Music for work motivation

Music for work motivation

I recently finished a pretty intensive content migration project. After uploading squillions of Word and PDF documents, I went from being a person who hadn’t previously listened to music in the office, to a dubstep, house and synthpop fan. I think I’d liked these music genres all along, but the freelance gig helped to galvanise my passion. I have played drums for many years, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I got hooked on these genres. It didn’t stop there. For almost two months I became that person in the office who never takes their earphones out. They were practically fused to my head. I do regret my antisocial behaviour, but I listened to a lot of good music along the way. On top of this, I found that my work performance was linked specifically to the type of music I was listening to. For example, I love listening to Philip Glass but his melodies fill me with such sadness that my motivation enters the minus numbers. Conversely, The Prodigy seem to inject my personality and productivity with edge. As a result of my experience, I decided to list my top ten tracks for work motivation. They are as follows:

1. Cephei – Deadmau5 – For uploading documents to a Content Management System

This track is great if you want to feel like any move you make next has potential. I remember how my blood flooded with energy when I first heard this, and its effect never seems to subside. I play it when I want to kick ass in the office, in a completely administrative sense obviously. Imagine what you could achieve by feeling this good. Until I heard this, and other tracks by Joel Zimmerman, I barely ever listened to progressive-house music. Here I am, now a committed fan.

2. First It Giveth – Queens of the Stone Age – For spread-sheeting

A little piece of melodic thunder, First It Giveth makes me want to dance, drink beer and hug strangers. Like many people, I wouldn’t deign to perform any of these actions in an office. I warn you – not based on previous experience – the authorities will likely be summoned. Unlike some other pieces of music I have listened to, this track actually makes Excel sheet tasks slightly less hellish than they truly are. I also want to make a special mention of the little instrumental breaks with the snare and acoustic guitar. These tasteful sections help to pull the elastic of the song back so it can be released through the hooks of the verse and the chorus. Overall, this track is prime working material.

3. Kyoto – SKRILLEX – For general document checking

My first experience of Dubstep wasn’t a pleasant one. I was in Tallinn on a stag weekend feeling incredibly uncomfortable in a huge, smoke-filled club surrounded by broken glass and boiling bodies. I had the fear and couldn’t see more than two feet in front of me in some cases. I was also going Tee-total at the time because I had the irrational idea of dying from further alcohol. Now I simply rely on a sudden surge of chest pain to act as the sign to start drinking iced water. In essence, Skrillex is a high quality brand of dubstep / electro house, made with choice drum compositions and thoughtful hooks. If you’ve ever picked up drum sticks then this may well be your bag. Kyoto is a must for office power, with a tight rap groove and tasteful jabs of keyboard. I’ve made some of my most elaborate sandwiches to this track.

4. Violent Youth – Crystal Castles – For document reordering

Oh the goosebumps. My ears ate Crystal Castles albums for three weeks straight. Violent Youth kept me awake – and dare I say alive – through long stints of reordering PDF and Word documents in Moodle. Ouch, sometimes it was like kicking a paperweight down a long corridor. I kept motivated by the beautiful, sad melody of this track, in tandem with the lyrics. The juxtaposition of disturbing subject matter and positive dance beat made me bob my head while clicking up down arrows.

5. Mr. Ssa (싸군) – PsyFive – For use during office conversations

The only thing worse than moving a plastic mouse for a living, is discussing it with colleagues. The sad thing is, when you’re a contractor, you spend most of your time adding acquaintances to the Facebook ice pile. To make up for this social void, it is important not to top up too much on songs with a high goose bump count, and instead, go for something that is simply fun. If you can put up with the jokey Korean beer and shopping advert at the start of PsyFive, then I recommend giving this album a go. I found myself getting hooked to the Korean syllable structure mixed with a break beat. Psy’s party personality cuts through this album, and the opening track, Mr. Ssa (싸군) is reason enough to make a friend like Psy.

6. Falling – HAIM – For not working

With an irregular heartbeat to start, Falling is the perfect track if you don’t want to do anything. I tried to work while listening to this and failed. It is a rich mix of Annie Lennox style vocals and Toto drum references. Thus I found I could only sit back and enjoy the bass lines and touches of vocal melody. For the cynics among us it is only too easy to hear the references to the eighties palate of sounds. However, I wasn’t put off. For those funky, shuddering bass lines alone, it is worth including on my list.

7. Girls – The Prodigy – For picking up the pace

This is dangerous for people who want to stay still in their seat. I don’t think there are currently any rules about in-office gyration, but I’ve often seen office space as a tempting opportunity for cartwheeling. After you’ve been awash with a tight burst of emotion with Falling, a few gyrations might be the trick. Girls is ideally matched to this activity. Not that you need a musical excuse to do this, but Girls is a track that doesn’t mess around. Twenty six seconds in and you’ll pick up the slack with no problem.

8. The Way of All Flesh – Gojira – For rapid email sending

Okay, you’ve been sitting on your hands avoiding that barrage of emails you can’t be bothered to answer. It’s time to bring out the French death metal. These guys are not your average growling, church burning, weight lifting, Jägermeister metal heads. Why? They know how to write hooks, thus transcending genre to prove that great song writing is all that matters. The drummer has the coolest name on the planet: Mario Duplantier. All our names pale by comparison. The beat in this track is technically known as innovative awesomeness. This song is a prime example of their ability to catch the listener with a powerful hook, then release them at just the right time. Do this enough times, you’ve got what’s called a hot record. Please don’t be scared non-metal fans. Give them a try, I promise it won’t be like cough mixture.

9. Logic Bomb – The Algorithm – For desk de-cluttering

If music was a leaf blower it would be The Algorithm. This mix of dubstep, drum and bass, trance, progressive metal – okay, everything but twelve bar blues – has travelled from the brain of Rémi Gallego, who either has a lot of creative energy, or is insane, but like many of these things it’s probably an unhealthy combination of the two. Either way, I like the output. This guy can shift drum patterns, melodies and hooks – and even has the time to throw in recurring melodic themes – like no one else I’ve ever heard. The best thing is, it’s pretty seamless. Anyone with ears should take a dose of the Algorithm, but I warn you, it’s not for the sleep deprived.

10. Swan Lake – Finale – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – For total immersion

If you ever find yourself wondering how music can reduce people to tears, then it’s necessary to consider such fine vintage as Tchaikovsky. No wonder this man had a beard. Frankly, if I was that good, I would probably be too busy and talented to shave. I’m convinced he carried the burden of the world’s pain and exultation in his head, letting it out in musical form. Without doubt, this is one of the most uplifting pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It’s always a privilege, but be careful. The score is so powerful and well constructed, you may find yourself making mistakes at work. You could send someone into battle on this stuff.

A brief conclusion

Make sure you test the boundaries of your office environment before breaking out the moves. Get a feel for the physical space. I find that music has the power to carve out an entirely convincing world, a little planet in my head constructed of pure inspiration. It’s worth throwing in a few gyrations, desk taps, or even head bobs to see if it’s welcome, or if you’re busting corporate etiquette wide open. You may work in the kind of place where you need to think on your feet, or listen out for information passing around the space you inhabit. If you’re in telephone sales, the only thing you’re going to have attached to your ear is a telephone. In which case your senses are a tool for business, not for pleasure. I have worked in many office environments over the last decade, and honestly, I wish I’d listened harder to music from day one.