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Add Music To Your Workflow To Improve Results


Almost all of us listen to music. We listen at home, while working, on the subway, while driving, while running. Yet many of us don’t think of music as much more than entertainment. Did you know that you can use music as a tool? With the right music, you can increase effectiveness, create better stuff more easily, get into your creative zone quickly and kick-start a productive day. Add music to your workflow for better results.

This isn’t a recent development inspired by the iPod generation. People have been using music as a tool for thousands of years — ever since humans started hitting sticks against rocks. Indigenous peoples used music in rituals and ceremonies, drummers prepared warriors for battles, and significant life events (like weddings and funerals) are still marked with special music.

add music to your workflow
(Image by renneville1)

So, how do you actually use music to increase creativity, productivity and effectiveness? Let’s consider a couple of ways of adding music to your workflow.

Get Into The Zone Link

Music has a strong influence on mood. Just try listening to some fast-paced energetic music while relaxing, or try getting pumped up with chill ambient soundscapes. It just doesn’t work. So, when you need to create something, play appropriate music to quickly get in the zone.

Different kinds of music complement different creative tasks:

  • Listen to airy and melodic music to design something that needs to feel light and warm.
  • Dark and industrial graphics? Put on some heavier music.
  • Futuristic and exciting visuals? Play some energizing, progressive electronic music.

It’s like role-playing. The background music is your theme song, and you’re acting out the role. Each task to accomplish, each project you work on, becomes the mission of your “character.”

Get Energized and Get Focused Link

The human body naturally moves to rhythm. Whenever you hear a beat, you react to it subconsciously. Notice how people tap their feet or snap their fingers to whatever music is playing around them? You don’t need a sports drink or motivational coach to get going: upbeat music will energize you.

Of course, what counts as “energetic music” differs from person to person. Fast-paced rhythms and uplifting melodies work for many, and laid-back beats and airy vibes do it for others. For some, it’s heavy and dark tunes. Whatever makes you feel like doing things, that’s your energetic music.

So, to start with a bang, get motivated for a task or simply go for an invigorating run, listen to music that energizes you. Listen to whatever gets you excited in a “grab life by the throat and get big things done” way.

When it’s too quiet, your mind can wander. You start paying attention to every little sound and get sidetracked thinking about random things. Playing music of a consistent style in the background helps you stay focused and reigns in your wandering mind.

get focused
(Image by williambrawley2)

Even if you’re not paying attention to the music, a steady rhythm induces a meditative state of mind: you focus on the task at hand because you’re subconsciously being carried along by the music. There are no inconsistent noises to distract you or hinder your progress. Think of it like white noise (like rustling trees or rolling waves). Consistent, even ambient sound helps you working consistently. Style- and vibe-specific DJ mixes, as well as “smart” playlists, can be great for this. An example of this are online radio stations Pandora3, Grooveshark4 and Last.FM5.

Background music doesn’t help everyone focus. For some, it can be a distraction; some work better in silence. And if that works well for you, there’s no need to stop. But if you find yourself getting distracted from time to time, give it a shot.

Next time you lose focus, put on some music and see how the next hour turns out. There’s a good chance you’ll be more focused and productive.

When To Turn Off The Music Link

As the saying goes, one can have too much of a good thing. As much as music helps you to work, is there a time to turn it off?

when to turn music off
(Image by odreiuqzide6)

1. Ear Fatigue Link

This is common sense: turn off the music if you start feeling ear fatigue7. An aching head or throbbing ears will obviously distract you from work. Before you roll your eyes, consider that this is actually a common problem, especially for those who use headphones. After a few hours, non-stop music will tire your ears. Just as you should take frequent breaks to stretch, move and look around, so should you give your ears a break.

2. Distraction Link

Music should be turned off when it starts distracting you. This probably won’t happen for a while, especially if you’re busy creating. But again, too much of a good thing is bad.

When you start paying more attention to the music than to what you’re doing, turn it off for a while. The change of pace will help you refocus, after which you can always put it back on.

What About Shared Space? Link

Sure, playing music whenever you like is fine if you’re a freelancer who works from home or a location-independent person or someone who has their own office. But what if you work in a shared space? Is it a good idea to put music on in the background for everyone? Or is it better to keep the space quiet?

There do not seem to be any strict social conventions, so if a group is working on the same project and they don’t require complete silence, play some mood-appropriate music. It might get the creative juices flowing and get everyone into a steady rhythm. After all, the point is to produce coherent, creative results. Working to a soundtrack can help a group gel.

Returning to the analogy of role-playing, a shared musical experience while working can be like group role-playing. Think of your work as a “World of Warcraft” raid, with the right background theme to keep you all on task. A more probable analogy is office decor, which creates a distinct atmosphere of its own. Like furniture and decoration, music can augment a working atmosphere.

Neutral music (i.e. nothing too experimental) won’t distract. Of course, the group should decide together; if everyone can agree on a certain niche genre, then so be it.

What Else Does Music Do? Link

1. Increase Relaxation Link

Whether you play music while working, you can still use it to enrich your breaks. Music is especially helpful if you’re feeling stressed out and need a moment to relax. Relaxing instantaneously is nearly impossible, probably because shifting focus so quickly is hard. If you’ve been thinking about one thing, transitioning to something else can take a while.

Music, whether upbeat or tranquil, can facilitate the transition. It’s like auditory yoga, except you’re not forcing yourself to do anything uncomfortable; the music does the work for you.

2. Improve Presentations Link

Just as appropriate music lends itself to different creative atmospheres, it can also influence viewers of your presentations. Choose the right music and they’ll be interested, excited, even ready to buy.

A good presentation might use music at key moments. Even a tacky ’80s hit could work: it could trigger nostalgia, thus winning over your client. The right musical “moment” could lead to viewers purchasing or investing in your product, following your guidelines or just paying closer attention.

If you want prospective clients to take interest in your service, elicit their enthusiasm by playing music with an exciting build-up. To drive home a point or highlight a feature or benefit, sync a track so that the musical climax occurs at that point in the presentation.

convincing presentation
(Image by tobiastoft8)

Basically, decide what you want to achieve with your presentation. What is the viewers’ call to action? What do you want them to do afterward? Add music that suits the content of your presentation and that complements the emotional journey you want viewers to take. Music in a presentation elicits emotional investment, and you’ll probably get better results.

Music Creates Mood Link

Clearly, music isn’t just entertainment. The right kind of music is a tool that improves your day — and not just your mood: it can increase and sustain your creativity, productivity and effectiveness.

Remember these three reasons to add music to your workflow: to get into your creative zone faster, to stay energized and motivated and to get more important stuff done in less time.


Footnotes Link

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Oleg Mokhov is an electronic music artist and design enthusiast. He makes electronic music that's a cross between Four Tet and Boards of Canada.

  1. 1

    Having your ear hear music while working is really great, I’m doing this all the time. Before I had to concentrate in a matter of 5-6 hours for a certain web site design using Photoshop. By hearing music while working, I’ve manage to do a certain design in an hour or two — maximum. Great impact.

  2. 2

    Sunny Singh

    July 4, 2010 12:50 am

    Sometimes I like working in silence, but for the most part music really helps me concentrate better or simply stay relaxed. I even turn on the radio sometimes too, which might be a personal thing.

  3. 3

    For quality electronic ambient music, check out artists from Ultimae records, such as Carbon Based Lifeforms, Solar Fields, Aes Dana, Cell, …

  4. 5

    well, I do this.
    but the problem is when you go into it, and start singing !!
    here it comes; the work goes really slow & start losing concentration to details!
    I still play music, except when there is a deadlines, it freaks me out..
    > workes at midnight XD

    • 6

      Zlatan Halilovic

      July 4, 2010 4:06 am

      Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. I get distracted when there are a lot of lyrics in a song, especially in the one that I know and like. That’s why I listen to “raw” drum and bass when I design. No lyrics; only drum…and bass :D

      • 7

        Nathan Hangen - Digital Emperor

        July 5, 2010 8:02 pm

        Exactly why I like electronic music (no lyrics), and even though he doesn’t say so…this dude makes some of the best.

  5. 10

    Gaurav Mishra

    July 4, 2010 1:27 am

    I like slow vibes in music and rhythmical only.. and no shouts and freakishness as in Metal
    Music. It also opens the creative door inside when outside door seems to closed

  6. 11

    It depends whether the project is difficult or not: in the first case, music may hinder the progress. On the other hand, it may speed up the completion of an easier work.

  7. 12

    Wynter Jones

    July 4, 2010 1:33 am

    I must say this is extremely relevant to working in the environment that we do in this industry. A little surprised this wasn’t discussed already, but when the work is flowing you can guarantee the music is flowing as well.

    The only problem can be it is distracting, when looking for that “one” song on YouTube. That is why I must comment to recommend – obvious choice, but hit play and work for hours without even thinking about it.

  8. 13

    Srecko Bradic

    July 4, 2010 1:50 am

    Absolutely!!! I have no TV but my radio is turn on for all day! Music is life!

  9. 14

    Great article!

    I, personally, work a MUCH better while listening music of my iPod. I feel motivated and focused *some people can’t believe it*. Thanks for sharing.

  10. 15

    I really like the article, but, nomatter what music I’m listening to (I’m into virtually anything) I simply cannot concentrate when there’s a tune in my head. I find myself no longer thinking about what I’m coding or designing, and instead thinking about chord progressions. I’m a bit useless like that.

    Any suggestions?

    • 16

      Zlatan Halilovic

      July 4, 2010 4:09 am

      Here’s one. Don’t listen to music when you code and design. Helpful? xD

    • 18

      Don Giannatti

      July 6, 2010 9:31 am

      I know what you mean. If the music becomes too melodic and /or words start to inject themselves into the brain, I turn to music that is less melodic or even episodic in its form.

      Webern, Stravinski, Shoenberg, Mahler and some of the modern composers like Piston, Ives or Carter are often found on the speakers here. The lack of over and over again melodic centers provide a nice counterpoint to the design process.

      Jazz can work well too. Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Steve Kuhn, Miles Davis (Bitches Brew and “In a Silent Way” are particularly good) can add a subtle trance like flow to the studio vibe.

      Just a few ideas for you.

  11. 19

    Slayeeeer ! m/ :)) Jokes aside, yes heavy stuff makes me work faster, but sometimes it can get a bit distracting so I tune in to some Miles, its good to keep your styles varied so then you can apply them for different tasks.

    • 20

      I tend to put some of Slayer’s more familiar stuff on like Reign in Blood when I’m coding. Still sounds awesome but is familar enough to help me concentrate. I’ve also found Opeth are good for graphic design!

  12. 21

    I have to disagree about music creating distraction though. When you’re really involving in whatever you’re doing; coding or designing, you wouldn’t even notice what you’re listening.

    Well, I’m a trance music addict.

    • 22

      Nathan Hangen - Digital Emperor

      July 5, 2010 8:02 pm

      You and me both.

      • 23

        Sander van der Beek

        July 8, 2010 12:06 pm

        That makes three of us! I listen a lot of trance while designing and coding, the melodies keeps my flow going. Only when I need to do the more difficult work like scripting and programming I prefer silence.

  13. 24

    Ali Blackwell

    July 4, 2010 4:32 am

    If the music is really familiar, I don’t find it distracting. But trying to listen to new music whilst designing or coding is always a no-no for me. Your brain cannot focus entirely on the task in hand with music playing. It’s good for getting into the zone, but once you’re there, the less distractions – including music – the better.

  14. 25

    For me is metal and heavy rock ;) love creating things with this music

  15. 26

    Yes Music is life. I always listen music while working. I prefer to listen Gazal’s while coding its makes my Code cool :)

  16. 27

    Razer Maharajan

    July 4, 2010 6:07 am

    Music help to improve work and get new idea as well as doesnot fill tired. So I always listen music while working .Without music there is no life

  17. 28

    Jazz in it’s best form… from ’50 of ’60
    inspiration comes standard, example.. look for django..

  18. 29

    Having music on the background helps me to relax and get into the groove on slicing graphics, and laying out and coding pages. My favorites to listen to are online stations Audio Popsicle, Groove Salad or Radio Paradise. Keeping them in an iTunes playlist makes it easy to switch between them. I have to admit that when I hit a tough piece of coding, the music gets turned way down or off.

    • 30

      Michael Lajlev

      July 4, 2010 10:53 am

      Im also really into radio paradise, love it and is big supporter.

  19. 31

    What a poor case of stating the obvious this article is. After reading it, my rough guess was that there are going to be some DJ mixes to be found at the authors website.

    Are you turning into a marketing place for writers without further studying the topic now, Smashingmag?

    • 32

      Julian Gaviria

      July 4, 2010 8:41 pm

      Your retarded <—-about as useful of a post as yours is.

  20. 33


    July 4, 2010 7:28 am

    Definitely an awesome article!

  21. 34

    Sunny Kumar

    July 4, 2010 7:37 am

    Great Article ! Love it…

  22. 35

    manu parashar

    July 4, 2010 8:36 am

    Nice article , music really helps me improve my concentration,,cheers

  23. 36

    A complete waste of a post, and another embarrassing article. The relevance of Smashing Magazine is dwindling to this? Web design articles recommending you listen to music? There is no relevance to this post, and I encourage the editors to stop wasting our time, or delegate this type of filler-article to a less important sister site.

    • 37

      Are you serious?

      July 4, 2010 4:56 pm

      “…and I encourage the editors to stop wasting our time…”

      Uhm, actually your comment is the biggest waste of time on this page. If you don’t like it…guess what…take a hike.


      Music does inspire me sometimes to be more creative while designing, however, sometimes it distracts me to the point that I have to turn it off. I do agree that it can put you in the right mood to create a good piece of artwork.

      • 38

        I disagree, mr. too-afraid-to-post-my-real-name.

        Smashing Magazine used to present the most relevant and up-to-date articles on web design, and the web design community. This article is nothing more than a fluff piece, and unless readers voice their disapproval, the fine folks running this site won’t know what their readers think. “taking a hike” is an apathetic, and selfish view to the growth of an online community, on this site or otherwise.

        • 39

          Nathan Hangen - Digital Emperor

          July 5, 2010 8:04 pm

          So I’m guessing you pay to read and/or participate here?

    • 40

      Quite an interesting post…

  24. 41

    I work sometimes with music.

    But sometimes my neighbour from 8th floor (his name is Василий Маркин) turning bad music loudly (Pugacheva etc). That’s super annoying.

    I like to listen ambient, trance, medieval, house music.

  25. 42

    Hate to burst your bubble, but music at workplace simply doesn’t work in normal environment (eg. where I’m not the boss).
    Been there, done that.
    But I would oh so love to terrorize my company with some Cannibal Corpse albums.

    • 43

      Haha. Canibal Corpse does have its place, as does Brain Drill.

      Although, I will say that light music works fairly well in a designer’s setting. But then again, you have to have an appreciation for the music. If you’re talking about main stream radio I agree with you 100%. But if its some quite music, or some Mozart, there’s nothing wrong (atleast imo).

    • 44

      I’m assuming you are talking about playing the music loud enough for your coworkers to hear? Why not just use headphones so that only you can hear it? Or if you are in a cubical play it very quietly so that outside your cubical it is a non-issue?

      Or if your workplace completely forbids music outright then that’s another story. I had a friend who worked in a place like that and she quit. :)

  26. 45

    If I want to listen to music while I work, I often listen to Japanese or Korean music because I don’t understand its meaning and I can’t sing, that keep me concentrate in my work. :D

  27. 46

    Ricardo Rocha

    July 4, 2010 10:25 am

    That happens a lot with me, every time I’m listening to music my work is more fluid, with rhythm. Normally I use phones so I don’t disturb my partners work.

  28. 47

    Usually just instrumentals are fine, because words can get to distract you when writing code or designing. Good post though, I enjoyed the ideas brought out.

  29. 48

    ivan ortega

    July 4, 2010 10:53 am

    I said a few years ago on usenet Italian.
    These graphs when they haven’t more creative ideas, explore land ever belonged.
    They had not thought of before?

  30. 49

    Love Grooveshark … use it all the time while coding. First the music helps me to get inspired and/or going and once I’m in the “Zone” the music slowly disappears. Most of the time I won’t even remember what exactly I was listening when I’m fully focused on my project.

  31. 50

    I believe music is the theme of life, so I tend to use theme music for my daily life. Start the car and the CD starts up with the TV theme to Mission Impossible and off I go! At my computer, The Carl Stalling Project (theme music and sound effects for Looney Tunes cartoons). It makes hitting the return key or clicking and dragging more dramatic.

    Of course, I tend to be a little strange to start with.

  32. 51

    Ronny was right. I scrolled back up after reading Ronny’s comment (and the others) and this “article” is exactly what it looks like: utter blog spam. The author operates a commercial service providing music for the workplace.

    • 52

      I’m afraid there’s a growing consensus in the Smashing Magazine community that more and more “link-juice” articles are popping up in regular rotation. As I stated above, this is an insult to readers who in the past have looked to this site as a relevant voice in the web design community. Dear editors, your readers are not stupid.

  33. 53

    Ronny and Jeremy are wrong! Why should this be spam-blog material? So you’re saying… Someone like a designer that shows his/her work, is a spam-blogger as well? Or every piece of code you’ve found here is spam also? Just because the author is giving his/her knowledge away. For free!!! Selling music as a commercial service is a good thing it thrives people to work more sufficient on a workplace, and helps your creative mind at the same time. Just because the author gives this knowledge away means he knows what he talks about. And even explains why it works. So again all complains are illegit. It’s like you saying to a homeless man teaching you how to fix the economical crisis. That’s absurd! You wan’t good stories, you will get them, and Smashing Magazine will get the right people for that story. And again the author doesn’t say you should use his service.

  34. 54

    I find psytrance and techno great to listen to while coding. The lack of lyrics frees up your mind to just focus on the work and the rhythms get you into the swing of things. There’s lots of free stuff out there too; just Google for netlabels.

  35. 55

    I found groups like Kick Bong, or Faithless to be helpful when designing/coding because it has a present, solid feeling, yet it sits in the background and is soothing.

    With any type of music, I highly recommend the Monster Beats By Dre Studio Headphones. Although some say it is a waste, they are great headphones (and I’m a 5.1 recording artist). So take it from me. It is worth your while. And if you have a UniBody MacBook, all the better the white Beats will look.

    Thanks for the great article.

  36. 56

    I can’t work if i don’t lissen to music

  37. 57

    What would be life without music!.. I am not a web designer, but for developers… brillant solutions come with a relaxed mind, and music helps a lot to achieve that.

    Good Article!

  38. 58

    Bryan G. C.

    July 4, 2010 5:50 pm

    I’m not an ambient music type of guy, but I do like electonic music. Even if it’s kinda hardcore for a background music, I hear bands/duos – Infected Mushroom, Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, Digitalism, Justice, and guys like Deadmau5 and Fatboy Slim. Different styles, I know, but it works for me.

  39. 59

    This is so true.. Sound waves to your brain waves, binaurals. Thanks for this article.

  40. 60

    Completely agree with all the write up given by you…….. I am a music freak and i enjoy listening to my fav songs through out the day while in journey/office/home………. :)

    Thanks for sharing the musical truths.

    ♫ ♫ ♫


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