Finding peace and quiet in a noisy world

I hate background noise. Maybe I’m just easily distracted, but almost any noise around me while I’m working will cut my productivity to zero – people talking, footsteps, doors opening and closing, traffic on the street outside. Even birds. Listening to music is no help either. Headbanging along to Metallica or Bieber or whatever I find on Spotify certainly feels good, but it doesn’t actually make me productive… and so I need a better solution! What distracts you at work? How do you deal with it? What works for you and what doesn’t?

One thing I’ve tried with a little success is classical music without vocal accompaniment. That’s definitely better than nothing, but I’m also learning more about music. And so now it’s not just noise and is starting to distract me in it’s own right… Oh no!

Fortunately, I’ve also come across something that’s even better! White noise! This is nothing more than an even mix of all audible frequencies, and it’s freely available (SimplyNoise and their iphone app are superb). Since our ears have a limited ability to process lots of different frequencies at once, white noise makes all other sounds seem quieter, just like it’s hard to hear what someone is saying in a big crowd of other people talking. This is exactly the phenomenon described in recent research and reported here.

So now I use white noise at work and at home, and it’s great for dealing with distractions. What’s more, even if it’s relatively quiet and there aren’t any obvious distractions, I will still always concentrate better if I play some – seeming quiet and being quiet are not the same thing! Can you hear the fan on your computer? If I turn off my white noise I hear it immediately, even if I wouldn’t normally consciously notice it but just be silently distracted instead…!

So that’s where I’m at, and I’m pretty happy with this solution to a problem that has plagued me for years. But maybe there are better solutions still… please feel free to share your thoughts and comments!

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6 thoughts on “Finding peace and quiet in a noisy world

  1. spikecurtis says:

    I use a pair of noise-canceling headphones (Bose Quiet Comfort). They’re really impressive at removing noise like traffic, computer fans, and HVAC. They don’t do that well with other people talking though (too variable). You could play white noise through them though for a double whammy.

    • Nice… they actually play white noise in the ceiling at work for me, but it’s not very loud so I tend to use my trusty old iPhone headphones and play white noise over them as well. Said headphones are very stylish looking, but not very effective – will look into the Bose Quiet Comfort ones or similar, thanks for the headsup 🙂

  2. I also find other people distracting while I am trying to work, but I mostly find music (through decent headphones) to be helpful — both because it blocks out most of the other background noise such as people talking, and because it gives the part of my mind that tends to wander something to focus on that is (usually) not enough to be too distracting in itself, while still preventing other more effective distractions. Or something like that? If that makes any sense?

    • Mmm interesting point about how the anti-distraction method needs to be engaging enough that it doesn’t totally zone you out. I’m not sure I can quite do the multi-part thing you mention, but maybe I’m fooling myself that white noise > classical music > nothing. Prompts a follow on question: what’s the best way to quantify this? Via tenxer maybe?

    • Interesting… it doesn’t sound like white noise to me (white noise is quite “hissy”) but I wonder if it’s some other colour? Prompts the question: which colour is most effective at dulling surrounding noise…? Not sure, something I would have to think about or experiment with!

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