Two-thirds of us listen to music while working. But if it’s music that stimulates you or turns you on, you may be listening to the wrong music, says Will Henshall, founder of Focus @Will. I recently listened to a Ted Talk he gave on music for productivity a few years ago. Music that stimulates could distract you from your work, he says.

Your brain responds to music. The limbic system in your brain monitors your environment to keep you safe. It can also activate the fight or flight response. When a sound or sight occurs, your limbic circuit tries to answer a critical question: Do I need to kill it, eat it, or mate with it?

Your limbic system can be a distraction. It’s like having a bunch of kids in the back seat of the car saying, “Are we there yet?”

Certain types of music light up the brain at the right place when you’re trying to get things done. But certain kinds are simply distracting. If you’re trying to work, avoid music with vocals—even in languages you don’t understand. We are wired to listen to the human voice.

And avoid music that contains instruments that can sound like the human voice. These include the cello, saxophone, and electric guitar.

In an article Henshall wrote, he noted that the some theorists say the brain can get used to auditory stimuli in about 20 minutes. The good thing about habituation is that your brain will calm down and let you focus for a while. But after you get used to your auditory environment, it will no longer soothe you. And your work goal might not seem as exciting or motivating as it did at the outset. The problem is that your brain tends to seek out novelty. Your executive attention can fade. And instead of focusing on your research or analysis for a report, you find yourself checking your Twitter feed.

The trick, Henshall writes, is to occupy “your brain just enough to let you work, but feed your brain novel stimuli at just the right times so that you don’t try to seek novelty by distracting yourself.” Certain kinds of music do just that. Try the bottom link to get a sense of what music for productivity can sound like. While it’s repetitive enough that you don’t pay much attention to it, it shifts a little, so your brain never gets bored enough to go searching for novelty. Henshall says that it’s possible to expand your focused time by 300 or 400 percent with music like this.

To learn more:
Here’s the Ted Talk.
Check out this article: The Science Behind Music for Concentration and Focus
Try listening to some music that’s been optimized to help you focus.