Here's What You Should Listen To At Work

You probably already have some music-listening routine at work, but is it the right one? Your intuition about what you're listening to (or your decision to forego music altogether) may be misleading you. Contrary to what Mom said a zillion years ago when we tried to listen to Ace of Base while we did our homework, listening to music can make you more effective at your work, and the workers making the most mistakes may be those who choose to listen to no music at all.

The most recent piece of evidence in support of music while you work comes from researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston. They had 15 surgeons visit their lab to sew up incisions in presumably dead pigs' feet (yum). The surgeons performed the procedure twice, on consecutive days, and they were randomly chosen to have music playing the first day or not, although the music itself was left to the choice of the individual surgeon.

It all sounds a little silly but, as reported in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, the surgeons did quicker and higher quality work when they were listening to their preferred music. This is actually kind of a big deal, because longer surgeries are more expensive and require the patient to stay under potentially-dangerous anesthesia for longer. And better stitches make for a better recovery, too. Next time you're going under the knife, make sure your doctor has his or her Spotify subscription up to date!

This wasn't the first time that scientific research came down on the side of listening to music while you work. A 2014 study conducted by Mindlab International looked at a group of workers who listened to music while they were asked to complete tasks involving spelling, math, word problems, data entry, and abstract reasoning. Of the 26 participants, 88 percent worked most accurately, and 81 percent worked fastest while listening to music.

Moreover, the genre of music mattered in a pretty logical way. Classical music was good for the workers who had to focus on detail, pop music was good for boring work on a deadline, subtle ambient music was good for workers who had to solve equations, and dance music was good for checking work and problem solving more quickly. Score one for common sense.

Common sense about music and work is right in some other ways too, though. While music may make it easier for you to carry out work on familiar subjects, it interferes with learning things for the first time (or you would have had a background music-playing professor or boss by now). Music with lyrics can also be quite distracting when you're trying to work on an unrelated verbal task. Still, there's no reason to cut out the music from your workday altogether. Make smart listening choices, and you may even find yourself breezing out the door a little sooner.

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