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There’s no doubt about it, music helps helps me as I work during the day. It sets a mood, helps me focus and lets me do the job at hand.

Fast Company wrote an article this past summer called “How Music Affects Your Productivity.” It cites research and goes into great detail to help explain if and how music affects our productivity. I won’t go into the details other than to say you will enjoy it and you should read it. It really made me think about how music affects the way I work.

Music has always played a role in my work day both good and bad. Having music, or should I say headphones when I worked at a big company, has been very effective in helping me focus on my work and blocking out my surroundings. The right music really helps, whereas the wrong music will completely shut me down.

In the article I mentioned above, it was found that ambient music is best for creative sessions. Music with a moderate noise level really works in where too much noise may interfere with learning or be a distraction.

Over the years I have found that some music works well for me while others don’t work. Here are few types that do not work for me:

  • Music with lyrics (I sing along)
  • Fast or loud music (It is like being over-caffeinated)
  • Too calm (I want to stay awake after all)

I have also found that I can’t listen to any music when I am:

  • Writing certain types of articles
  • Learning or reading

It seems that I am falling right in line with the article.

The Office Mixtapes

Based on the music that works for me while I work, I have made the Office Mixtape playlists on Spotify. You will find that I tend to put entire albums in the playlists instead of a “best of” selection. I have always enjoyed the entire album and tends to flow. If you would like to subscribe, just click on the name and it will take you to them.

Office Mixtape – Acoustic Fingerstyle
I found a channel on Pandora called Modern Fingerstyle and that was the basis for this playlist. I had heard of these musicians before but their style is perfect for how I work. Some refer to the style as Percussive Fingerstyle and involve the plucking of strings and hitting the strings and guitar top for a percussive effect. Musicians in this playlist include Don Ross, Andy McKee, Graig D’Andrea, Antoine Dufour, Calum Graham, Jimmy Wahlsteen, Laurence Juber and Michael Hedges.

Office Mixtape – Electronic Chill
Electronic music can be bad for the way I work but there is some really good moderate tempo music that helps me stay focused. This could be broken into two playlists. One based around the music of Paul Hardcastle. He is a multi-instrumentalist who specialized in the synthesizer. You may remember him from his 1985 hit “19,” a song about America’s involvement in Vietnam. Other musicians in this playlist include Washed Out, Tosca, Thievery Corporation, Massive Attack and one song by Ginkgo Garden.

Office Mixtape – Africa and Elsewhere
I have a special love for the music coming out of Africa. Especially the music of West Africa. This playlist focuses on music to work by so I left out music from Y’oussou N’dour and Fela Kuti. Musicians in this playlist include: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Baaba Maal, Samite, Toumani Diabate, Ballake Sissoko, Ali Farka Toure, Boubacar Traoure, Habib Koite, Mamadou Diabet. The Elsewhere is Choying Drolma and Steve Tibbetts.

Office Mixtape – Jazz
With this mixtape, I go against the rule of no lyrics. There are some great songs by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and others that don’t need to be left out. These are traditional (if there is such a thing) jazz songs that give my office a great vibe. Musicians in this playlist include: John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Laverne Butler, Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck and of course Ella and Louis.

Another Mixtape

Sometimes you don’t want ambient background music, you just want something that you can sing along with. Something to be played in the privacy of your home office. This playlist is for you.

Office Mixtape – Yacht Rock
Yacht Rock was an online video series from 2005-2010 that featured fictionalized vesions of American soft rock stars from the late 1970s and early 1980s. The phrase Yacht Rock is now used in reference to this style of music. You know it and you know you love it. Musicians in this playlist include: Chistopher Cross, Ambrosia, Gino Vannelli, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Michael McDonald, The Doobie Bothers, Kenny Loggins, Toto, Dave Mason, 10cc, Pablo Cruise, Chuck Mangione, Firefall, Eddie Money, Rupert Holmes and Herb Alpert.

Music Alternative

An alternative to music would be background noise. These can be found in music downloads, apps and webpages. Here are a few to consider.

You have a choice of cafe noise or rain. It is pretty straight forward and runs via the website in your browser.

This is a personal favorite of mine. It comes as an app or online. There is a library of different sounds such as Morning Murmur, Lunchtime Lounge and University Undertones. A premium version is available if you want additional sounds.

This online service has a coffee shop, rain, waves, fire and birds. I love the sound of rain even though I mainly use it to relax or fall asleep. Not so great when you are trying to work. You can mix and match these sounds.

There are many other apps and websites that can give you the faux coffee shop without the expensive drinks. I encourage you to search and find the one the works for you.

Sound Advice

I hope by sharing some of the music that helps me become productive will help guide you as you build your own playlist for productivity. Remember that sometimes silence works best.

Shawn Wright
Shawn Wright is a graphic designer and podcaster living in Birmingham, Alabama. You can find his design work at shawnwright.net. His podcasts, the Shades Cahaba Oral History Project podcast at shadescahabahistory.com and Alabama Short Stories at alabamashortstories.com. His designs are for sale at TeePublic.com and Redbubble.com.
Shawn Wright
Shawn Wright

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