quiet I just came to an odd realization recently regarding my preferences for noise vs. quiet depending on the type of work I'm doing--and how those have changed over time.

It seems that when I'm in a mode that requires lost of multi-tasking or context switching, such as handling a lot of small requests (email, anyone?), I work best in a very quiet setting. An empty house or library makes sense here.

On the other hand, when I'm working on something that requires prolonged focus and/or deep concentration, such as writing a longer article or developing a piece of software, I work best with some noise. Music from my iPod works well here.

I guess that when I need to concentrate, the familiar music blocks out most potential distractions, allowing me to focus. And when I need to be constantly disturbing myself, the lack of noise helps to make sure the distractions I take are those of my own choosing (mostly).

Have you found similar or differing patters in your own work styles?

Posted by jzawodn at December 03, 2007 07:06 AM

Reader Comments
# knupNET said:

I work best in the quiet. I think it's a personal preference but I know for me - TV, radio, kids, etc. reduce my productivity.

on December 3, 2007 07:26 AM
# Egor Egorov said:

Absolutely the same for me.

on December 3, 2007 07:30 AM
# Curtis Chambers said:

For me I think that music helps, but certain types work better for different tasks. When I really need to focus on a difficult problem, classical music or jazz tends to work best as it doesn't distract me and I think it helps stimulate the mind. If I'm just churning out some boilerplate code or debugging, I'll probably rock out to some Led Zeppelin or fast techno. For writing e-mails or blogposts, pretty much anything. The only time when music is distracting for me is if I'm trying to read a book.

on December 3, 2007 07:33 AM
# Deepak said:

Varies for me. When I want to just finish up something (report, emails, etc), I work best with ambient noise/motion (e.g. in a cafe). When I am in a zone, I need some loud music. When I am trying to think through something deep, ambient electronica/abstract stuff does the trick

on December 3, 2007 07:42 AM
# Charles said:

I had this discussion a while ago when I was taking an oil painting class, and we all had arguments about what music to listen to in class, or whether we should listen at all. This was before the days of the iPod, so we just had a big boom box. My professor said that listening to music was a very bad idea for painters, because you couldn't help subconsciously moving in rhythm to the music, and the rhythm might not be the right one for what you were painting at that moment. He proclaimed that he had found the ideal soundtrack for his painting studio, he always listened to ultra-right-wing talk radio like Rush Limbaugh. He said it was so irrational, just listening to it would shut down your rational mind so you could free yourself from the critical voices in your head, and allow your painting to flow freely from your subconscious. Well that's one approach, I guess.

As for myself, I have tinnitus so if it's totally quiet, I'm distracted by the ringing in my ears. So I always have my TV on, tuned low to CNN. The human voices give a comforting background to mask the ringing in my ears, but the content is such rubbish that I don't get engaged with it. However, whenever George Bush comes on the TV, I have to turn off the sound completely, or I become enraged and distracted.

I often think of one of Marcel Duchamp's waggish remarks, oh what a joker. Back in the '60s, he said he liked having a little TV constantly running in his studio. He said it broke up the emptiness of the solitary studio workplace, it was like having a pet that you never had to feed.

on December 3, 2007 07:54 AM
# Mario Chamorro said:

I like the comment that it's like a pet you never have to feed - unless you choose not to have a TV because it tends to make you waste the rest of your free time. For this reason, I prefer the cafe - there's noise, commotion, sights, sounds, and a warm cup of coffee. To drown out unwanted noise when coding, ambient or trance .

on December 3, 2007 08:24 AM
# Gustavo said:

I work the same as you do.

Plus, I cannot sleep quiet-ly, I always put the tv or the radio on 'sleep'.

on December 3, 2007 09:45 AM
# Wally said:

When I code, I listen to a lot of Trance and Progressive. I'm not a big fan of the genre, but it keeps the blood pumping like caffeine, minus any distracting lyrics.

on December 3, 2007 09:56 AM
# Charles said:

Mario: a clarification, Duchamp advocated having a TV on, he didn't actually advocate WATCHING it. Ha.

on December 3, 2007 12:08 PM
# Bharath R said:

A quiet environment works best for me. No two ways about it.

on December 4, 2007 12:04 AM
# Brendan Cullen said:

When I'm working on a design or jumping around between a lot of different projects, I tend to listen to whatever's handy on my iPod.

When I'm coding or doing something that involves a lot of concentration, classical music at a very, very low volume really helps me get in the "zone"

on December 4, 2007 08:12 AM
# Maurice Walshe said:

I go with the quiet with some background music open plan offices are terible for this. Almost went in and shouted at some marketing types where where being loud in one of the big meeting rooms on our floor at BT once.

Though if i'me playing games like Halo or WOW 4 to the 4 Northern soul is good to frag to.

on December 4, 2007 08:51 AM
# James Smith said:

Like most people it depends what I'm doing. If it's something that I really have to do tunnel vision with, ie coding, then I have music blasting. It gets me in the zone. But with other stuff just the sounds of my computers running in the background do it for me, ie checking email, talking with the VP.

on December 17, 2007 10:06 AM
# Reow said:

Actually the music/quiet preference comes down to a number of factors, amongst which are whether you hear yourself read, hear yourself write, are familiar with the material/subject you are reading/writing, and the complexity of the material.

Generally, if you can speed read, you can read/write while listening to music.

on November 5, 2009 09:08 PM
# Shani said:

Quiet in the environment does not necessarily help me to focus - I am more distracted by my busy inner world. That it one of the reasons why I wrote Foxy Focus - a practical guideline for clever fun focus techniques to clear the mind from bad memories, worries, anxieties, resentments and other inner distractions. My previously published books are geared to similar topics.

on June 15, 2010 06:57 AM
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