December 13, 2018

Icouldn’t focus.

The morning was ticking by. I had my coffee, my long list of tasks for the day, I even had some pressing deadlines. This was a recipe for getting stuff done—and yet, nothing. Aimless clicking around on the Internet ensued. An hour later, I realized the problem: It was way, way too quiet.

Somehow, I had forgotten to put on my “Flow Mix” playlist, carefully curated to both amp me up and quiet my brain down. After clicking “play,” I immediately locked down into work and flew through the day.

Has this ever happened to you?

Does music affect your moods like it does mine?

To answer my own question: I bet it does.

A report last year showed that Americans spend more than 32 hours a week listening to music. That’s four and a half hours a day.

So it pays to be mindful to what, exactly, you’re putting in your ears every day. There’s a science to the tunes you’re playing—and knowing about it can boost your energy, improve your focus, and even make you happier and more productive.

There’s a science to the tunes you’re playing—and knowing about it can boost your energy, improve your focus, and even make you happier and more productive.
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Our nervous systems actually react to music (there’s an entire field dedicated to this, called neuromusicology!), and we can use this connection as a tool to help us get more done.

So how do you best pair your Spotify 2018 top tracks with your tasks? Here's what to know:

When You Want to Supercharge Your Morning

You shouldn’t just listen to music when you're working, but when you’re beginning to work, too.

In the same way that an upbeat song can make you run faster or crank it out at the gym, the right song can set the tone for the rest of your day.

Lately, I’ve been partial to “From Now On” from The Greatest Showman soundtrack. (Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.) Or, you can set a theme for your week and find songs to match. If you want to get inspired to pay off your student loan debt, you could do worse than blasting “She Works Hard for the Money” by Donna Summer.

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When You’re Cranking Through Tedious Tasks

I’m talking about cleaning the bathroom, washing the dishes, filing invoices, paying bills.

You can always reach for a podcast—nothing wrong with getting a little education while you're doing literally the most insane tasks in the world—but you can also lean into any lyric-heavy songs because you don’t (really) have to use your full brain for the tedious tasks.

Think musical theater mainstays (hello, Hamilton) or any catchy ear-wormy songs. I credit the soundtrack to A Star Is Born for my bathroom magically becoming sparkling and all those miscellaneous papers finally getting cleared off my desk this weekend.

When You Really Need Deep Focus

Research shows that when you really need to get in the zone, read something or learn new information, your best bet is instrumental or ambient music.

A study found that natural sounds improved employees’ productivity and moods. So anything without lyrics is helpful when you need to really focus.

Bonus points for playing one track on repeat over and over again—this can create a strange sort of immersive world and can help lock you in to that “deep work” mode. I’m partial to “Gwan” by Rostam, formerly of Vampire Weekend. It actually does have lyrics, but they’re so melodic and moody that I honestly don’t remember a single one.

Don’t go too far down the deep end though—you probably still want something with energy. You’re craving music to work to, not music to nap to.

When You’re About to Tackle Something You’ve Been Avoiding

Oh, hi, PowerPoint presentation. Or awkward email from your coworker. Or invitation for something you’re definitely not attending.

What you need before and during moments like these is a song of triumph. A song of overcoming. A song of complete and total domination. What you need, naturally, is Beyoncé. One of my go-tos is “Love on Top.” Look for powerful, optimistic lyrics with a statement you can get behind. I also gravitate towards cheesy power-pop ballads like “The Champion” by Carrie Underwood or some anthemic Shawn Mendes songs that are easy to sing along with.

One thing to note with all of these: Make sure to check your volume level. A study on creativity and ambient noise showed that participants’ creativity improved when listening to ambient music at 70 decibels, but decreased when the decibels were around 85 degrees (slightly louder than a garbage disposal,The Mission explains.

Bottom line: Tunes are you friend when you need to get things done. Happy listening and hustling!


Read next: Start the Day Happy With This Glorious Morning Playlist

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