Rocking out for workplace productivity?

image: Hryck / Flickr

I just came across this post on the Harvard Business Review blog. It’s a great example of how you can self-track and learn about how changes in your workplace behavior can enhance your productivity. In this case, it was wearing headphones. The author used RescueTime to keep track of his productivity levels, which of course we love, but aside from that it shows how doing experiments on yourself doesn’t have to be complicated.

I’m interested in trying this one myself. A lot of people have anecdotal evidence that wearing headphones helps them block out distractions (I’ve even seen some people say that wearing them unplugged can be beneficial, simply because it causes others to think twice about interrupting you).

I’d also be curious to explore what genres of music are more conducive to productivity. I’ve read that classical and instrumental music is the best, because your brain doesn’t have to try to focus on lyrics. On the other hand, sometimes a good dose of high-energy punk rock is exactly what I need to get excited about tackling what’s in front of me.

Read the article over on

If you’d like to use RescueTime for you own experiments, sign up here.

2 Comments on “Rocking out for workplace productivity?”

  1. Perfe says:

    Hi! Be careful with general conclusions on the effects of music on productivity as there are many bad-designed experiments hanging out there… The same to be told about the Mozart effect. As a note of caution, consider that what might work for you will not work for your peer (as both have different musical experiences, values, history and preferences). It is likely that music is operating on the motivational level and, in that case, you cannot presume that there is some special structure or pattern that works for any human brain. It is you and your personal relationship with the music you play what is boosting, interfering or modulating your productivity.

    On wearing headphones, I sometimes have them on just to isolate a bit of background noise, and to persuade surrounding people that I am (and want to be) disconnected from my outside sonic world. I guess it could work to decrease the number of interruptions from other people, though I cannot provide any empirical evidence.

    • Robby Macdonell says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I think you’re absolutely right on all points. In fact, in the original article, the author points out that his short experiment time introduced some outside variables that could be throwing off his results (working under a tight deadline during the experiment week and not during the control period).

      As for the “what might work for you will not work for your peer” insight; to me, that illustrates the value of self-tracking experiments. Because one can’t draw conclusions for everyone doesn’t mean they can’t figure out what works for them. And the self-tracking systems available today make it much easier to run those kind of experiments.

      That said, I suppose it’s fair to ask whether or not these experiments are better than pure anecdotal evidence? I think they are, but as you point out, it’s important to be aware of the factors that can skew an experiment (small sample size, Hawthorne effect, etc).