The best kind of music for improving your work productivity, according to a psychotherapist

Listening to computer with headphones
Listening to specific music while working from home can make you more productive.

If you struggle to be productive while working from home, you’re not alone. Staring at a laptop in silence makes it harder to stay on task than you might think.

In the absence of coworkers, you might turn down the rabbit hole of social media for a little human interaction, where scrolling can easily waste countless hours of your time. Or maybe you turn on the TV for a little background noise only to find yourself engrossed in a talk show for a solid hour.

So while silence can be problematic, filling the void can be a distraction. Fortunately, turning on a little background music might be the solution to improving your productivity.

But not just any music will do. Listen to the songs that help you feel happy, and you’ll get more work done in less time.

The link between music, happiness, and performance

Music is a great tool for regulating your emotions. The songs you listen to have the power to boost your mood, calm you down, or pump you up.

That’s why music became a lifeline for so many people during the COVID pandemic. Our recent survey at Verywell Mind found that 79% of people turned to music to cope with the stress of the pandemic. (Many of them were likely working from home.)

It makes sense that so many people rely on music to regulate their emotions. Research has also discovered that intentionally listening to happy music can have a profound impact on your happiness level. A 2012 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who listened to happy music became happier people within just two weeks.

And it’s no secret that happy people are productive people. Researchers have long since known this. In fact, a 2019 study conducted by the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School set out to study how much happiness matters. They discovered that happy people tend to be 13% more productive.

So it makes sense that listening to happy music makes you happy. And when you feel happy, you work better. But that’s not the end of the story.

Listening to music while you’re focused on something else (like writing a report) might also improve your performance. A 2014 study found that listening to upbeat background music improved the brain’s processing speed and bolstered memory in older adults.

And while both upbeat and downbeat music showed memory benefits, processing speed improvements were only present when people listened to upbeat music. So this reinforces the idea that happy songs could be the key to enhanced performance.

Happy music is tough to find

You’ll likely find it’s easy to recall plenty of songs with sad melodies and angry lyrics. But spend a minute trying to recall happy songs, and you might draw a blank. That’s because upbeat songs are in short supply.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies found that music lyrics have become increasingly sad and angry over the past 50 years. And listening to sad or angry music may have a negative impact on your mood or performance.

So it’s important to be intentional about the music you play while you work. Commit to listening to upbeat music so you can be more productive.

A happy playlist

Rather than spend hours looking for upbeat songs – we thought we’d supply you with a great playlist that might help you feel happier and make you more productive right away.

While my expertise is in helping people feel happier, song recommendations are a bit outside my wheelhouse. Fortunately, however, I have a resident expert on staff.

The producer of The Verywell Mind Podcast, Nick Valentin, is an amazing audio engineer. When he’s not working with me, he records musicians like Pharrell Williams, Marc Anthony, and Sean Combs (a.k.a Puff Daddy or Diddy). So I asked for his input on the happiest songs he knows. (And it just so happens that he even worked on the album that tops our list.)

Here are 10 songs that can make you feel happier and be more productive when you’re working from home:

  1. “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire
  2. “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley & The Wailers
  3. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Bronson and Bruno Mars
  4. “ABC” by The Jackson 5
  5. “O-o-h Child” by The Five Stairsteps
  6. “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys
  7. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown
  8. “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles
  9. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
  10. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

Turn on the background music

Experiment a bit with background music to figure out what helps you stay most productive. You might find listening to the same song over and over again actually helps you stay on task best. Or you might discover upbeat, instrumental music helps you stay focused.

Try a few experiments, and you’ll learn how to use background music to your advantage when you’re working from home.

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How leaders can better support their burned out Gen Z staffers, according to a psychotherapist

Gen Z worker
Gen Z workers have reported mental health challenges during the pandemic.

You might expect older generations to be the most stressed out from the pandemic. After all, COVID put them at the highest risk for serious illness or even death. But it turns out, Gen Z may be experiencing the greatest mental health challenges right now.

Despite being digital natives who are used to working online, the under-24 crowd has experienced significant psychological distress during lockdown. Consequently, younger workers may need more support than employers anticipate.

A large chunk of their time in the workplace has been spent staring at their digital devices. Integrating into the workplace – or reintegrating – may be a little more difficult for them since they have a lot less experience than older generations.

Research shows work and money are the biggest stressors

At Verywell Mind, we began researching the state of mental health in America last month, and are reporting on the shifts and trends we’re witnessing over time.

Findings from our first survey indicate that Gen Z respondents are the most stressed out generation right now, and their biggest sources of stress are work and money.

Gen Zers who responded to our survey also reported more symptoms of depression, such as difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, and feelings of hopelessness.

Given their psychological distress, it’s important for employers to provide some much needed support. As these young workers finish their education and step into the working world, a little extra attention could go a long way toward helping our future leaders.

Provide stress management resources

Gen Z is just learning about the workplace. And their view of work is skewed since many of them entered the workforce during the pandemic.

Provide ongoing information about stress management. Whether that means having more conversations about this during one-on-one private meetings or it means offering free classes that teach skills, like yoga or meditation, incorporate stress management strategies into the workplace.

Gen Zers could also likely benefit from information on work/life balance (daily life and busyness was the third biggest source of stress). Many of them have been working remotely during the pandemic which may make finding balance tough. Educating them on how to set boundaries with work so they can enjoy free time can go a long way toward preventing burnout.

Give ongoing mental health support

Despite the higher rates of distress, our survey showed that Gen Z respondents were less likely to say that society would be better off if more people saw a therapist. They’re also concerned about the stigma associated with therapy.

Ongoing conversations about mental health in the workplace, however, could change that.

Offering an EAP might make therapy more accessible to them since they’re more likely to be strapped for money for therapy.

Bring therapists into the office to provide occasional workshops or informational sessions. This may teach them about mental health issues, local resources, and ways to get help.

They may benefit from learning about how to build mental strength, improve their emotional intelligence, and address workplace issues in a healthy way.

Offer financial incentives and clear opportunities for advancement

Since Gen Z workers are most worried about work and their financial futures, provide clear opportunities for advancement. If they understand what’s available to them and how to get there, they are likely to feel more secure in the workplace, as well.

Additionally, they may be very motivated by financial incentives. Offer financial incentives for reaching their goals or exceeding their expectations.

When you help them reduce their distress and improve their mental health, you’ll be improving their lives. You’ll also help free up their mental energy to focus more on work and worry less about their financial security.

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