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When Needing Insight into a Career Problem, Take A Music Break!

A card that says "Music = life" next to a set of headphones

When trying to solve a problem- whether it’s a workplace issue, discovering your path to leadership, or finding a new job- it can feel like you are either focusing on it ad nauseum or avoiding it with time fillers.

After noticing that you’ve been filling your free time with staring into space, checking your social media apps, or counting the days until Christmas (are we already that close?!), these activity ideas that have little to do with focusing on your problem might be just the ticket for boosting your mood and your success.

If you’ve got 5, 20, or 60 minutes to spare, make the most of it with some fun activities that can provide insight. We will be running a 3-part series with suggestions for making the most of your time. Start this week with music! 

Be Guided by the Music

We tend to think of music as a creative, whimsical pursuit, but if you’ve ever counted rhythms, you know that there’s something as logical as math involved. Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University has said that “the distribution of pitches and loudness in music follow predictable mathematical problems”- how’s that for a music/math connection! Consider using music to bring a balance of creativity and logic to your situation. Below are activities you can try that will have you working with music (and they only involve math if you want them to):

If you’ve got five minutes…

Listen to a song. While you’re listening, observe what instruments you can identify and whether there are any parts of the music that you’ve never heard before. Why might that be so- what allowed you to pinpoint them this time? How has- and to what degree- the music lifted your mood? In what part of the piece is the bright spot, climax, or denouement? Which is your favorite and why? Get yourself into the practice of just observing and seeing what you can apply to other areas of your life.

After you’ve listened to the song, comb over the last few activities you engaged in related to your job search (or other issue you are trying to resolve). Review the work you’ve already covered- a job listing, an updated resume, a draft of a presentation or employee review- and see if, like you did with the song, you notice something you hadn’t before. What might you do with this new information?

If you’ve got twenty minutes…

The stage is yours- make some music! If you don’t have any instruments, that’s okay. Many musicians- professionals and amateurs alike- will make do with everyday household items such as pots and pans, wooden or silver spoons, and cheese graters. Give yourself 20 minutes to just create, experience, and explore. It doesn’t matter if it sounds like actual music or just noise. This is for you and you alone. How does it feel to count beats, work with the instruments, and experience your creation? What reflections from this experience can you take to resolving your problem?

If you’ve got an hour….

Go to a concert, recital, or other music-related activity. In addition to the five minute exercise, do the following: experience the audience - is it an amped up crowd or a subdued bunch? Does the crowd excite or exhaust you? What might that tell you about your preferred work environment? For example, if you’ve typically worked alone at your desk but actually thrive best when you are around people, you may want to consider this for your next career move. Think about asking your manager to assign you to a group project. If you’re job searching, you may want to revisit your list of job applications and tailor it to better suit your needs and preferences.

By Victoria Crispo

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