How to boost your productivity with classical music


As some of you will know, I was briefly a lawyer. This means I have lots of lawyer friends (which, I presume, can only come in handy). One such lawyerfriend texted a while back with the following:

"I've just started listening to classical music and now I'm addicted."

Glory be, hallelujah! Another convert! *Rings big bell and maniacally adds hatchmark to tally on giant chalkboard*

While I have yet to dig into her newfound love of classical music with her, I suspect she's stumbled upon her new addiction because it aligns perfectly with her work. Classical music is an amazing tool for boosting productivity, increasing focus, and, most importantly, adding more curiosity, juiciness, and joy to your day. 

So, to uplevel YOUR work soundtrack, here's WHY you should listen to classical music while you work, and HOW you should do it.


Why your workday needs classical music

First, why. What I love about classical music at work is that it’s varied enough to keep my attention, but "background-y" enough to not pull my focus away from what I'm trying to get done. If you're listening to a mixed classical playlist through your day, you're going to get a wide variety of tempi, moods, instrumentations, styles, and genres to keep your energy buoyant without keeping you at EDM-level heart-thumping.

I also love tucking in for an hour here or there to a full symphony, song cycle, lengthy piano sonata, or act from an opera. This helps me stay grounded in a more time-consuming task by maintaining a consistent (while still dynamic) accompaniment to what I'm doing. Plus, time constraints can be enormously helpful when trying to crush out certain tasks and projects (ever had the eye-opening experience of having only an hour to get something done?), so I also love treating one of these long-form pieces of music as a bit of a productivity timer, forcing me to think of the hour-long track as my total window to execute on my task.

Aside from those high-energy or super-focused times of the day when I appreciate classical music for its lyric-less, low-interference nature, I also like to keep my mind active even during the more mundane parts of a work day. For this, classical radio reigns supreme. It’s the ideal mixture of the stimulation of a podcast (you get to learn more about composers, performers, and famous works of classical music in little tidbits during the breaks) and a perfectly balanced playlist. Listening to classical radio through the day keeps me sharp without being distracting, which totally uplevels those “in-between” or low-energy times of day.


How to listen to classical music at work

So… a bit more on the “how”, then. If classical radio appeals to you, you’re in luck: we live in the most incredible time to be a fan of radio. Online, you can listen to so much more than your local radio stations (but you can do that, too!). You don’t even need a subscription of any kind.

Classical Music Radio

Here are just a few awesome classical radio stations you can listen to from your desk:

WQXR – New York Public Radio

WQXR is basically THE classical music station. Being based in New York brings a whole lotta benefits, including high-profile guests, super knowledgable hosts, and a well-curated playlist that both beginners and seasoned classical music lovers will enjoy.

BBC Radio 3

I love the live stream on Radio 3, but I REALLY love the archived content. One of my favourite things in the whole world is listening through each summer’s Proms concerts after they happen. The quality is so high that you really feel like you were there (with the added benefits of skipping pieces you don’t love and pausing to make more coffee).

CBC Music

CBC is my personal fave, not just because I’m Canadian, but because the flow of each day’s programming is ideal for a workday (ESPECIALLY for a creative/maker/entrepreneur who doesn’t have a typical schedule… aka, anyone who works in weird patterns all the livelong day). I particularly love the transitions in and out of classical music in the morning and afternoon.

And last but certainly not least, NPR Music Radio has a giant list of links to classical music channels (scroll down, then click “Classical”)

Classical Music Podcasts

If podcasts are more your thing – again, lucky you! – there are a whole bunch of absolutely incredible classical music options. Extra bonus: you’re gonna learn a whole lot about classical music in a short amount of time, PLUS get to hear the incredible works themselves (or, at least, snippets from them).

Here are a few classical podcasts to get you started:

Aria Code

Each episode of Aria Code breaks down a famous opera aria and links its text and subject matter to current topics and events. It’s SO good, you guys! And each episode ends with the full aria (for the uninitiated, arias are short – rarely more than 10 minutes). This is an absolute gem of a podcast.

That Classical Podcast

This has been described as “Two twentysomethings making classical music hilarious.” If that doesn’t get you interested, I don’t know what will. They chat about a famous piece, and play snippets so you know what they’re talking about. Extra credit: listen to the work on YouTube etc. as soon as you finish the short episode.

Sticky Notes

If symphonic music is your jam, Sticky Notes should be right up your alley. Conductor Joshua Weilerstein breaks down some of the greatest works of the orchestral canon. As with That Classical Podcast, follow up listening to each episode (which include very thoughtfully and effectively integrated excerpts) with a listen to the full work. Trust me, you’ll want to once you hear all about it from Weilerstein.

Streaming Classical Music

Finally, you can always stream classical music playlists or stations from your favourite streaming service. I use Apple Music, so I often pop on one of their radio stations (which include Classical, Simply Piano, and Opera Radio). I also love the Apple classical playlists, like Classical Chill, Classical Sleep (it’s good for writing, I promise), and Classical Concentration.

If you’re a Spotify user, Classical Essentials is an insanely well-curated playlist, as is Introduction to Classical Music.

However, let me get on my soapbox for a moment and tell you that there is an absolute crapton of shite classical music playlists on Spotify (and on Apple Music, for that matter), so here’s the pro tip: look for a playlist where the names of pieces are long, and the names of artists are also really long. A crappy “classical” playlist will have pseudo-classical music, and thus, will look more like a pop playlist in the names. A true classical playlist will include the full names of real pieces by the composers you want to listen to, as well as a full listing of the artists playing (including the conductors, orchestra, soloist, etc. where applicable). Okay, rant over. You’ve been warned!


Okay! You’re ready to kick this week’s ass

Hopefully that’s gotten you fired up about trying out classical music at work! Give it a try this week and find your groove… I promise, if you give it a shot and stick with it, classical music can uplevel your work productivity AND joy.

Until next time!