Shortly after starting at HubSpot, I was greeted with fresh orange noise-canceling headphones. Little did I know at the time that these headphones would carry me through many long work days and some of the deepest, darkest levels of writer’s block.
Over three years later, they really are the gift that is given over and over again.
You see, for me, listening to music while I work is the secret of my productivity. All it takes is the right Beyoncé track and I’m going from idle to overproductive. (Seriously, it works like a charm.)
The problem is, finding the perfect playlist is not always easy. With endless streaming music possibilities at my fingertips, it can be difficult to find just the right tunes to get the wheels going. So, I did what we do best here – a little research.
As it turns out, there are a multitude of studies that examine the influence of certain types of music on your productivity.
To help you find just the right mix, we’ve compiled and curated seven Spotify playlists specially designed for specific studies. Whether you like Mozart or Chance The Rapper, we’re confident that something on this list will do the trick.
Note: Some of the playlists contain explicit language tracks that may not be suitable for the office.
7 Science-Backed Office Music Playlists for Productivity
1. Classical music
One of the most cited studies of music and productivity is the “Mozart Effect”, which concluded that listening to Mozart every day can improve “abstract thinking” skills for even a short period of time.
The study – led by researchers Gordon Shaw, Frances Rauscher and Katherine Ky – employed 36 Cal Irvine students who were divided into three groups. Group one listened to a Mozart selection, while group two listened to a relaxation tape and group three endured 10 minutes of silence.
After listening activity, all 36 students received the same test, in which the Mozart group increased their IQ by an average of eight to nine points compared to the other groups.
Since then, the “Mozart Effect” has been hotly contested, but many researchers have explored the mental benefits of learning and listening to classical music. For example, a recent study found that elementary school children who participated in music composition education outperformed students in a control group for reading comprehension.
Do you think classical music could work for you? Check out this classically influenced playlist to find out for yourself:
2. Video game soundtracks
“Choosing the right video game soundtrack is about understanding what kind of music motivates and distracts you when you need to focus,” said Emmy Jonassen, Vice President of Acquisition at HubSpot (and former video game marketing consultant).
“For example, if you’re the type of guy who focuses and listens to energetic music, rhythm soundtracks like Thumper’s or Klang’s might work well. Conversely, if you need calmness to focus, the quiet soundtracks from exploration games like ABZÛ and Journey could do the trick. With thousands of games released each year, including many independent titles, there is a soundtrack that fits every ear, “she continued.
Think about it: playing a video game takes a lot of focus. To advance to the next level, players usually have to avoid traps, avoid obstacles, and discover secret tools that will help them advance to the next level. As a result, music choices for video games are often very strategic, as modern soundtracks reflect epic, inspirational film music rather than just basic sound effects.
And while studies have shown mixed results, there is evidence that gamers may experience improved performance when they play a game with the volume turned on.
For example, when psychology professor Siu-Lan Tan and her colleagues John Baxa and Matt Spackman examined the game “Twilight Princess”, they found that participants who played with both music and sound effects performed worse than those who played with it.
Would you like to try it on for size? Check the playlist below:
3. Nature sounds
According to psychophysical data and sound field analysis published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, hearing “natural” sounds could improve cognitive functions, improve your concentration, and increase your satisfaction.
Think: waves crash, birds chirp, streams trickle and the like.
This could explain why more consumer-centric brands – from Google Home to the newer Noisli – are introducing such ambient noise to help listeners relax or focus. It could also be behind Spotify’s numerous nature-themed playlists, like this calming one:
4. Pump up songs
After Derek Rucker, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, and three of his colleagues – Loran Nordgren, Li Huang and Adam Galinsky – discovered that many athletes arrive at the stadium with headphones on, they set about answering the question: do you hear right to? Music do we feel more powerful or more controlled?
The research group carried out a study back in 2014 to determine how music can influence motivation and subsequent behavior. First they played several songs for participants in a laboratory and asked them on a scale of one to seven how powerful, dominant and determined they felt after listening to each song. There were three “High Power” winners: “We Will Rock You” from Queen, “Get Ready for This” from 2 Unlimited and “In Da Club” from 50 Cent.
To assess how the music would affect their behavior, they asked participants to listen to the music and then determine whether or not they wanted to come first or second in a debate. As it turned out, those who listened to the high-performing playlist volunteered to go first almost twice as often as those who heard a less-performing playlist.
The lesson? “Just like professional athletes could strengthen the music before they step on the field to put them in a strong state of mind,” explained Rucker, “you could try [this] in specific situations where you want to be empowered. “
The next time you want to feel empowered before a big presentation, interview, or salary review, read this roundup:
Want more? Take a look at the tips from my colleague Amanda Zantal-Wiener here.
5. Instrumental songs
In 2015, Middle Tennessee State University researchers Carol A. Smith and Larry W. Morris discovered that students who listened to “calming” music during a test scored higher than those who listened to lyrical music. (This is somewhat in contrast to their first results 39 years ago, which showed that while music did not affect test scores, those who listened to “stimulating music” showed a significant increase in worry and highly emotional responses.)
That’s not to say it’s totally impossible to cross things off your list while listening to songs with words – I actually prefer lyrical music, but my colleague Amanda Zantal-Wiener joked about hip-hop verses accidentally slipping into hers first drafts slipped when she heard songs with words. If you are like them and find the lyrics too distracting, there are a few instrumental options you might want to experiment with.
For these times, check out these no-text melodies – we promise they won’t put you to sleep:
6. “Feel Good” songs
Buried in deadlines? Are you trying to break free of a mountain of emails after a while? Whatever bothers you, sometimes the best cure for loss of productivity is a solid dose of “feel good” music – you know, the kind that makes you spontaneously use a pen as a mime microphone.
But scientifically speaking, music can stimulate the same part of the brain as delicious food and other physical pleasures. For example, researchers at McGill University found that when participants received the opiod production-blocking drug naltrexone, they did not respond as positively to their favorite music as they normally would.
The judgment? Our brains are trained to naturally produce these chemicals when we listen to our preferred playlist.
And while “feel good” songs vary from person to person, a search for Spotify playlists with exactly those keywords will return dozens of results. That said, here is one of our favorites:
Can’t you get enough Here are a few more suggestions from my colleague Amanda.
7. White noise
According to a study Under the direction of Yamaguchi University: “When performing intellectual activities involving memory or arithmetic problems, it is common for noise to create an increased psychological impression of ‘anger’, which leads to a decrease in performance.”
Whether you work remotely with roommates or work in an office with noisy coworkers, it can be difficult to focus on conversations that are going on around you. Neutral, non-verbal background noise, such as white noise that is not the same as nature sounds, can eliminate these distractions – such as the noise of a restaurant or mall, an electric fan, or even a washing machine.
And in case you are wondering – yes. As with all of the above, there is a playlist for this:
So go ahead – focus, get pumped, feel good and rock.
What are your favorite songs to get your job done? Let us know in the comments.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and completeness.