Headphones have become something of a necessity. Almost everyone carries a pair in their pocket or bag, and the devices have slowly inched their way into the work place.

If you walk into most offices, there is a big chance that you will find a few employees sporting headphones over their ears as they work.

This is especially common in offices with open plan layouts.

A study of over 1000 employees and employers conducted by Cloud Cover Music found that more than half of employees regularly use headphones at work.

The use of headphones at work has sparked a raging debate.

One group believes that listening to music while working acts as a distraction, making employees less productive.

Some companies even have an official policy against wearing headphones at work.

The other group – people who like working while wearing headphones – on the other hand, believe that headphones actually make them more productive.

Which of the two groups is right?

Let’s take a look at the effect of wearing headphones on productivity to find out.

NOISE AND DISTRACTIONS IN THE WORKPLACE

There are several factors that contribute to people being unproductive at work.

Some of these – such as social media use and mobile devices – are self-inflicted, while others are caused by the environment around your work zone.

For instance, if your office building is located near a busy highway, the constant noise from passing traffic can be a huge distraction.

If you are a freelancer working from home, noise from your neighbor’s music system or kids laughing outside your door can make it impossible for you to concentrate on your work.

Sometimes, the distraction might even come from your co-workers.

Actually, co-workers are one of the biggest sources of distraction.

Very often, your co-workers will interrupt your concentration to share a joke or tell stories unrelated to work.

This is especially common in offices with an open plan layout.

Headphones provide an easy and effective way of keeping away such distractions.

With headphones covering your ears and some soft music playing, you are unlikely to hear the noise from traffic or the kids laughing outside your door, thereby increasing your concentration.

If you are in the office, wearing headphones is as effective as sticking a “DO NOT DISTURB” note on your forehead.

Your co-workers are less likely to interrupt you when have headphones over your ears.

And if they do try, you are unlikely to hear them anyway.

So effective is this at keeping interruptions away that some people wear headphones without necessarily listening to any music.

HOW THE OPEN-PLAN OFFICE BROUGHT HEADPHONES TO THE WORKPLACE

The idea behind the open plan office layout is to foster creativity and collaboration between workers.

In an open plan office layout, there is no privacy.

All employees sit in the same open space and can easily talk to each other.

The idea is that this will create a fertile ground for spontaneous brainstorming, leading to the flowering of innovative ideas.

While the open plan layout does contribute to collaboration and creativity, it can be a productivity killer for jobs that require deep work (intense, unbroken concentration on the task at hand).

To avoid being constantly being interrupted from their work by their colleagues, many people working in open plan office layouts started wearing headphones as a signal that they were busy and therefore should not be disturbed.

BENEFITS OF WEARING HEADPHONES AT WORK

Some of the advantages of wearing headphones at work include:

Tuning Out Colleagues

Distractions are the greatest factor that keeps employees from doing their jobs, and ironically, the greatest source of distractions is other employees.

Every office has a chatty employee who is constantly looking for opportunities to talk to other employees instead of engaging in his or her work.

When you have some work to get done, you will obviously need to shut out such colleagues so that you can give 100% concentration to your work. Headphones are perfect for tuning out such colleagues.

With headphones over your ears, your colleagues will be less tempted to come to you with gossip, complaints, or other conversations which only waste time.

According to the study by Cloud Cover Music, 46% of the participants reported that they have used headphones as a way of avoiding conversations with colleagues so that they can concentrate on their work.

In his book Deep Work, Caltech professor Cal Newport talks about the necessity of eliminating all distractions and immersing yourself deeply into cognitively difficult tasks.

Cal Newport says that in the modern world with its constant distractions, the ability to engage in deep work on a daily basis is akin to a super power, one of the most valuable skills in this century.

In a typical open-plan office, it is next to impossible to carve out time for deep work. Cal Newport explains that deep work only happens when you work for an extended period without interruptions.

Interruptions steal your focus. By the time you get back in the groove, you realize you have lost a lot of precious time.

Examples of jobs that require deep introspection and long hours of concentration to come up with creative solutions include jobs such as coding and writing.

For people working in such jobs, headphones are a universally recognized code for “I am busy. Talk later.”

Some people don’t even listen to any music.

All they do is put on the headphones and concentrate on their work. When you have headphones on, people will only call for your attention if they have something urgent and important to tell you.

The use of headphones as a way of avoiding conversations with coworkers differs from industry to industry.

Employees working in the technology, transportation, marketing and advertising and scientific industries are more likely to use headphones to tune out coworkers, as well as people working in warehousing and government and public administration.

Aside from tuning out chatty colleagues, headphones are also good for canceling outside noises that might be distracting you, such as noise from traffic or a colleague who is on phone.

According to the survey by Cloud Cover Music, about 30% of employees regularly use headphones primarily for blocking outside noise.

Enhanced Mood And Increased Creativity

According to University of Miami associate professor of music education and music therapy Teresa Lesiuk, there is a strong link between listening to music you like and good moods.

According to Lesiuk, when you listen to music you like leads to mild positive moods.

Being in such mood states allows you to take in more options, which can in turn increase your creativity.

Nice music also activates your brain’s pleasure centers, which in turn stimulates your thinking areas and leads to improved creative problem solving capabilities.

Gets You in the Zone

The Zone is a term that is mostly used when referring to athletes. When Kobe or James Harden is having a good day out on the court, we say he was in the zone.

It’s not just athletes who have access to this state of mind, though.

Anyone who is skillful at a particular task can find themselves drifting off into the zone and working at an elite level that feels as if they have some superhuman powers.

When you are in the zone, it seems like you can do no mistakes. Everything you do goes right.

If you are writing a report or an article, insights and the perfect words drop into your head seemingly from thin air, with practically no gap between the idea forming in your head and your fingers typing it down.

When you are in the zone, it feels is as if your body and your mind have become one, and there is absolutely no space between ideation and execution, no doubts, no hesitation, just perfect clarity and courage.

You lose sense of space and time and become fully immersed in whatever you are doing. You also experience a high, a heightened pleasure.

Believe it or not, being in the zone is a psychologically proven state of mind. The psychologist CsíkszentmihályiMihály was the first to conduct detailed study into this highly focused mental state, which he named “flow”.

The professional definition of flow is a mental state of operation which enables a person to be fully immersed in an activity, experiencing a feeling of energized focus, total involvement, and taking enjoyment in the process of the activity.

You might be wondering about the connection between being in the zone and headphones.

In order to get into this highly focused mental state, you first need a deep concentration on whatever task you are working on.

However, it is next to impossible to achieve such levels of concentration in a noisy, disruptive environment.

Some people use headphones to block these external distractions and deeply concentrate on their work, which in turn allows them to get into the zone and become super-productive.

Increased Productivity

Having music playing in your ears can boost on your productivity, especially when you listen to music that has no lyrics.

Classical music is a good example.

Music that only consists of instruments is great because lyrics tend to distract you.

The only time music that has lyrics can help boost your productivity is if you listen to the same playlist over and over again when you are working until it becomes so repetitive that it recedes in the background.

Listening to music as your work is motivating and puts you in the mood to be active, which in turn pushes you to put more effort into your work.

Of course, this will depend on the type of music you are listening to.

Certain types of music might also make you meditative, and are useful when you are doing cognition-heavy tasks.

When listening to music with the aim of boosting your productivity, the music should not be new or strange to your ear.

It should be something that is highly familiar to you, which is why we advise listening to the same playlist over and over.

The music recedes into the background and unobtrusively motivates you, drives you, helps you immerse deeply into your work with zero distractions even when your environment is noisy.

Music Makes Some Tasks Bearable

While most jobs today require a lot of concentration, there are still jobs that require one to perform relatively mundane tasks that don’t require much thought or focus.

For instance, someone doing data entry does not require intense concentration on their work.

When doing such tasks, your mind can easily wander.

After 20 minutes, you realize that you have been daydreaming and haven’t done anything.

Donning your headphones and playing some music can help make such tasks more enjoyable and bearable, allowing you to finish the work faster.

TYPES OF MUSIC THAT BOOST PRODUCTIVITY

As I have mentioned, not all types of music are appropriate for productivity.

Various studies have shown that some types of music can be more beneficial in encouraging creativity, blocking out background distractions, and relieving feelings of stress to help you concentrate better compared to others.

The following six types of music will help give your productivity a boost:

Classical Music

A research conducted by J. S. Jenkins found that classical music can help people become more efficient at performing tasks. This theory is referred to as “the Mozart Effect”.

According to the theory, when you listen to classical music compositions, your brain activity is enhanced, which can in turn be a catalyst for improving your productivity.

Several other studies have confirmed that listening to classical composers like Beethoven and Mozart enhances your ability to manipulate shapes and solve spatial puzzles.

Furthermore, classical music typically consists of instruments only and no lyrics.

Lyrics are distracting. Certain compositions also help students concentrate on their studies longer and retain more information. Baroque music, a form of classical music, has also been shown to help increase the mood and concentration of radiologists in their work.

Nature Music

Imagine the sound of waves crashing on rocks by the sea shore or a trickling, babbling brook rushing down a mountain side. The sounds of nature are soothing and meditative.

Listening to them puts you in a calm, relaxed state of mind. They enable you to focus on your tasks. On the other hand, jarring nature noises such as animal noises and bird calls can be distracting.

Research done at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has shown that natural sounds help boost your mood and focus.

According to the study, people are more productive and have more positive feelings when nature sounds are playing in the background as they work.

This explains why writers and painters are historically known for retreating to the countryside or the beach or a wood cabin to immerse themselves in their work.

You can download nature music on internet sites such as YouTube and try it out when you are working.

One of the benefits of nature music is that the sounds of nature mask the harsh, distracting noises like people around you chatting or typing, without themselves distracting you.

Therefore, listening to nature sounds as you work can help improve your productivity and enhance your cognitive abilities.

Cinematic Music

Film scores are also brilliant music to listen to while working.

Think about the trailers of adventure, action, or epic movies, such as The Lord of the Rings score.

Many of these cinematic music tracks are inspiring and have an epic sound to them.

They are grandiose and magnificent. Imagine listening to that when working.

Even when performing the most mundane tasks, the grandeur of the music makes you feel as though you are involved in something that will change the world.

Cinematic music helps motivate you. It lifts your spirits and brightens you mood.

If you have been working for long hours and your ardor is flagging, playing an inspiring cinematic music track on your headphones will heighten your focus and motivation, and put you back in the game.

Video Game Music

This might sound like an odd suggestion, but video game music is actually a great focus tool.

You see, every element in a video game is designed to create an immersive gaming experience that hijacks all your senses.

Video game music is designed to help a gamer focus on the game without getting distracted by the external environment.

It does not contain any lyrics or human voices to distract you. It is fast-paced, so it puts you in a mood to be active and relentless at your tasks.

Consider that video games consist of puzzles and simulated, intense, stressful challenges. In spite of all these, gamers are able to enter a state of hyper-focus and perform at a heightened state of mind.

Video game companies invest resources to develop the ideal music that can help you focus on a task for hours.

Video game music can, therefore, come in handy even in a regular workplace to help an employee focus on work and boost productivity.

HEADPHONES ARE NOT GOOD IN ALL KINDS OF JOBS

While wearing headphones will help boost productivity in some jobs, this does not mean that wearing headphones is good in all types of jobs.

In some jobs, it is advisable to avoid using headphones while working.

These types of jobs include:

Intrapersonal Jobs

These are jobs that rely on interactions with other people.

A good example of intrapersonal jobs include customer service and sales.

When you work in such jobs that requires you to be on constant interactions with other people, your attention should be on these other people, not on your own thoughts.

For instance, as a customer service rep, you should be attentive to your environment, listen to customers, and anticipate the need of customers before they voice them.

The same is true of secretaries who should at all times be attentive to the office environment, be alert to receive phone calls, and anticipate their boss’s needs.

For people in such jobs, always having their headphones on will hinder their interactions with other people, which in turn interferes with their ability to do their jobs satisfactorily.

Physically Risky Jobs

Most office jobs are not physically involving, therefore there is little risk of physical danger resulting from lack of awareness of your immediate environment.

Other jobs, however, are more physically involving and come with a certain level of physical risk.

A good example of a physically risky job is any job that involves the use of machinery.

For instance, anyone who works in a factory is at a high risk of injury, should anything unexpected happen.

The same is true of jobs that involve working with chemicals.

Physically risky jobs require workers to be highly alert to their environment at every moment.

In such jobs, wearing headphones presents a risk instead of boosting productivity.

For instance, if a fire broke out at a factory, which is highly likely, a worker wearing headphones might miss the fire alarm, thereby putting his life in danger.

Similarly, someone wearing headphones in a warehouse might not be alert to an oncoming forklift, thus putting himself at risk of injury.

Another good example of a physically risky job is driving.

A driver or someone riding a motorbike would put their life at risk if they put on headphones when they are on the road.

Such a person should always remain alert and aware of what is happening on the road.

WRAPPING UP

Ultimately, the debate on whether headphones should be worn at work or not boils down to personal choice.

Some people find that they are more productive when they have their headphones on, while others will find listening to music while working to be disruptive.

The kind of music to listen to when working will also vary from person to person.

Some people will be more productive when listening to soft rock music, while others might will prefer hip hop, and yet others will prefer classical music.

If you feel that your work environment is full of distractions and chatty colleagues that you would like to avoid, donning earphones can be a good way of doing this.

Even if you don’t find listening to music to be a boost to your productivity, you can still cancel outside noises and stop colleagues from disturbing you by wearing headphones without any music playing.

However, if you work in any job that requires constant alertness and awareness of your environment, you should avoid wearing headphones at work.

Surprising Results on Wearing Headphones and Productivity

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