creativity focus music productivity

Friends With Benefits

One of the greatest gifts available to us on this Big Blue Marble is the ability to appreciate and connect with musical artists such as Steve Reich, Playboi Carti, and Underworld. For many of us, the intensity of the emotional connection we develop with music can, at times, transcend even our closest friendships. 

Bach. Lizzo. Cher. And like relying on our best friends, every day, we turn to music to lubricate the rough road of life. To get us through the day. With style. With rhythm. With art.

Grace Jones. Nina Hagen. Hello Seahorse! We’re never alone. 

Music that doesn’t so much make us think, but make us feel. Unwavering. Loyal. Our favorite tracks stand by us, and we, by them. Doing the dishes, stymied in traffic, or striding through that final mile of a workout, music is, for many if not most of us, our constant, trusted companion. 

Billy Joel. Billie Eilish. Billy Porter. So, it makes sense that we turn to music while we work.  

Which is where we should really think twice.

You wouldn’t bring your best (human) friends to work, would you? You wouldn’t. You shouldn’t. You’d never get anything done. There’s a time and a place for friends–and it’s not in the workplace.

Yes, of course, our daily grinds can get dehumanizingly dull. And, sure, having a best buddy around would certainly spice up that slog. But, be honest. How are we supposed to focus? To concentrate? To make our deadlines?

Same goes for our music. Our favorite music can dramatically harm our productivity. Those artists and their beloved tunes are the literal definition of distraction. They activate the mind in more ways than one. Every primal part of us wants to sing and dance along to the beat. And this distraction pulls focus from the task at hand. It slows our asses down, and prevents us from doing the things we want to do, we need to do, we must do. 

We’ve looked before at how music affects our emotions, but let’s take a deeper dive here. In short, music can be an excellent companion to focus, as long as it’s the right kind of music: 

  • Music offers a boost of positivity

The Journal of Positive Psychology conducted a study a few years ago, analyzing the connection between improved mood and music habits over time. In the span of merely two weeks, participants “reported higher increases in subjective happiness after listening to positively valenced music.” All that jargon just to say: Play happy music, get happy people. These feelings of happiness surely had an impact on their lives, as a happier mood is often associated with higher feelings of self-worth, which are tied to one’s ability to succeed in relationships, physical health, and a career. 

  • Music guides us through difficulty

When someone or someone dear to us passes away or breaks our heart, we are filled with anger and grief. Our hearts and minds look for ways to cope. Often, we reach for our favorite tunes. Recent studies suggest that after intimate relationships are broken, humans often look for a surrogate to replace the lost personal bond. In many cases, music steps in as a surrogate, providing the answer, the temporary rock on which to lean. 

  • Music improves our physical wellbeing

It’s been scientifically proven that music plays a therapeutic role in the limbic system. The research on this topic is endless. In fact, it’s been reported that patients who listen to music often claim that they don’t need much medication after major surgeries, contrasted to those who don’t have access to music. Maybe it’s a medical mystery; maybe it’s a placebo effect, but one thing that’s certain is music can be a powerful force for healing. 

All of that’s amazing, right?

Buddy Rich. Buddy Guy. Buddy Holly. Music can be your best friend, providing enormous benefit through emotional bolstering. But that’s a problem from nine to five (or whatever your work schedule): When you’re working, you don’t want your emotions per se stimulated. You don’t want to be emotionally moved. Motivated, yes. Moved⁠—no.

The average song, though it might seem simple (especially in the pop genre) ⁠— like the average human friend ⁠— is a bundle of complexity requiring your attention–getting your attention even when you try to ignore it. 

If you really want to flow in the work zone, you need music specifically curated, designed, and produced ⁠— scientifically engineered ⁠— to to help you focus on exactly what you’re working on. 

Judy Garland. Rachmaninoff. RZA. We love them. We love them so. But they’ve got to go when you punch in. Listen to them on the way home, during your lunch hour, or later, when you can pay them the attention they deserve. 

Not at work. At work, try to listen to focus@will. Visit focusatwill.com. 

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