headphones at desk

Many office workers swear by headphones or ear buds to tune out distractions, but is this practice helping or hindering productivity? While headphones certainly help their wearers tune out their colleagues' chatter and digital alerts, research indicates that listening to music during periods of concentration can actually hurt your attention and focus.

In a Taiwanese study, listening to music with lyrics hampered college students' performance in concentration tests, while a 2010 study published in the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning found that hip-hop music diminished adults' reading-test scores. How you feel about music at work also shapes how it affects your concentration: those who loved or hated the music played scored worse on attention tests than those who didn't have such strong feelings about it.

Neuroscientists say that music with lyrics overwhelms the part of the brain that processes words. A better alternative to music-blaring headphones? Noise-canceling headphones, which may help reduce fatigue without hurting concentration.

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