The rise of music streaming services has made it very easy and convenient for people to listen to songs, and as song streaming has grown in popularity, so has podcast streaming.
This is aided by the fact that many popular music streaming services also hold various types of podcasts.
People have begun to integrate them into their daily lives, including their work. Many people believe that listening to podcasts while working can actually improve productivity, but that may not be the case.
When you listen to podcasts while working, your productivity can be helped or hindered depending on your specific work and to what type of podcast you’re listening. Podcasts can engage and stimulate your brain more, but that’s not always beneficial.
That may seem counterintuitive, but because your brain is more engaged listening to the podcast, it leaves fewer resources for you to focus on your work.
It’s hard for the human brain to multitask, and this principle is the main reason you generally shouldn’t listen to a podcast while working.
This is definitely not always the case, but if you want to be productive while listening to a podcast, you will have to approach it correctly, which we will discuss throughout the rest of this article.
How Podcasts Hurt Productivity
Many people believe that because podcasts don’t require you to watch something, it shouldn’t affect overall productivity. However, because podcasts don’t require you to watch something, it forces you to pay more attention to the audio. This problem is amplified depending on how intense or demanding the podcast is.
You may be surprised to learn that simply listening to a story actually activates more areas in your brain, so a podcast will definitely engage your brain more than you realize.
There are three main problems as to why podcasts generally hurt productivity:
- Many areas of your brain become unknowingly stimulated
- Podcasts typically aren’t meant to be listened to while working since they usually involve activities other than your current task
- You become forced to multitask
Let’s begin by talking about how podcasts were created for entertainment and satisfaction, not to boost your work productivity.
The Intention of Podcast Listening
The idea is simple: podcasts were not meant to be listened to while you work, so you shouldn’t listen to them while you work.
Podcasts are distracting, and it’s the same idea as to why you wouldn’t watch TV while you work, even though podcasts require a lot less visual stimulation. A lot of people falsely believe that they can maintain focus while they listen to a source of entertainment.
A good analogy is to compare it with radio shows from back in the earlier days. You can already compare podcasts to classic radio shows because they share the same media format.
Thinking about the nature behind radio shows will help you understand why you really shouldn’t listen to podcasts while working.
Back in the day, radio shows were mainly listened to in the car, and radio show creators were aware of this. This impacted how they created their shows because they knew people had to maintain their attention on the road.
For example, talk shows kept the atmosphere light and casual, so it didn’t require much attention, and they would use certain tactics for segments that did require short bursts of attention. News channels would share the information very quickly so that drivers could quickly hear the news.
One key distinction between podcasts and classic radio shows is that podcasts are theoretically always available, while radio shows had specific schedules.
Because of how the world operates today and how accessible podcasts and streaming services are as a whole, podcasts have to apply to a wide variety of audiences and situations.
Still, they’re usually always meant to be engaging. As a result, podcasts are generally distracting, so they shouldn’t be listened to while working.
Now there are certain types of podcasts meant for people in situations where they might need to pay attention to something else, but we will discuss this idea later on.
What’s important to know is that podcasts are just another form of entertainment distraction, and it can definitely hurt your productivity while working.
Extra Brain Stimulation
Another key principle as to why podcasts generally hurt your productivity is that podcasts engage many other areas in your brain, making it harder to work.
It makes sense that your sound and language centers would activate while listening to podcasts, but even your motor and sensory processing centers can activate while listening to podcasts.
This effect can also greatly increase if you’re listening to some sort of story podcast because listening to stories can engage your brain’s visualization and imagination centers while also evoking other emotions that can affect your ability to focus on productivity.
One good example to compare this to is that people recommend listening to classical music while studying because listening to songs with actual lyrics can distract you. Your brain becomes focused on processing the words in the song rather than what you’re studying.
Due to the sheer amount of stimulation podcasts can create for your brain, they’re just going to distract you because you can’t focus only on performing your task in the first place.
This heavily relates to the fact that your brain just simply can’t multitask, and many people fail to realize that. However, there are certain ways that you can use podcasts to increase your productivity based on the factors we’ve just discussed.
How to Use Podcasts to Improve Productivity
Podcasts can be used in a way that will help your productivity and increase your focus. You just need to make sure you’re choosing the right podcasts that will use your emotions to benefit you rather than distract you.
Podcasts will inherently engage your brain, so another part to consider is just getting used to listening to podcasts and using your extra brain stimulation to bolster your performance.
The most important thing you need to identify first is what kind of task/job you have because this will determine whether you’ll be able to listen to podcasts at all.
For example, a job that requires constant attention and requires you to adapt and think on the fly often is a job where you definitely won’t be able to listen to a podcast and still be effective at work.
After you’ve determined what type of job you have, you can begin to figure out what kind of podcast you can listen to while you’re working.
The important ideas you need to remember while listening to a podcast while working include:
- Choosing a podcast that doesn’t evoke moderately intense emotions
- Choosing a podcast that you enjoy and helps reduce your stress
- Taking periodical breaks to allow you to gather yourself and maintain constant focus
Choosing the Right Podcast
One key idea as to why podcasts are generally distracting that we discussed earlier is the simple reason that podcasts were meant to be entertaining and engaging; they weren’t meant to be listened to while working.
However, certain types of podcasts are meant for situations requiring attention, such as daily commuting and working out. Fortunately, some podcasts can be listened to during general work.
Because these podcasts were meant to be listened to while working, they should hinder your productivity much less than they normally would. In fact, many times, podcasts are created to help your productivity.
Many of them incorporate ideas that we talked about earlier, such as adding in a natural break during the podcast so that listeners can gather their attention.
To find the podcast that will work for you, you’re going to need to do your own research, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
There’s no debate over the rising popularity of podcasts, but their increasing popularity has caused many people to start listening to them in a lot of daily situations. What remains to be debated is whether or not podcasts can increase productivity during work.
While it is possible that podcasts can increase your focus and attention, they generally cause more distractions than benefits. If you’re going to listen to podcasts while working, make sure that you’re aware of its effects and listen mindfully.
On a related note, you can also check out these 54 ways to avoid distractions while working.
Hamid Tahir is a Mechatronics Engineer and founder of WFH Overload. He is currently working from home and is dedicated to the continuous improvement of his home office setup. Hamid has extensive experience setting up workspaces and dealing with the related tech. He hopes to share his knowledge to help you create the most productive and comfortable work from home setup. Read More