If you’re anything like me, good music is an absolute must for a productive day at work. As much as I love my coworkers and our open office space, I often need to retreat to the couch with my trusty over-the-ear headphones if I’m really going to get things done. And I know I’m not alone — various articles and studies over the year have supported the idea that listening to music helps you work better and faster than if you listen to nothing at all. But which music is the best to listen to if you really want to hit your stride?
We reached out to readers, career experts, and professionals from all walks of life to hear what helps them zero in and focus at work. Whether you’re a fan of classical, hip hop, instrumental, rock, or anything in between, there’s bound to be something that suits your musical taste and work style — read on for the ultimate work playlist.
1. I’ll start off with my own: nothing gets me through the day like the Vitamin String Quartet channel on Pandora. They perform orchestral covers of popular bands like Lady Gaga, Green Day, Michael Jackson, and more. The familiar tunes keep me engaged, but there are no lyrics to distract me — nothing worse than accidentally sending an email with Drake lyrics instead of the update you were supposed to be sharing.
2. “[Pink Floyd’s] ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ is the ultimate album to work to (in my experience). On the surface, it's a relaxing album that won't interfere too much with your work rhythm. But if you pause for a moment and find yourself listening to the lyrics, it becomes a very deep and inspiring album that can help me get out of any ruts I'm stuck in. I find it very powerful.” - Max Robinson, CBDiablo UK
3. “One of my favorite genres for getting [in] the zone at work is ambient music. There's a wide variety of artists in the genre but one of the first ambient artists I got into was Boards of Canada. I find the music great for working because it tends to be very atmospheric and the sound of it lends [itself] to thinking and working.” - Alex Reichmann, CEO of iTestCash
4. “Broadly speaking, I find classical to be the best music to pump through my headphones on a workday… Whether you're listening to Bach cello suites or early 20th century Stravinsky, classical music can transport the listener to a different time and place almost effortlessly… it's ironically easy to let classical music ‘fade’ into the background while you're working. I'm not sure if it's a result of classical music often being instrumental, but it's much easier for me to stay focused when I'm listening to an orchestra as opposed to a distinct (and amazing) lyricist like Kendrick Lamar.” - Sam Warren, Manager of Marketing and Partnerships at RankPay
5. “[How Long Have You Known by DIIV] is quite possibly the easiest music to get lost in. It also makes work a breeze... it is a great song to listen to in the middle of the afternoon, right when I’m getting a little drowsy in the office.” - Zachary Painter, Career Adviser and Hiring Manager at ResumeGenius.com
6. “[Focus@will is] a web app, or mobile app, that plays instrumental-only music designed exclusively for improving concentration. It’s organized into channels – my favorites are ‘Alpha Chill’ for focus with a bit of thinking space, or ‘Uptempo’ for those I-really-need-to-get-this-done moments. As soon as I put it on, my whole focus changes… I pay for subscription, it’s definitely worth it in productivity terms and I’ve even bought gift subscriptions for colleagues. They have a free trial [as well].” - Mark Churchill, Digital Marketing Manager at Wealth Club
7. “I love to listen to Tycho's ‘Awake’ album. He's a San Francisco-based musician, and himself a designer. He's known for creating really lush, instrumental music. Perhaps because he's a designer himself, it's the perfect music to design to!” - Daniel Codella, Marketer at Zurb
8. “I love listening to My Shot by Lin Manuel Miranda and other various artists from Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording). It gets me in the mood especially when I am dealing with a specifically hard issue at work. It reminds me to keep fighting, keep shipping, keep going! I can even hear the chorus ‘I am not throwin' away my shot!’ in the back of my mind as I walk into a particularly difficult meeting / pitch.” - Charlene Dipaola, CEO and Founder of Hip Shake Fitness
9. “I live near the coast and I love the sound of the ocean rolling up on the shore - but I can’t hear it from my office. I also love beachy island music with steel drums. So, I leverage YouTube to incorporate music and sounds around my workspace that make me feel like I’m on vacation by the sea.” - Robin Salter, Chief Marketing Officer at KWIPPED
10. “[Gooey by Glass Animals] helps me feel relaxed, as if I was walking in a jungle, experiencing the feel and vibe of nature’s unique tunes. The soothing beat helps me experience a sense of reinvigorated serenity that always allows me to stand still for a while and appreciate the song while still managing to be focused on crucial aspects of my work. - João Aguiar, SEO Manager at Mobidea
11. “When I really need to put my head down and get some work done, I put on a variety of Bossa Nova and Samba Rock artists. Some of my favorites are Jorge Ben, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, and Gilberto. I find the rhythm and movement of Bossa Nova and Samba Rock gets my mind moving. It sort of sets a pace for how I should be working and that helps get me through my work for the day.” - Noah Kain, Digital Marketing Strategist at Duckpin Design
12. “I’ve always been told that music influences mood, and though we tend to listen to music based on the mood we’re in (sad music when we’re feeling down, happy music when we’re feeling up) we should be listening to music for the mood we want to be in. I keep this in mind every morning at work. This week I’ve been pretty hooked on Lorde’s new album Melodrama. 'Perfect Places' feels like the anthem of the summer. With the sun shining through the windows of the office, blasting this song on repeat reminds me to stay focused, so time passes quickly and I can get out and enjoy the city for all it’s worth. - Christina Roach, Account Coordinator at Allison+Partners
13. “It might seem out of character for a bookkeeping firm, but if I have no clients coming into the office and I just need to get some work done, I love to blast rap. In particular, the song ‘Stronger’ by Kanye West gets me pumped up to crank out financials.” - Courtney Barbee, CEO at The Bookkeeper
14. “When I need to bear down, I turn on iTunes, put on the headphones, and blast my playlist of mashups. My favorites are from Girl Talk's ‘All Day’ and ‘Feed the Animals,’ and two mega mashups, ‘Mouth Sounds’ and ‘Mouth Silence’ by Neil Cicierega.” - Bill Peschel, Peschel Press
15. “For lateral thinking, [I like] Robert Glasper - ‘Dillatude #2’ or Sevdaliza - ‘Human’. Solving problems in new ways usually requires reasoning that isn't always obvious. When I need to break my own pre-established biases, I turn to something more contemporary. Robert Glasper's jazz-meets-Radiohead tribute to J Dilla, or Iranian-Dutch songwriter Sevdaliza's surreal pop journey both immerse me in textures that inspire ideas.”- Chris Oquist, Principal at Dialogue Theory
16. “Since I’m a writer, music with words interferes with my focus. So instead, I jam out to epic movie soundtracks. There’s nothing like a good superhero movie score to get me pumped to conquer my next blog post! I’m a big fan of Spotify, so I’ll plug in ‘instrumental movie soundtracks’ into the search, and get a great mix of Harry Potter, Batman, Pirates of the Carribean, etc. to keep me motivated throughout the day." - Megan Zale, Senior Copywriter at Moncur
17. “I'm a digital nomad who often spends most of my time in noisy co-working spaces, so finding a great playlist is absolutely essential. I love to choose lo-fi hip-hop as it's very easy listening, smooth background music and it really gets me in the zone.” - Dylan Hey, Business Development Manager at Leadfeeder
18. “Perfume - Level 3. Perfume is a female J-pop trio, and their work is composed by a well-respected electronic music composer in Japan (making it more interesting than run-of-the-mill pop music). I love listening to this album while I'm working because it has: high energy — the vocals, the drum machine, the synths & all other electronic effects help drive the music and listener forward. Listening to this album is like having a strong cup of coffee. [It also has] foreign lyrics — I'm easily distracted by the words of songs, so it helps that this music is sung in a language I don't understand. The vocals sound great and they don't distract me.” - Geoff Scott, Career Adviser and Resume Expert at ResumeCompanion