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Music to work to: what music makes us most productive

Nothing beats music. It can help us cope with our feelings, communicate for us what we have a hard time putting into words, or whisk us away to a different time or place. And, especially for those of us who work in a creative agency, music serves another important purpose — it can act as a creative fuel that helps us engage in our work.

Music can help someone enter what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a “flow state” — in which someone is fully immersed in an activity with energized focus and enjoyment. Since many of us at thinkPARALLAX rely on music to help us get into a creative zone, we thought we’d ask our designers and communicators what music helps them feel most productive. Interestingly, a few common themes began to emerge in our answers, many of which align well with existing theories about the relationship between music and productivity.

What follows is some of our own “productivity music” — as well as some rationale as to why they made the list. Although these aren’t necessarily our all-time favorite songs or artists, they’re the ones that we turn to when we need to get into a creative zone. Hopefully a few of them can help you get into your own flow state as well.


Maddie: I like to listen to old, tried-and-true favorites while working; that way, the music serves as more of a background and doesn’t distract me from what I’m working on by catching my attention as something new and exciting or awful. Some artists on my heavy rotation are Wild Nothing, Beach Fossils, Future Islands, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and The Strokes.



Deborah: I like to listen to one song on repeat while I’m working. I find a song I like, hit repeat, and it simplifies things. You get to the point where music isn’t a distraction and it helps you work. Two songs are enough to keep me filled with energy for one day. It could be groovy music like “The Rain” by Oh Wonder or hip hop like “Oui” by Jeremih or a kpop artist, like Primary or Red Velvet.



Geoff: When I work, I tend to like music without lyrics — or with lyrics that I’ve heard so many times that they blend into the background. I listen to edIT’s first album “Crying over Pros for No Reason” a lot, which is just beats and simple melodies. And Panda Bear, pretty much all the time. And there’s an old Fabriclive mix from James Murphy and Pat Mahoney that I’ve listened to so many times that I have it memorized. That’s good working music.



Allen: When I need to get in the groove, I usually turn to my Hip Hop Spotify playlist. It get’s me pumped and makes the design process feel like a party. The songs are a mix — new and old — as long as it has a good beat. I usually just tune out the lyrics.



Edison: The beat has to be higher RPM. And the lyrics either need to not be too deep — so I don’t pay attention to them — or fun and catchy and ones that I’ve heard a million times already — so they become recognizable noise. Any album from the Kills or the Black Keys can play on constant loop and keep me going. That takes me back to long, late nights working in a photo darkroom or on other design projects in college. Late night magic hour kind of stuff. And if all else fails, there’s the EDM rush-it-out-the-door mode.



Kendall: The work I’m doing at the time is what determines my choice of music. If I get into the office and need to bust out a killer blog post, I tend to gravitate toward anything upbeat to guide my production, like ZHU and Kygo. If I have to construct a social media editorial calendar, I turn to Indie/Alternative artists like Bishop Briggs, Phantogram, or Beck to fuel some creativity for the long-haul. At the end of the day, as long as I’m matching my work flow to the beat of my music, I’m as productive as ever!



Jenae: When I need to get focused, The Piano Guys playlist is the way to go. Especially when Mission Impossible comes on — I feel like I am ready to take on any design challenge that comes my way. I have been also really into Penny and Sparrow whose passion and heartfelt music inspire me to keep working hard. And Joseph The Band, always to start off my day.



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