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Poll Results: Do you listen to music while you work?

Published by Chris Coyier

Our latest poll asked the question:

Do you listen to music while you work?

We got over 20,000 votes and a slew of written responses. The most popular answer? Always, with 45% of the vote. Here's how the results panned out:

This means that 92% of people at least sometimes listen to music while they work.

It's pretty surprising that 2% of people have no choice. I remember working at at least 3 jobs I've worked at where music was playing and I had no input as to what it was or how loud it was. Computer jobs too, I'm not even counting my food service or bar jobs which would double that number at least.

I fall into the "Sometimes (depends on situation)" category. If what I'm doing is "thinky" I need silence. If it's light thinking, sometimes quiet, mostly-relaxed instrumental music is OK, but I don't own an awful lot of that so it's rare. Writing for me counts as thinky. JavaScript is definitely thinky.

If I'm doing something a little more mindless I can listen to music. Cutting a clipping path in a photo for example. Music me up. Or some light HTML and CSS work is OK. But if I'm trying to figure out a way to handle a layout or make some organizational decisions about CSS structure, that's thinky again and I need silence.

The problem is that I'm often in and out of thinky phases. I rarely remember to turn music back on after leaving a thinky phase, so most of my day ends up in silence.

It's not for lack of love of music though, that's for sure. I listen to at least some music every day. I take pride in my collection (albiet all digital). I play music every day as well. Usually just practicing alone. Perhaps that factors into it. As an amateur musician at least some part of my brain is trying to analyze music which interferes with other thinky processes. Who knows.

6% of people said "Never" - I imagine some part of that is people who find it too distracting and some part is people that just don't like music (they are out there).

New poll soon! I'm always accepting good ideas for polls as well.

Comments

  1. espellcaste
    Permalink to comment#

    Very interesting to find 6% never listen to music when working… We’re not sure about what kind of work those 6% do, but if we take a designer in the creation process, for me at least, music is key.

    In general, very interesting poll Chris, looking forward to next one! =)

  2. I’m not surprised by the 6%. I know a bunch of people who can’t listen to music at all. Some of them it’s a multitasking thing, but for some they simply have to focus too much on their current task to actually listen to anything.

    Personally, I feel really bad for that 2%. How are you in a situation where you can’t listen to music? That… It… No. Just no. This should not be allowed.

    • Permalink to comment#

      I actually read the 2% having no choice because music is always playing, they have no say in it, whether to turn it off or change the tunes. They must suffer through nickelback themed Pandora stations & Spotify lists.

  3. I usually have Netflix on if I’m doing regular, run of the mill front-end code, but if I’m doing math based stuff or brainstorming, or trying to figure out a problem I get really annoyed by any outside noise so have to have complete silence.

  4. I usually listen to music and podcasts (Harmontown is awesome) while I do typical work. If I need to concentrate more, I actually find wordless music helps me think. Especially classical music. I have playlist of music without singing for just such situations.

  5. Richard Fleming
    Permalink to comment#

    I’m the same. I can’t ‘think’ with lyrical songs in the background but can’t stay focused when there’s dead silence. I’ve found Soma FM to be my solution. It’s all electronica, mostly instrumental and there’s different stations to suit your mood. My fav is groove salad.

  6. I mainly listen to music with the same pattern as you Chris. Thinky time ≠ music, then forget to switch it on.

    As a next poll, how about how many CSS files people have (after imports)?

    • espellcaste
      Permalink to comment#

      That would be a good question Druid, it’d be interesting to see how the experienced developers and everybody as a whole keep CSS files.

      Good one!

  7. JoeShmoe
    Permalink to comment#

    I happened to be just the opposite, when I really need to think what I’m doing, then I ‘zone out’ by stuffing my ears with loud music, my colleagues know that I’m pretty much unreachable then ;)

  8. I’m with you Chris: music is OK if I’m not doing something thinky, like writing or figuring out a tough CSS problem. And I too forget to turn the music back on after. Although, I mainly listen to podcasts while doing non-thinky things. Same principle!

  9. Permalink to comment#

    Missed that poll but would have answered never – not a freelance ^^

  10. Jim Langdon
    Permalink to comment#

    I listen to music as often as possible at work. If I need to concentrate, I put on DI Radio (di.fm). Other than that, I bounce all around between playlists on Spotify, Pandora, and Podcasts such as Shop Talk Show and TWIT.

  11. Permalink to comment#

    I’m in the same boat — I turn the music off when I get into something that requires a fair amount of grey matter, but when that task is complete and my mind is free again, I rarely remember to turn the music back on. As such, I spend most of my days without any whatsoever.

  12. I find myself agreeing with a lot of your analysis, about the “thinky” phases which requires high concentration and thus no music, light thinking which allows for some relaxation music and favorite music for work that requires a different part of the brain that is complement to music.

    I don’t have a large collection of relaxing/ loung-y music either, but I normally just turn on Spotify or Pandora radio stations (those are free), which tend to have quite a good selection of relaxation music, plus you can like/ dislike or skip a song too.

  13. Actually, I have the freedom to listen to music whenever via headphones but I actually get more in a creative zone without. I prefer no music, no noise.

  14. Permalink to comment#

    Working in an office music is a must. Helps me get in the zone.

  15. I find that I can listen to mostly all music while working – including heavy metal. Thing is – when I’m concentrated on something, be it programming or reading or whatever, my conscious mind shuts down the music, not even noticing if it stops ‘cos of the end of the album.

    • me
      Permalink to comment#

      Agreed. It’s amazing how it can control how I work; less music/slower, less intense music = better thinking, while dubstep and similar intense music increase speed but can decrease beauty (or increase it, depending on other factors) and thinking.

  16. aurel
    Permalink to comment#

    I recently started making use of an old windows computer, where I now have three monitors – 2 for work and one for movies. I always have a movie on which occasionally glance at or most definitely music. Though there are times when Im so into the work that I just notice that I have the headphones on even though nothing is playing. where I stopped it to focus on a bug and forgot to turn it on.

    I wish I could listen to podcasts whilst working, but I find them distracting. As if they make a reference to something that I do not know, I want to search what they are saying and loose track of what I am doing.

  17. Stein
    Permalink to comment#

    As an amateur musician at least some part of my brain is trying to analyze music which interferes with other thinky processes.

    That is so true.

  18. Permalink to comment#

    On the episode of Shop Talk Show with Matt Mulllenweg from WordPress. He said that if he is going to listen to music, it’s better for him to listen to a familiar song over and over. I’ve been trying this recently and it really works. New music, like from spotify distracts me. He had other great tips on productivity. Listen to the full episode here.

  19. Travis
    Permalink to comment#

    I think I code better with some Start Trek playing in the background ;) I’ve seem them all a million times, but it really sets the mood, I think.

  20. me
    Permalink to comment#

    I almost always listen to music while I code. My setup is Spotify, Songza and Pandora on a Sonos box, connected to some speakers the people who use to own my house left in the roof.

    Spotify is the only paid one; I can stream unlimited music at the touch of a button. It’s high-quality, and includes almost every song on the planet.

    Sonos allows me to do awesome things like be in complete control. I can control everything form the pitch to volume to left-right balance with the Sonos app, all in a very clean UI. I can press the play/pause, forwards, and backwards buttons to control the music, and the current song is Growled as a notification at the beginning of each song. What people don’t understand is how nice it is to not have any files; I just search a song or play one of my playlists, saved offline if I’m on the go, on all of my devices. It’s amazing.

    Songza chooses music based on the time, day of the week, and my mood, or I can save channels/playlists.

    Pandora is my own free customized radio. Ad-supported, but can be nice sometimes.

  21. Permalink to comment#

    I’m very much in the “sometimes yes, sometimes no” case, especially when I’m doing work that requires me to think, as opposed to plain-process.

    Work that’s just inputting into excel sheets or something? Music please. Computer Science homework? Depends.

  22. chromawoods
    Permalink to comment#

    • For mindless HTML/CSS/Javascript: Monotone and/or aggressive electronic music.

    • For thinky stuff: Easy classical or silence.

    • For mindless boring stuff and/or trivial bugfixing: Death metal och hardcore.

  23. Christine
    Permalink to comment#

    I often will put Netflix on, but it has to be something talky that does not have a lot of action, so I can understand what is going on without actually watching.

  24. Permalink to comment#

    I’m a 6%er. I love music, can’t live without it, studied it in college (Berklee). Absolutely can’t listen to music when working though, takes up too much real estate. Even if I’m doing a menial task like commenting on a blog I will get distracted and it will take me twice as long.

  25. Permalink to comment#

    I would listen to, but as I work, I have many tabs open with video tutorials etc. For me listening music is nice, but the distraction is always to stop and pause when I need to switch to a tutorial. That happens often.

  26. Permalink to comment#

    It depends on the kind of the music we are listening! if we are stressed out while completing a tough assignment, we should rejuvenate our mind by listening to sweet symphony of romantic songs. Hard metallic song is ideal to kick-start a hectic day! it injects lots of energy into our nerves.

  27. I ALWAYS listen to music, usually from j-pop to instrumental hip-hop, to rock. I love all genres of good music.

    I find that if I’m writing code, I don’t care what song it is. But when I need to think deep about something or doing a wireframe, I like instrumental/classical more. I like instrumental music for when I study math too (I’m a comp sci major).

    Basically, when things are flowing (autopilot), I listen to my entire library. I’ll be more specific if the thinking requires a deeper concentration or if I want to figure something out.

  28. It is hard to believe that 6% never listen music. I can’t work if i don’t listen music. It always inspires me to be creative.

  29. Subash
    Permalink to comment#

    I start music while I work but forget to replay that or play a new song, so i end up having silence.
    I am not a playlist fan or an expert.

  30. Permalink to comment#

    I often need silence while I am trying to think, but for the past several years, I have been listening to this ambient music, it is wonderfully beautiful music that allows me to enjoy the sounds & melodies and think at the same time.

    Brian Eno – Apollo – http://cl.ly/K6cw
    Brian Eno – Ambient 1/Music for Airports – http://cl.ly/K734
    This ambient playlist – http://cl.ly/K7gD

  31. If I have to do something which requires 100% focus then I would switch to classical or instrumental jazz. But 99% of the time I would be listening to music, if I am not listening to music then it’s probably because kids tv is on.

  32. Thomas
    Permalink to comment#

    I normally listen to a public radio channel discussing the news from my home country. It’s funny sometimes I can ‘listen’ to the radio for hours without noticing what they talking about.

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  34. Couldn’t work in my open air cubical with the tons of chatter if it weren’t for music. I’m often able to use rhythm help me focus on being creative and process things logically by blocking out more distracting things in my environment.

  35. I use audiobooks. I remember reading once how cigar manufacturers would hire people just to read books to those making the cigars. The cigar batches would then be nicknamed by the book they were read at the time. So you had a “Romeo and Juliet” batch and so on. Same happens to me with code. For music I prefer Electro, house or something minimal, otherwise I’ll use simplynoise.com. It’s awkward to work in silence.

  36. Permalink to comment#

    Hi,
    yes i m the one of them who always listen to the music while i m working or on the way of my work.
    that’s relay helps me a lot to work and keep my mind cool during the day.
    I wonder how people would survive if there is no music exist…!!!

  37. I always listening to muic or watching a livestream of my favorite game

  38. ted ratcliffe
    Permalink to comment#

    I seriously could not survive without. That being said, I usually go for a downtempo kind of feel for most of the day (think Boards of Canada), and then towards the end of the day will be something heavier…

  39. Permalink to comment#

    Sometimes i put the headphone i my ears and foget to turn the music on for more than an hour or so :p

  40. Aeron
    Permalink to comment#

    Was just reading this article that discusses the “Mozart Effect” – the effect of listening to Mozart’s music (Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K 448) on the problem solving abilities of over 50 college students – it’s towards the bottom so just CTRL-F if the rest is boring:

    http://www.hindu.com/2001/02/15/stories/08150004.htm

    Esp liked the part about the Japanese firm that suggested listening to Mozart’s Horn Concerto while applying shampoo to your hair cures baldness…

  41. Permalink to comment#

    Some time we do listen to music but as many said it correctly if i am doing something [!important] better turn it off :)

  42. Michael Chang
    Permalink to comment#

    I prefer silence all the time when working. Except for the lovely clickety-clack of a mechanical switch keyboard. Around 90% of the time is thinky time for me. I mostly wear the software engineer hat, lots of Java, the rest being HTML, CSS and Javascript (I’m secretly hoping for Dart to become a big hit, shhh, don’t tell anyone). Music is too distracting. I love music a lot, but not while working. I’m like Chris in that once I come out of a thinky period, I forget to resume music if it had been playing beforehand.

    I hypothesize that those who have a deeper passion for music are more likely to have it turned off while working. Because when they enjoy music, they want to be in it 100%.

  43. As UX Designer even i should also think more on layout design it does disturb Ur mind when u are thinky but when i do designing using Photoshop, music boost me to work and faster :)

  44. Permalink to comment#

    Hi Designers, 45% of the designers listen to music while work doesn’t it distract you some times.

  45. psdfan
    Permalink to comment#

    I do like to listen music while working on Photoshop but when I write HTML & CSS I forget to think about music most of the time. coding is “thinky” off course :)

  46. I don’t really ever listen to music when i’m coding. i have done before and it was relaxing but still don’t do it that much.

  47. Permalink to comment#

    Sure do. Spotify!

    We even have a playlist that’s appropriately named “Perfect for Coding & Design”. 6+ hours so far…
    http://open.spotify.com/user/1210359955/playlist/3hk5Ln17wR8k117gdkI7oI

  48. Permalink to comment#

    YES I can’t work without listening to music,preferably listening to Beastie Boys and The Ramones! There’s something about punk and rock music that just makes you extra productive :D

  49. It may sound crazy, but I need music. The silence can some times cause distraction. Like a light sound in the background can cause irritating distraction, but a constant noise can cause little to non. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than listing to AC DC while writing lines of javascript, or trying to figure out some weird bug. Just pure satisfaction!

  50. anthuanvasquez
    Permalink to comment#

    I always listen to Two Steps From Hell every time I’m writing some code, I think it’s very relaxing and inspiring as any soundtrack.

  51. soren
    Permalink to comment#

    Bon Iver and Neil Young should really be getting a lot of the credit for the sites I build.

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