Work music. Some people love it – others, not so much. We are fans of listening to something while working here at Asian Efficiency, if only to drown out background noise and office chitchat.
The question then becomes what sort of music is best for working on different types of tasks. We personally like:
- Instrumental/non-vocal music for tasks that require concentration.
- Vocal or hard-hitting music for administrative or non-complex tasks (like uploading content into WordPress).
This a topic that comes up in our productivity community, The Dojo, all the time.
Let’s skip the summary this time, and get right to the music.
Our recommended music player is Spotify. It’s free/not-too-expensive, and most of what you want is available on there.
If you’re working in an office or other environment where it isn’t appropriate to have your speakers going, then some isolation earphones will help. We have used and like:
Soundtracks from motion pictures are awesome for working. They usually invoke the emotions of the film, and are typically non-interruptive. My friend Alex calls them “epic music”.
They are great for tasks requiring large amount of concentration – such as writing, coding, or any creative or verbal tasks. Here is some of what we like with a sample. If you don’t see the Youtube clips (in case your RSS client doesn’t support it), make sure to click here to see the whole post.
The Social Network
In the same genre, here’s a list of similar soundtracks that we like working to.
- Pirates of the Caribbean (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Batman Begins (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon) and The Dark Knight (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Sherlock Holmes (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Valkyrie (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Band of Brothers (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Gladiator (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Anything Hans Zimmer (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Anything Trent Reznor (iTunes/Amazon).
Video Game Music
Even if you’re not a gamer or even a casual video game player, video game music today is usually on-par with most motion picture soundtracks. As with all non-lyrical music, it is great for tasks requiring concentration or verbal thought.
Final Fantasy 8
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2
Here are some other similar soundtracks from video games that we like.
- Call of Duty Black Ops – Zombies Soundtrack (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Command and Conquer: Generals (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Mass Effect (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon), Mass Effect 2 (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon), Mass Effect 3 (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Compilations of video game themes (Spotify/Spotify 2).
Classical music isn’t quite as fashionable nowadays as it used to be, but it’s still great for working to. You’ve probably heard of the Mozart Effect and how classical music can induce “short-term spatial-temporal reasoning enhancement” – basically, it improves your performance of certain tasks.
- Johann Sebastian Bach (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- Beethoven (Spotify/iTunes/Amazon).
- More realistically, most classical music is bundled as compilations from different composers, usually with some other songs thrown in (Spotify/Amazon).
Other Non-Lyrical Music
Other noteworthy mentions for music without lyrics go to orchestral and instrumental covers, be they of movies, video games or pop songs. All are great for working on tasks that require a certain degree of concentration, or the formation of words.
Foreign Language Music
Music in a language other than English can be fun to listen to.
We’ve found that what it’s suitable for is largely dependent on your fluency in the language. If you don’t understand it that well, it can be used for tasks requiring concentration (your brain processes it as sound, but not as words). If you’re fluent, I would treat it the same as lyrical music (see below).
This includes any kind of music where people are singing words that can be interpreted (includes pop, rock and other genres).
As fun/enjoyable as it can be to listen to popular music, when it comes to work, it is best reserved for administrative or non-verbal tasks, be that balancing Excel spreadsheet numbers, or copy-pasting things online.
For fun, we’ve included some hip-hop and rap music that a lot of people we know seem to like.
Mo Money, Mo Problems
Music here is largely up to individual taste, but here are some other starting points:
Sometimes, the best music is no music. There are just some tasks that can’t be done with sound in the background. In this case, isolation earphones still work quite well to block out noise and chatter, but you can also try a white noise generator like this one.
Our Playlists on Spotify
For those of you with access to Spotify, here are some of the playlists that Thanh and I have made public on our personal accounts (with a bonus from Dr Ngo):
- Work: The Social Network OST.
- Work: Limitless OST.
- Work: Gotan Project.
- Work: Video Game Themes.
- Work: Valkyrie OST
- Work: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
- Dr Ngo’s Money Music.
- Dr Ngo’s Work Music.
Got any music that you enjoy working to? Let us know in the comments below!
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