To play music or not to play music? That is the question.
And the answer is “No”—for me that is.
When I focus at work I am so absorbed in what I am thinking that a continual disruption like music is not conducive to my best performance—I just don’t like it. And don’t, even for a moment, think of making a generational correlation. I don’t want to hear of a division between old fogies and young buckaroos because it is quite clear which side I am going to fall on. I’m way too young. But I don’t like listening to music while I’m working.
Clearly, the nature of the work being performed should dictate whether background music is acceptable. Working in a garden centre, at a factory, in an automotive garage or driving truck may produce an environment where music would be a welcome companion.
Deep thinking, strategizing, planning or any other focused, cerebral function needs total focus. You read about multi-tasking in the last issue of Your Workplace. While we can train our brains to work faster as we juggle, our brains are not wired to handle more than one task at a time. I just can’t listen to music and work. Actually I seldom turn on music at all. I enjoy being alone with my thoughts and with natural sounds.
Living in the country on a lake provides the non-stop music of nature seemingly piped through the walls of my house. When you actively listen, it is fantastic to hear the subtle nuances that nature offers. And there is a seasonality to the sounds as well.
In the spring, frogs create a festive melody of entreaties that sounds like a massive mating ritual of filling up their dance card, then dancing the night away in hopes of bedding their soulmate.
In the fall the music changes yet again. A soft wind caresses tree branches, causing the leaves to trickle to the moving ground of scurrying squirrels and chipmunks burying their winter stash of food.
Now that’s music I can work to when I am working from home. These sounds have never been captured and burned to CD, which is probably why they are so special. Everyday new tunes are created.
I am not sure why natural sounds or “silence” is okay for me and music is not. I think I have learned to allow natural sounds to stay in the background when I need to focus, yet I am not able to do this with music. The more I focus on causing music to fade away, the more the sound seems to amplify.
I find it amusing when I have visitors at home and they comment about the quiet or the silence. I usually tell them to stick around at night. Bull frogs fornicating in the spring can be really loud music when you’re trying to sleep. There are times when I want to shout, “Be done with it already!”
Music can play a role for me at work, provided that I am not actively thinking. If I am filing or chatting, having lunch or proofing creative material, music is okay. But most of the time it’s not. The same applies to those who enjoy chatting while working. I once remember a colleague who wanted to silence a “Chatty Susan” by stuffing his scarf in her mouth as the talking was driving everyone in the office crazy with her non-stop babbling. For me, chatter is worse than music. The off button is harder to find. More than once I have asked folks in the office to lower the chatter (I think the term, “cork it” has been lovingly used more than once) even when I work down the hall.
So lower the volume or use your earphones. Because if someone can’t work at work, whether due to music or too much chatter around a cubicle, then we have a no-win situation and that’s just not acceptable.
I know one thing for sure. Whether you decide to have music or not–an open and candid discussion with all team players involved is a healthy place to start. And remember, it’s about work performance—not listening preferences.