For all of the high-energy party playlists rotting away on our phones, arranging a useful office-hours soundtrack continues to elude mankind. Music for when you’re chained to a desk is a beautiful proposition, but spinning your favorite artists can prove cancerous to productivity.
In fact, new research suggests that our music-related work habits are impairing our cognitive focus. Not only does drowning out noisy chatter with Ke$ha bury you in log-jamming distractions, reaching for noise-cancellation headphones isn’t the answer either.
For a corner-turning edge at work, you should be listening to chirping birds and babbling brooks.
A study conducted at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tested subjects in an open-office floor plan—communal benches, Silicon Valley-esque bright spaces—and had them work to either white noise, sounds of nature, or in complete silence. Overwhelmingly, listening to greatest hits by the great outdoors proved to be the most palatable path to productivity.
The study only worked with 12 subjects, but having spent the last several hours jamming out to waterfalls I can vouch for the practice: It’s simultaneously relaxing but just disjointed enough to not let you get swept away by the sonically pleasing beats. It keeps you alert, maybe because there’s some repressed instinct that wants to make sure a bear isn’t around the corner.
Be warned, however, that if you work from home and own a dog, she will definitely start barking at the birds.
H/T The Ferenstein Wire | Illustration by Max Fleishman