engaging the audience and presenting most effectively.

Music can also sway our emotions in an instant. Just look at movies, commercials or even reality shows. The chosen soundtracks, even the ridiculous ‘tension music’ played while an unfortunate cooking show contestant serves a slightly overcooked piece of chicken to the judges, are essential parts of the story-telling.

I’m sure you know exactly what to listen to when you want to cheer up, let off steam, connect with a loved one or be carried back to the past. But have you ever wondered how listening to the right sort of music can make you more productive and successful in business?

The spell of music.

Music affects how you feel, how you think, and what you do (And I’m not only talking about those moments when you simply can’t stop yourself dancing).

The right types of music can:

  • Energise and motivate you to get things done.
  • Make boring, repetitive tasks more interesting, so that you actually tackle them instead of procrastinating endlessly.
  • Make you feel happier, more confident and more optimistic (Positive emotions have an enormous impact on most aspects of work; listing them could fill another article).
  • Help you get in touch with the part of yourself you want to be in that moment; whether a wise man, an adventurer, a fighter, or a productivity queen or king.
  • Make it easier for you to focus on what you’re doing and stay in the zone as long as you need to, taming your monkey brain (Putting the headphones on can also help block out distractions).
  • Help you think more creatively (An architecture professor I knew often listened to Mozart when designing buildings, and his designs were, in fact, a little bit Mozart-like).
  • Help you get into other people’s shoes and understand their feelings and experiences.
  • Invite you to relax when it’s time for you to take a break and recharge.

What to look for.

What types of music work well in different situations, of course, depends on the individual. But science can give you some direction in case you’re open to experimenting with your playlists.

According to research, the genre, the lyrics, the tempo, the volume, and the key/mood of the music all have some impact on how you perform at work:


Baroque music is found to be excellent for improving productivity and focus. Electronic tracks can also help you stay present and switched on, and because of their repetitive nature, they are usually unobtrusive. Interestingly, video game music is highly recommended by experts. Just think about it; game music is specifically composed to assist players to perform often complex and challenging tasks without distracting them.


Music with lyrics can help you immerse yourself in repetitive, mundane tasks, but can be distracting when your work requires much of your attention and brain power. You’ll probably find that instrumental music without lyrics works better for complex tasks. Listening to music with lyrics can also make it difficult to read or write because the language centre of your brain is trying to run two processes simultaneously.


Can you imagine that music with the right tempo may increase your intelligence? One study found that students who listened to upbeat music performed better on IQ tests compared to those who listened to slow music. On the other hand, music with around 60 beats per minute could help you significantly reduce stress.


Listening to music at medium volume (i.e. roughly as loud as the sound of a vacuum cleaner) is probably best to enhance your creativity. High volume music may help open up your mind to abstract thinking but is likely to decrease your ability to process information.


Studies show that background music written in a major key better supports productivity than music written in a minor key. This could be explained by the fact that music in a major key tends to sound more cheerful. Either way, if the music you’re listening to lifts your mood and makes you feel empowered, you can’t really go wrong.

Choose what works for you.

I trust you’ll enjoy trying out new types of music and experimenting with what works for you. Chances are that your reactions will defy science (For example, hard rock really helps me to get into a dreamy state and excel in design).

Whichever kind of music you choose, remember that business comes first, and so music should not distract you from getting your work done nor anyone else around you.

Sometimes you might find that silence is your best friend; especially when you need a clear headspace or your work requires 100% of your attention. Or perhaps you’ll want to work in a quiet space all the time. Or like fellow Smallville Contributor, Bronwyn Reid, my accountability buddy, you simply can’t stand working in a silent room.

Many professionals already draw on the power of music to perform better. Some software developers work more efficiently and produce better quality work when listening to the right tunes. And surgeons have been seen to perform operations more accurately when listening to well-selected music. Chances are that with the right choice of songs you can also improve your results!

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  • Nic Zymaras

    I couldn’t agree more Anetta, music acts like a key to unlock parts of the brain for a variety of tasks. The music I listen to while I work is completely different from my workout music and I could never swap them around for the same results. As a graphic designer I like to listen to music without words in order to stay right-brained while I work. Punching a group of genres like “Downtempo Lofi Chillout Lounge” or similar into Youtube yield some excellent results.

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