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Listening to music at work -- dos and don'ts

By Anthony Balderrama
Workers of all fields have embraced headphones in order to inspire them and to make their days pass more easily.
Workers of all fields have embraced headphones in order to inspire them and to make their days pass more easily.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Workers have embraced headphones in order to make their days pass quickly
  • Online radio means you have every available genre of music available to you
  • "I find music to be a great motivator at work," expert says
  • Make sure keep the volume low and dance moves to a minimum at the office
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(CareerBuilder.com) -- Stand on any street in your town and you'll witness a trend that began 30 years ago with the invention of the Walkman: music lovers walking around wearing headphones.

The freedom to listen to the music of your choice without being tethered to a stereo changed the way people listened music. Consequently it also changed the way they performed daily tasks.

Teenagers stuck in the backseat of the family van on vacation weren't forced to listen to oldies, and jogs through the park now came with a motivational soundtrack.

Today, those clunky players have evolved into credit card-sized digital music players, and you can't go two minutes without running into someone listening to their headphones. You're probably one of them.

Workers of all fields have embraced headphones in order to inspire them and to make their days pass more easily. Each of these workers, it seems, has their own approach to incorporating music into their workday.

Online radio

Many of today's jobs take place in front of a computer screen in and in a room full of cubicles. Although lack of privacy means you have to keep singing aloud to a minimum, access to a computer means you have every available genre of music available to you in the form of online radio stations.

Vincent Paciariello, an account executive at DM Public Relations, has become an Internet radio aficionado who knows the pros and cons of various stations. He likes Sirius for certain talk programs, AOL Radio for its extensive catalog of genres and Pandora Radio to discover new artists.

"I would strongly recommend everyone listen to music at work, if possible," Paciariello says. "It really lightens up the day and makes the time go by a bit faster. And most importantly, you are entertained for a long stretch of time doing a job that may not be so entertaining."

The science of music

Listening to music at work can be more than just fun for some people. According to Peter Quily, adult Attention Deficit Disorder coach, music can have a physiological effect on his patients who suffer from adult ADD. According to Quily, listening to music boosts the levels of neurotransmitter dopamine, a brain chemical that can help people focus.

Some of Quily's clients listen to music when they can't focus or when they're performing a task they find boring. People who have ADHD often have dopamine levels that are low or quickly used up, and the music is a welcome help.

For some of his clients, music is just another distraction that they don't need. And while many workers can't imagine a day without music, plenty of people, such as Jay Levitt, prefer to leave the tunes outside of work hours.

"I took a break from my technology career to study music production at Berkley," Levitt says. "Now, when I'm working, I can't have any music playing at all; I'll get distracted because the bass player's out of tune, and I wonder which microphone they used on the singer."

A song for every mood

For music lovers, however, deciding what songs to play for certain tasks can be an involved process that goes beyond simply picking any random song.

Alex Greenwood of EventPros, a communications and events services company, is a bona fide music fan whose workday has a constant soundtrack in the background. Chances are you'll find him listening to his iPod, which has playlists for various times of day and different activities.

"I find music to be a great motivator at work," Greenwood says. "It makes a slow day go faster and often really does help me in the creative process."

For research, he chooses listens to jazz, such as Miles Davis and Jaco Pastorius. When he wants to tap into his creative side, he relies on what he refers to as "mature pop," which includes artists like Shawn Colvin, Colin Hay and the Police, among others.

Ted Kendall is another music lover who relies on the right song to keep him productive. He sees music as a necessity more than a luxury. Rather than tuning out noise, he's tuning out silence.

"I have my own market research company. Much of my work is in writing reports and analyzing data, so I am often in quiet solitude working on the computer," Kendall explains. "So if it wasn't for the music options, I would be going crazy as I crunch numbers."

When he travels, he takes his headphones with him so that he can listen to music if he has to work in someone else's office -- anything to avoid concentration-breaking silence.

Kendall attributes his reliance on artists like Pink Floyd, Manfred Mann and Genesis to his 1970s upbringing. The music, he says, is rock that doesn't distract you from doing your job. Classic jazz is good for unwinding and relieving stress when work gets overwhelming, so he relies on Pandora's Thelonious Monk station to ease his nerves.

"As the day winds down and my need to concentrate lessens, sometimes I crank up the three-chord rock classics to get the blood pumping and stay awake," Kendall says. "And I know this will sound strange, but I really enjoy Chicago and Beach Boys at times like this as well."

Listen responsibly

If you like to listen to music at work, here are some tips to keep in mind:

• Use headphones if you share an office. If you have enough personal space to use external speakers, make sure the sound doesn't carry into other people's workspaces.

• Keep the volume low enough to hear if your phone rings or someone calls your name.

• If you use speakers, remember to pause the music when talking on the phone.

• Don't sing aloud. In all likelihood, you're a bigger fan of your voice than your co-workers are.

• Keep the dance moves to a minimum.

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