Do you have the perfect playlist? Not all playlists are created equal! You need one for every work pace:
- Peak performance playlist
- Deep work playlist
- Cool down playlist
Let’s say you have a big meeting, interview, or negotiation and you need to pump yourself up. You could review your notes or do a few practice sessions, but what about picking the right playlist? Does music affect your effectiveness?
The answer is yes!
- Pre-task music: This is music that gets you in the right mindset before the task at hand.
- During-task music: This is music you listen to while you are working to stay on track and enhance performance.
- Post-task music: This is music to help you wind down, recover, and cool down after an intense task.
Step #1: What’s Your Tempo of Work?
Think about your task—how do you want to work? Do you want a fast-paced, rhythmic kind of productivity? Or do you want smooth, flowing creativity?
The tempo of your work should match the tempo of your music.
Structural Tasks: With filing, organizing, or quick tasks, you want something with a fast beat such as techno, rap or songs with fast-paced pop. The beat will help you work faster.
Creative Tasks: Let’s say you are working on a creative or flow task. You want smooth music with no breaks or chops. With these tasks, you’ll want classical, smooth jazz, or instrumentals to help you ease into the work.
#2: Harness Emotions
Another amazing thing about music is it can bring up emotions, nostalgia, and memories. For example, if you want to feel proud of your work or powerful, you might want to add the Rocky movie theme song “Gonna Fly Now” or “Eye of the Tiger” to your playlist. If you want to feel happy, upbeat, and peppy, you might want to add “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. You also can leverage memories. Ask yourself:
- What music reminds me of how I want to feel?
- Is there a movie soundtrack that tells the story I want for my story?
- Is there a song from my teenage or college years that will get me in the right mindset?
Slot your answers to these questions into each of your playlists based on the emotions you want to feel pre-task, during-task, and post-task.
#3: Use Your Personality
Researcher Anneli Haake was curious if everyone responds to music the same way. She found that extroverts tend to work better while listening to music, while introverts find music distracting.
Are you an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert (in-between)? → Take the Free Quiz!
If you are an extrovert, your ‘During-task Playlist’ is even more important.
For introverts, your “Pre-task” and “Post-task” playlists are more important. During your task, you might want white noise, purely instrumental music, or simply noise-canceling headphones as your “playlist.” I personally found this study very interesting because I am an ambivert – in between extrovert and introvert. I like a musical balance, and I often find myself working to music with no words.
#4: Context Matters
Context or environment also might change your music choices. For example, if you work in a loud, bustling open office, you might want louder, more high-paced music to block out what’s around you. Or maybe to counteract your crazy environment, you need quiet and soothing music.
Think about how music can counterbalance your context or enhance it.
Special Note: You might also think about how changes in context might hinder your performance. For example, athletes often work out or train listening to music, but during competition, they often are not allowed to do that. This can throw them off their game, because the music changed the context. Make sure that if you are practicing with music, you can keep the same energy when you are doing your actual task. If you are practicing for a presentation with classical music, ALSO practice to a big silent room.
#5: Pure Music
In 1995, researchers asked pairs of runners who had posted equal speeds in past races to compete against each other in a 60-meter dash.
- One group was asked to stand in silence before the race.
- The other group was asked to listen to the Rocky theme song on headphones before the race.
Not only did the Rocky listeners run faster, but in the moments following listening to the music, right before the start of the race, their heartbeats were quicker and their anxiety was lower.
It’s as if the Rocky theme song was not only their mental warm-up, it was ALSO their physical warm-up. The music helped get their physical bodies in the right zone.
Set Up Your Playlists!
Now it’s time for you to set up your task-related playlists! Here are some ideas for you.
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About Vanessa Van Edwards
Lead Investigator, Science of People
I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.
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