Does Mozart really make you smart? Can turning up the beat turn up your productivity? The truth, as it turns out, is complicated.
To get to the bottom of this deep work dilemma, I pored over the research on which sounds are best for productivity, busting through myths and curating the best tracks for each genre. So fire up your laptop and plug in your headphones as we find your next favorite productivity playlist.
What Deep Work Author Cal Newport Says About Listening to Music While You Work
Since the term “deep work” was made popular by Cal Newport’s best-selling book of the same name, let’s find out his take on music’s effect on concentration.
“What I’ve learned is you have to train or habituate yourself to whatever the music type is,” Newport said in an interview with Author Hour. As an example, Newport spoke of an author who wrote a million words in one year while listening to, of all things, Metallica.
“I’ve found this again and again,” Newport continued, “people habituate the different types of music, and then the actual content of the music doesn’t really matter. It’s the ritual they built up.”
In the same vein, music (especially a specific song, playlist, or genre) can serve as a cue that triggers a habit. As described by James Clear, a habit loop consists of:
Like Pavlov’s dogs, we can train ourselves to react in the desired way to a specific cue (in Pavlov’s dog’s case, the mere sound of a bell was enough to make them salivate in expectation of food). So, in the same way, that a dinging sound prompts you to check your iPhone or lying down in bed makes you feel sleepy, a song or playlist that you consistently work to may prompt you to “get in the zone” and be productive.
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