Do Playlists Boost Productivity?

We’re all very familiar with that dreaded feeling where we can’t quite find the motivation to tackle the task at hand. Our brain is able to do some marvellous things, so why does it sometimes act like the potatoes you’re trying to grow in the backyard?

Once we can get out of a “potato” mindset, we can certainly achieve a lot, but getting it into a rhythmic flow of focus is often one of the most difficult parts of the task. Thankfully, we have music to help our distracted souls and that’s where the beauty of music come in: playlists boost productivity at work.

Music for motivation

Staying continuously motivated is far from an effortless task for anyone and maintaining a rhythmic flow of work can be hard, but recent studies have shown that music can impact our productivity.

Music platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have created hundreds of pre-organised playlists including ones titled ‘Apply Yourself’, ‘Productivity and Focus’, ‘Instrumental Study’ and more with an intention of keeping us attentive on our tasks. As our music platforms become more developed, so do our opportunities to advance our abilities to remain focused and improve the quality of our work.

Teresa Lesiuk, a Researcher at the University of Miami discovered that participants who listened to music completed their tasks faster and were able to come up with more ideas than those who weren’t listening to music. Lesiuk discovered that the positive impact is influenced by an increase in mood and decrease in stress levels proving that as long you’re a) chill and b) feeling great, life and your tasks as hand will be a heck of a lot easier.

When we are feeling happy, Lesiuk’s studies show that our levels of creativity increase and our problem solving abilities become stronger. Is there a certain kind of playlist that is perfect for focus? Is it jazz music? Rock? Electronic music? The Cusp spoke with Amanda Krause, a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne in the field of Social and Applied Psychology of Music to discover how the creation of playlists can impact on everyday activities, and how we can create the perfect playlist for ourselves.

Playlists for productivity

Krause’s studies have explored how we interact with music and new technologies and how music affects us in our everyday lives. In 2014, Krause and her colleague, Adrian North, conducted research that considered how music affects behaviour in the context of eight situations, including washing the dishes, going for a run and going to sleep. Krause had 344 participants create a playlist for a given situation and her findings showed that participants will usually select a playlist based on their desired mood. In situations like running or going to the gym, individuals tend to create playlists with a faster tempo, higher level of volume or with a more energetic rhythmic quality than the music picked in a playlist made for sleep.

So how can we create the perfect productivity playlist? According to Krause, the kind of music ideal for a playlist completely depends on the individual and their taste in music. One song won’t have the same effect each time someone hears it and what might motivate one person may not motivate someone else in the same way.

“Some people will listen to heavy metal music that helps them sleep, but that’s not the case for a lot of people,” says Krause. “It all comes down to personal preference.”

What’s important is that you can find a playlist based on your own individual choices. “With all of today’s streaming services available, there are a large number of playlists you can try out that someone else has made, but it’s a lot about trying new things.”

Rather than identifying a certain genre to boost productivity, Krause recommends identifying characteristics, including the lyrics, the tempo, and whether it’s in a major or minor key. Another influence that music has on our mood and productivity is the memories or associations we may have with that artist and their music.

“Music can help you focus. When you get into a rhythm, it increases your creativity and helps you to be open to more divergent thinking,” Krause says. “Tempo can definitely help you. If the music is too slow, you might find yourself dragging through your task. But you also don’t want frantic music; you need to feel like you’re moving so that you’re able to stay on task. It’s all about trial and error.”

Creating a productivity playlist

What factors should we consider when forming a playlist with the aim of making us work better?


Studies have concluded that listening to music with lyrics can be distracting for those working on tasks that require intense focus or learning new information. Some music can demand too much attention and lower our levels of productivity. However, for more mundane tasks that require less comprehension, music with lyrics can increase productivity, which is related to how music improves our mood.


There is a strong relationship between music tempo and performance. Krause and other academic studies have discovered that an increase in beats per minute (BPM) can increase our levels of motivation and productivity. When listening to a lower tempo, studies have shown people work slower, whereas increasing the tempo has shown it is easier to work faster and more productively.


The style of music you listen to will cause specific responses in the brain, and studies have shown that music in a dissonant tone, or music with a lack of harmony, can provide no impact on productivity levels. Music in the major mode, with an uplifting harmony, have shown to increase productivity.

So potato head, It all comes down to personal preference and your own individual mood. Think about what artists you absolutely love, what puts you in a good mood and get your potato brain out of the ground and start making your ultimate playlists now!

Sam is a freelance writer passionate about sub-cultures, oddballs of the world and music. She runs a Melbourne music website and writers banter for VICE, The LAD Bible, and other websites. You can find her on Twitter at @hamsoward.