Does music help writers focus?

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Have you ever wondered if music helps writers focus? Researchers have been able to give us a few inklings….

By Ann Gomez

After a recent workshop, I received an email from an associate who asked a great question:

Do you have any thoughts on listening to music while working? I will put on different music during different tasks or parts of the day and have convinced myself it helps me stay focused. But…isn’t this multi-tasking?

I admit I had to respond with a bit of the standard “consultant” answer, which is: it depends! Listening to music while you work is a very individual thing. Some people find music helps them focus, while others find it to be a distraction.

I don’t consider having music in the background as multitasking, as long as it’s in the background, while you focus on another task. Similarly, while I worked on my response to this associate, I could hear my son gaming with his friend in another room. I could see it was snowing (in Spring) outside my front window, and my dad was in the driveway dropping off my middle son after school. But these things were happening in the background.

You have a bunch of stuff happening in the background, too. And music can be part of that.

Multitasking occurs when we stop focusing on one task to focus on another. A classic example is email. If I were to stop thinking about “music and focus” and shift to processing an email from a colleague, THAT would be multitasking, or task-switching, which is a more descriptive term.

We know focusing leads to better work. But do we really need to block out all noise in order to focus? It sounds to me like music is giving this associate a productivity boost, which may be true for all of us.

Here are some indicators of how music may help us focus.

1 – Music may improve our concentration

Music can help drown out other (more distracting) background noises and may also engage the area of the brain involved with paying attention. This helps us focus on the present task and avoid drifting off to other topics.

Experts usually recommend non-lyrical music, but that isn’t a must if you can still focus with Lady Gaga singing along in the background. Some say that classical music is a great way to increase concentration. Other researchers claim music helps us to organize incoming information. Still others say music with a constant beat helps us march along in a productive fashion. Slow classical music (with timing similar to that of a human heart at rest) is supposed to help us concentrate best of all. Regardless, music without words is recommended.

2 – Music may boost our learning

Researchers coined the “Mozart Effect” to describe the short-term enhancement of spatial-temporal skills, such as those crucial in math and chess, after listening to Mozart’s compositions. Does this translate into better problem-solving skills in the workplace? This appears to be an untested question, but certainly an interesting theory.

It is worth noting Albert Einstein allegedly credited much of his intelligence to having learned to play the violin. But some researchers caution this so-called “Mozart Effect” is minimal (or non-existent), so we should not expect to turn into geniuses by simply tuning into the classics.

3 – Music can inspire creativity

Some proponents argue music, especially upbeat tunes, helps clear mental blocks and boost creativity. Like a lullaby effect, perhaps music puts the anxious, unfocused part of the mind to sleep so the productive side can get to work. Regardless, we know music can help spice up a task.

4 – Music helps to improve our mood

It is hard to be productive if we are not in a good mood. Music improves our mood, resulting in higher levels of dopamine – the ultimate feel-good neurotransmitter. Music also reduces stress hormone levels by as much as 41%. This alone could help lead to more flow and natural decisions in our day.

Ultimately, the answer to the question, does music help writers focus, may be a question only you can answer. And if your answer is yes, by all means tune in.

Ironically, Ann Gomez sat in a coffee shop, humming along to music, while writing this blog.

For more strategies you can use to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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