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Do Headphones Help Or Hurt Productivity? 405

Hugh Pickens writes "Derek Thompson writes that there is an excellent chance you are wearing, or within arm's reach of, a pair of headphones or earbuds. To visit a modern office place is to walk into a room with a dozen songs playing simultaneously but to hear none of them. In survey after survey, office workers report with confidence that music makes us happier, better at concentrating, and more productive. But science says we're full of it, writes Thompson. 'Listening to music hurts our ability to recall other stimuli, and any pop song — loud or soft — reduces overall performance for both extroverts and introverts.' So if headphones are so bad for productivity, why do so many people at work have headphones? The answer is that personal music creates a shield both for listeners and for those walking around usm says Thompson. 'I am here, but I am separate. In a wreck of people and activity, two plastic pieces connected by a wire create an aura of privacy.' We assume that people wearing them are busy or oblivious, so now people wear them to appear busy or oblivious — even without music. Wearing soundless headphones is now a common solution to productivity blocks. 'If music evolved as a social glue for the species — as a way to make groups and keep them together — headphones allow music to be enjoyed friendlessly — as a way to savor our privacy, in heightened solitude,' concludes Thompson. 'In a crowded world, real estate is the ultimate scarce resource, and a headphone is a small invisible fence around our minds — making space, creating separation, helping us listen to ourselves.'"
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Do Headphones Help Or Hurt Productivity?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I would expect
    silence > music > office noise

    • by jakimfett ( 2629943 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:59PM (#40161639) Homepage Journal

      silence > music > office noise

      I would agree with this, except I would put classical music [classicalforums.com] and/or binaural music [blogspot.com] above silence, as both have been shown to improve concentration and reduce learning and recall times.

      • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:22PM (#40161857) Journal

        I would agree with this, except I would put classical music [classicalforums.com] and/or binaural music [blogspot.com] above silence, as both have been shown to improve concentration and reduce learning and recall times.

        I'm not sure the binaural thing has been conclusively shown to have a benefit, but I have found that listening to music with binaural beats does make me feel like my mind is clearer and more capable of extended periods of concentration.

        Silence would be best, I think, but the problem with the average office is that it is anything but silent, even when it's quiet. There are keyboards clacking, machines humming, cpu fans whirring and air conditioners blowing.

        The main thing I'd like to say about this article is that I'm more concerned about what is making workers happy than what makes them a few percentage points more productive.

        Everybody is already plenty productive. Too productive, maybe. Our lives are out of balance when it comes to productivity/happiness. Almost everyone I know could stand to be a little less productive and a little more content.

      • by Deep Esophagus ( 686515 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @11:20PM (#40163299)

        I really don't think you can make a generalization about whether any type of music, even classical, helps or hinders concentration. I'm a musical person -- I've been singing in choirs and barbershop groups almost my entire life -- so I pay *very* close attention to music. I can't help it; even if it's music I can't stand I am compelled to listen closely to the melody (if there is any) and lyrics (if there are any). So for me, any type of background music overrides my ability to concentrate on anything else.

        Instead, I listen to music to help ease the boredom of mindless physical work, like my daily walks for exercise or the rare occasion I get out of my chair and do yardwork, etc. Then it doesn't matter that I put my body on autopilot while my brain focuses on the music; in fact it helps because the time goes by so much faster.

        There's that old joke about why is it we turn down the radio when we're looking for an unfamiliar street -- it's precisely *because* the music is a distraction. In the same way, whenever I have tried to enjoy my music while I'm working I lose focus and frequently forget where I left off. My attention span is fragile enough without the additional burden of a shiny audible toy.

        Which brings me to a refutation of TFS: When I do use headphones, it's not because I am protecting myself from the rest of the world. Rather, it's because I am protecting the rest of the world from me. It's an unwritten social contract: You don't make me listen to that obnoxious rap, and I won't make you listen to the Side Street Ramblers belting out "Bye Bye Blackbird" with a tenor who can shatter the windows in your car.

      • silence > music > office noise

        I would agree with this, except I would put classical music [classicalforums.com] and/or binaural music [blogspot.com] above silence, as both have been shown to improve concentration and reduce learning and recall times.

        Hmmm... I can't believe I've made it this far into the comments and nobody has mentioned trance (and related electronic genres). Unlike classical, you don't have the dynamics leaving you straining to hear over your co-workers one minute, deafened by a crescendo the next. The repetition and lack of lyrics keep it from being distracting. Just pick something fairly textured and it sublimates all those inane conversations going on around you (as you wonder why you're in the middle of a call center while idiots paid less than you have quiet, private offices so they can do serious intellectual work like making PowerPoint presentations).

      • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Thursday May 31, 2012 @12:20AM (#40163545) Homepage Journal

        I'd have to qualify that with "ambient music I know well". Yesterday when the links to the wonderful kickstarted version of the Goldberg Variations was released, I found myself closing my eyes and just absorbing the music. I opened them about 15 minutes later, completely relaxed, and having accomplished exactly *nothing* in that time!

        High energy repetitive ambient house or electronica, with no more than a few meaningless lyrics, stuff I've heard before, those I can work to. Beautifully performed classical music, not so much. Metal would have me reaching for earplugs. Jazz seems specifically designed to break my concentration. Rap makes me flee. And country music actually makes me angry.

        I believe that everyone who reads this will have their own very specific, very personal opinions about what is good music to "improve concentration". A poll or study only reveal common traits that indicate what percentages of each genre you should stock in a jukebox, but do not a useful, personalized recommendation make.

    • For me I seem to be much more productive with music. Mostly when I am coding. Writing code is rather easy and if I don't have music, my mind will wonder and I will spend more time in my thought then writing code.

  • by CycleMan ( 638982 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:36PM (#40161385)
    ... compared with the random office noises around you, a reliable predictable set of stimuli is easier to tune out. Music is almost white noise when contrasted with folks taking loud phone calls about medical problems, unattended phones ringing at their desks, and so on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by neilbaby ( 53319 )

      ... compared with the random office noises around you, a reliable predictable set of stimuli is easier to tune out. Music is almost white noise when contrasted with folks taking loud phone calls about medical problems, unattended phones ringing at their desks, and so on.

      Here! Here!

      And it is doubly important when you're working in a bullpen with a bunch of over-caffeinated, Asperger-ish software engineers.

      • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:46PM (#40161503) Journal

        Here! Here!

        At least when discussing a story about effects of listening you should get "hear, hear!" right.

        • I think you interpreted the post all wrong. They were trying to get your attention so they could put in a slam about developers.

      • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:23PM (#40161877)

        I worked in a bullpen in my last job (and this was one of the main reasons I quit without notice one day when I get too fed up with it). The software engineers weren't the problem; they're generally quiet. The problem was all the stupid managers constantly walking by, wanting to stop and chit-chat, or talk with my manager endlessly (he sat across from me), sit their ass on my desk while I'm trying to work, or worse tap me on the back when I had my headphones on. The other problem was the stupid loud air-conditioning unit in the ceiling directly over my desk that would drone for the entire day until 5PM sharp, when it suddenly became much quieter.

        I had to stop wearing my headphones because of the assholes sneaking up on me all the time and nearly giving me a heart attack, and it eventually drove me nuts enough that when my manager gave me shit about coming to work too late (staying late to make up for it wasn't good enough for him, even though my productivity was far, far higher after 5PM when the noise and commotion all stopped), I threw a resignation letter at him and walked out.

        My advice: never take a job in a bullpen environment.

    • by alispguru ( 72689 ) <bane@NOSpam.gst.com> on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:47PM (#40161525) Journal

      Consider the results of an experiment I first saw described in Peopleware [javatroopers.com] (scroll down to "Creative Space"). The researchers compared performance at Fortran programming between people in quiet rooms and people in rooms with music. The good news is that performance was about the same. The bad news was:

      There was a hidden wildcard. The specification required an output data stream be formed through a series of manipulations on numbers in the input data stream. Although unspecified, the net effect of all the operations was that each output number was equal to its input number. Of those students who figured this out, the overwhelming majority came from the quiet room.

      The part of your brain that listens to music is apparently also the part that notices odd things in your code, and it can't do two things at once.

      • by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:17PM (#40161813) Homepage

        The trade-off I've found when programming is that I find it easier to enter into a flow state [wikipedia.org] when I have music playing. That seems to be from a mix of blocking out distractions along with being more upbeat when hearing things I like. Whether things are familiar is key too; music I've never heard before is distracting, it's old favorites that go into my "flow mix".

        It's possible for what I'm describing to be true and all of these other results to be as well. I wouldn't expect a programming flow state to be the best thing for either concentration for optimum memory (what's tested in TFA) or for detecting unusual patterns (the Peopleware study).

    • by khasim ( 1285 )

      I don't know what the article is going on about but my experience is 100% the opposite.

      'If music evolved as a social glue for the species â" as a way to make groups and keep them together â" headphones allow music to be enjoyed friendlessly â" as a way to savor our privacy, in heightened solitude,' concludes Thompson.

      I play crap I like to drown out the distractions. If I played crap I did not like then it would be the distraction.

      This has nothing to do with "friendlessly".
      A friend of mine kee

    • I like music.

      I like music a lot more than the sounds of the whirring fans, the babble, and the typing noises.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jaden ( 22302 )

      ding ding. more or less what I came here to say and what other comments seem to reflect. headphones might not stand up against non-distracting sounds or silence... and if they're piping in pop music for tests i'm sure they might reduce your random number recall. but on a whole it's a study that doesn't reflect something a number of us have experienced to be true... if you want to deeply concentrate on something (writing code, or something else that often benefits from extreme focus)... tuning out one sen

    • by almitydave ( 2452422 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:06PM (#40161719)

      I wear headphones (and usually listen to music when I'm wearing them) to quiet the conversations and noisy distractions, including the ever-present white noise generator, which is designed to drown out the conversations and noisy distractions caused by our open floor plan (no cubicle walls, to facilitate communication), but is so loud that conversations are difficult unless you speak loudly.

    • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:38PM (#40162009)

      Especially if the music is 'nonsense'. I listen to Technobase.fm [technobase.fm] all day long. It's one constant song spun by some DJs in Germany. There are no breaks and songs just flow one to the another. When the DJ does come on he's speaking German so tune him out and since they're matching beats there is almost always a constant beat that I use to type to.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Turmoyl ( 958221 )

      I agree. My office is an enclosed space where all 6 of us can hear every word the other 5 say. One fellow is extremely talkative, as well as louder than most, whether on the phone, or receiving visitors in his cubical. Some mornings I can go without headphones for an hour or so, while everyone is busy sifting through email, but it is rare to find me without Pandora playing for the rest of the day.

      Without headphones I can barely concentrate on anytihng. Between the loud conversation to my left, the loud typi

  • While working with headphones may be a bit distracting and reduce productivity I find the noises that I would hear without the headphones to be more distracting. Finding a quite workplace is not as easy as it should be.
    • I wonder more people using headphones is also a result of the move from dedicated offices to cubicle farms. A lot of the offices I've worked in were so noisy and distracting, I've often used headphones not because I felt like listening to music, but to drown out the noise.

      I've seriously considered getting a pair of ear protection headphones like an airport worker and just using those. Or noise cancellation headphones.

      • Can highly recommend the noise cancellation headphones / ear buds. I have used them both at work, and when flying (which I had to do a hell of a lot of at once stage in my job). For flying I would often put them on but not connect them to anything - is also great for discouraging conversation (I don't mind a chat on occasions, but not on the 6am flight).

    • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:59PM (#40161631) Homepage

      Finding a quite workplace is not as easy as it should be.

      Yes! It's quiet difficult these days.

  • 'pop music'... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarcoAtWork ( 28889 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:38PM (#40161407)

    that's why most people I know that listen to music while working/coding do not listen to pop (or vocal music in general), but to classical, trance etc. also the article says that silence is better than music in general, which is likely true, but among music and office noises (with random conversations/noises) I am sure people are more productive with music vs without

    • I will occasionally leave my headphones on with no music, just to not be interrupted (not that it stops everyone). For music, I find that music that I know well lets me concentrate well, where good music that I don't know well distracts. Pop music doesn't generally fit into either of these categories, so I'm not sure of its effect.

      • Re:'pop music'... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <jwsmythe@jwsmy[ ].com ['the' in gap]> on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:15PM (#40162325) Homepage Journal

            I've been known to do that. I'd wear noise cancelling headphones, so I don't hear idle chatter, doors opening and closing, phones ringing, or all the rest of the nonsense that is associated with an office. Sometimes I'd have music playing, sometimes I wouldn't.

            One thing I was advised about it though was, occasionally I'd talk to myself a little. Usually a "Hmm", or "ah ha", or even quiet rambling about the problem as I was working through it. Since I couldn't hear myself talk, my internal dialogue would sometimes not be internal.

            I usually managed to quell interruptions by explaining to people that there is a startup time for doing any work. Interruptions reset that time. So if it takes 5 minutes to mentally get back into what I was doing, and they stop by to ask me something every 15 minutes, they've delayed the work they want done by 20 minutes per hour, plus as long as they were talking. I was always clear to let people know when their request was done, so they learned not to interrupt to see if I was done yet.

            They'd also see multiple shells open, all doing something different or pending email responses to complete a task, so their interruptions didn't only hurt task, but others too.


    • Re:'pop music'... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zephyn ( 415698 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:59PM (#40161627)

      I have a similar experience with music. Instrumental music drowns out the office noise and tends to enhance the thought process. Music with lyrics tends to get too distracting. And if it's modern pop music, part of the productivity loss is probably due to having to resist the urge to take out one's own eardrums with a staple remover.

    • Agreed. I like a wide variety of music, from thrash/speed metal to hip hop to mbube to electronica, but when I'm trying to be productive, I usually settle in with some ambient techno/downbeat like Morcheeba, Tycho, Bonobo (love love LOVE his Black Sands album, but they're all top notch), Boards of Canada, Little People, and many others. Just recently discovered Washed Out, his Within & Without album is currently blowing my mind.

      I just tend to work better when I have something that I can groove to but

    • I agree. I find real trance (not the crappy bubble gum crap cheer leaders dance to) puts me in a state of mind that's quite conducive to coding.
    • Jean Michel Jarre is excellent for working to, particularly Oxygene and Equinoxe.
    • Re:'pop music'... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Eil ( 82413 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:59PM (#40162603) Homepage Journal

      I came here to say this. When a song has vocals (particularly hyper-compressed ones optimized for factory car stereos), I find it impossible to concentrate on anything else but the song. Even driving. Dunno if it's my ADD or if everyone is like this and just don't know it or don't care. If I want music for background noise, I generally reach for trance, downtempo, or pretty much anything that is elelctronic sans vocals.

      Typically, I tune into one of several streaming stations, but I also maintain a YouTube playlist called music to hack by [youtube.com] that I sometimes bring up at work when I want to drown out the office jibber-jabber and concentrate to some fairly rocking choons.

  • by subreality ( 157447 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:38PM (#40161409)

    ... but it's a lot less damaging than listening to 6 conversations among people around me. Personally I like "earplug" style headphones which block out most of the noise; then I can use very quiet music to mask the rest.

    • Exactly .. also, the isolating headphones allow you to block out all outside sound at much lower music levels, so hearing damage is not as much of an issue. They;re great on buses, etc, as well where you can block out the rather loud ambient noise. When I was commuting on a bus and watching recorded TV shows, I noticed that I needed to have the volume extremely loud to be able to hear things without using isolating headphones. I don't think it would take long before measurable damage was done.

    • by dindi ( 78034 )

      I swear I am not affiliated to Bose, but I really think the best thing I ever got for myself to aid work was a QuietComfort headset. I used studio Sony's for years and after 3-4 hours my ears/head was hurting from the pressure. I cannot use the in-canal blocking ones (I go nuts, they hurt and fall out) so I needed an other solution. (actually the Bose MIE 2 for iphone is comfy, but it is not blocking, nor has noise cancellation).

      For me the around the ear/cup design is the most comfy with active noise cancel

  • by pathological liar ( 659969 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:39PM (#40161433)

    Unfortunately I work in an open concept office, so it's either headphones or listen to everything else around me, which is infinitely worse.

    Ever notice how the people who decide on an open concept office usually have a door to theirs?

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:53PM (#40161575)

      Unfortunately I work in an open concept office, so it's either headphones or listen to everything else around me, which is infinitely worse.

      Ever notice how the people who decide on an open concept office usually have a door to theirs?

      Best cure for an open office plan is a white noise generator [wikipedia.org]. The first time I heard one in an office I was amazed at how quite it was.

      • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:06PM (#40161717) Homepage

        Best cure for an open office plan is a white noise generator.

        Yes. I often find a 5 MW gas turbine (I like Siemens SGT-100, myself), will drown out most office conversations (But not all - Connie, I'm looking at you!). The exhaust, unless well-vented, will also tend to deaden (in both senses of the word) office noise, as well.

      • A Pink Noise Generator is wonderful! ("Pink" noise is a different set of frequency bands tuned to cover up conversation. "White" noise is roughly equivalent to radio static; it sounds a bit harsh.)

        When ours shuts off after hours, if I'm still at my desk, you get a weird "open" feeling when it shuts off. And, if somebody else is still there, I can clearly hear them from across the cube farm.

      • by sco08y ( 615665 )

        Best cure for an open office plan is a white noise generator [wikipedia.org]. The first time I heard one in an office I was amazed at how quite it was.

        I've found part of what makes it hard is the overall volume of the background noise, air conditioning, machines, etc. This, in turn, causes people to speak more loudly.

        Regular headphones with white / pink noise are very loud, and the more noise you add, the more strain it is to listen to.

        Noise cancelling headphones by themselves are very effective against the AC, but then voices are even louder. And, to my experience, pink noise doesn't work well with noise cancelling algos. (Noise cancelling headphones by

  • Robots don't need headphones.

  • Listening to music or Talk radio or audiobooks stops me from wasting time on the internet, and thus doing some actual work. (puts on headphones) (resumes coding)

  • Maybe if... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by __Paul__ ( 1570 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:45PM (#40161491) Homepage

    ...idiot MBA-wielding managers didn't keep shoving people into morale-destroying open-plan offices, they wouldn't have to wear headphones to get a modicum of privacy.

    • Re:Maybe if... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dubbreak ( 623656 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:06PM (#40161715)
      Excellent point. When I had a private office with a door I had the choice of having the door open to the general R&D area (keep up on what's happening), closing the door for quite concentration and wearing headphones if I liked (some things headphones were good for, some times I need absolute quite to focus on the problem.. depends on a lot of factors).

      We ran out of space for private offices so I ended up sharing a single office. We could still close the door however headphones were the only option if my office-mate was discussing something with another employee.

      Move forward and there was even less space. The solution? Tear out the offices in favour of an 'open concept' office which would 'improve communication' among team members. I ended up having to wear headphones daily regardless of whether I wanted to.

      I ended up leaving for another opportunity and work from home (mainly). Sometimes I play music, sometimes I don't but no headphones (I run proper stereo components). I find it so much more productive because I have the quiet I need for complex problems whenever I want without having to get up and shut a door. Plus I have better lighting (natural daylight!!), better chair (because I'm not a cheap ass and recognize the benefits of a good chair), better keyboard (same deal again). There are a lot of factors in productivity (many of which are environmental), but I'm quite certain any decent dev can tell you want they need to be productive. Not giving them things like a good chair or mechanical keyboard (if that's what they want) due to 'budget' is pure bullshit. If a good developer thinks they need it, they probably do and it will pay back in productivity quickly. Sometimes providing something like a door isn't realistic under the circumstances but if that's the case then why you are providing a sub par work environment needs to be investigated. If you want nothing but the best from your employees then the right environment needs to be provided for those results.
      • Re:Maybe if... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <jwsmythe@jwsmy[ ].com ['the' in gap]> on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:28PM (#40162401) Homepage Journal

            Cube spaces are excellent for various things. You can prepare notes that say "shut up", wad them up, and lob them over the wall without anyone noticing who sent it. When they start getting pissy saying "Who threw the note at me that said shut up?" Everyone else would admit to it.

            If they didn't get the clue, a stockpile of "borrowed" desk items (pens, highlighters, staplers, etc) would start following. It only takes a few staplers to the head for them to realize that they're too being too loud.

            That, or transcribing their not-work-related conversations, and anonymously sending them to their supervisor.

  • Seems to me like they picked something random that they could measure, and are then trying to generalize it to be something that matters for work. I'm not seeing how the ability to "recall other stimuli" is a test for productivity. I would think it would be more along the lines of "generate a bunch of code."

    I find that music helps me for certain things. Normally I don't listen to music at work, unless it is noisy or I just feel like it. My headphones generally sit on my desk except when I'm using them for w

  • I disagree (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I disagree with the findings. In my experience most people wear headphones to drown out the noise generated in an office environment. It doesn't take too many days of listening to your neighbor on the other side of your cube wall talk to his wife about whats for dinner or your other neighbor who loves to hum to his music before you run out and buy a pair of noise cancelling head phones. Maybe If the CEOs would try and do a little work outside of their corner windowed office with the door shut things might c

  • I had a co-worker who always listened to NPR through her headphones at work. I have no idea how she ever got anything done.

    Like most people I know, I tend to listen to instrumental music (classical, bluegrass, whatever) when working or studying. Silence would probably be better but unfortunately I've never had a working environment where silence was an option. I'd like to find whoever came up with the concept of an open office plan, lock him inside an elevator, and then blast top 40 music at him 24/7, for

  • Fatal flaw (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dosun88888 ( 265953 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @06:59PM (#40161635) Homepage

    As others have pointed out, music is probably a far better distraction than random noises that people around you are making with their discussions and what not.

    What I do is to put a song on repeat. There are a bunch of songs that I have heard so many times that I don't even notice that they're playing anymore, and that allows me to concentrate on whatever it is I'm trying to figure out.

    When I hear people talking or walking around or anything that I cannot control, I'm distracted because I'm trying to figure out what is causing that noise and am taken out of my "figure things out" shell.

  • I almost strictly listen to electronic music when writing code. Not the tuc-tuc-tuc jumpy-jumpy techno kind, but psychedelic trance, Goa or progressive trance. Anything with singing happens (if it does) when I am writing mails or have to do some non-coding (e.g. configuring) activities.

    I do find music helpful with repetitive coding tasks. When I am stuck I prefer dead silence, but when you do routine stuff you did 1000 times it really helps to get the stuff done. That is when I prefer some really progressiv

    • by dindi ( 78034 )

      Oh, almost forgot: yes, headsets are antisocial, but probably I chose a profession that makes me sit with a bunch of machines because I prefer the machines over the chatter about politics, yesterday's TV show or the actual soccer game. This way I do not have to pretend caring about all this and join the time-wasting conversation.

      OK, that is not the case at my current place as we carefully filled the room with people who prefer darkness, headphones and their monitors over the above.

  • Depends on the music (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:00PM (#40161655)

    I've found that any music with recognizable words is too much of a distraction. My brain gets stuck keeping along with the song instead of working on the code.

    So most of my "coding music" consists of soundtracks - both film (complete Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, plus a few others) and video game (every Final Fantasy, every Zelda, and a bunch more). No words for my brain to get distracted by parsing, and no more accidentally typing in the lyrics to "Flight of Icarus" instead of actual code.

    Weirdly, it only happens for words I can understand. Languages I just flat-out don't know, like German or Japanese, are fine. And any Latin mangled badly enough for me to not understand it (see: most modern songs in Latin (I'm looking at you, Uematsu - that is NOT where the emphasis goes on "interius"!)) also flies right by. I've even discovered that incomprehensibly-sung English gets ignored as well, although I simultaneously discovered that I do *not* like death metal.

  • by baegucb ( 18706 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:00PM (#40161659)

    A co-worker years ago wore a Walkman. He confided in me that they had no batteries in them. It allowed him to ignore the boss while he worked.

  • ...if you're working on something that requires you to listen to what's coming through the headphones. Examples: an audio recording of the contract or document you're reviewing, learning a foreign language, learning a new song if you're lucky enough to be employed as a musician, audio feed for a virtual meeting, etc.

    But yeah, "background music", either via speaker or headphone, is otherwise usually about as conducive to productivity as leaving a television on within visual range. I think the reasons that w
  • Generally, the office music station is set to the eighties, but occasionally it's "ABC Lounce Music" off iTunes, or the seventies, or when one of us does some particularly outstanding feat, a station of our choice. We do have personal headphones, but that's for webinars and junk that other people probably don't want or need to hear.
  • to drown out the voices. From inside my head. No I don't. Yes I do. Shut up. Make me.

    As for creating privacy, nonsense I say. Just try scratching your nuts "in private" or farting and see if the women in the office don't complain to the boss.

    The only true test for something creating privacy is if you can drink a beer while sitting in your underwear while doing it.

  • I can't hear this discussion..let me take out my buds. (written listening to Alice in Chains with android and some skullcandy buds)
  • I am a musician (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JazzHarper ( 745403 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:18PM (#40161829) Journal

    ...so I am not a passive listener. There is no such thing as "background music" for me. I can either listen to music or concentrate on the task at hand. I supposed it could be considered a curse (like perfect pitch, which I do not have, thank gods), but I cannot imagine life any other way.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:29PM (#40161943)

    When you need to concentrate, just close your door. Instant privacy and silence, and it's a clear sign to others that you're working on something and shouldn't be bothered.

    Oh right, people don't get offices anymore because of the vast performance improvements from the open collaborative workspace where anyone can interrupt you at any time for any inane reason. They even interrupt you inadvertently when they are talking to coworkers

  • by bipbop ( 1144919 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:44PM (#40162089)
    I've never fired a gun, but one of my coworkers at my first job gave me a pair of (what I believe are called) shooting earmuffs. They do a great job of giving me my own space to work in without damaging my hearing. If you want something more extreme, combine with earplugs.
  • by mveloso ( 325617 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @07:47PM (#40162125)

    Did anyone actually read the linked article?

    Even the article doesn't support the broad conclusion. For a given test, music made performance worse. It's ridiculous to extrapolate that to any kind of real-world situation. WTF? And people here express a belief in science!

    http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/11767/1/Will-Background-Music-Improve-Your-Concentration.html [healthguidance.org]

  • by John Bokma ( 834313 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:00PM (#40162209) Homepage

    I am not kidding, I am working from a basement because it's silent, and rarely have music on; read: maybe a few times in 2-3 months(!). It's good to read that I am actually right on this: music distracts. And if it doesn't it's because I am not hearing it; in which case it's just "audio-wallpaper".

    FWIW, no I am not living with my mum. I am married, and we have 2 children.

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Wednesday May 30, 2012 @08:01PM (#40162215) Homepage

    I categorize music into two major classes: "work music" and "non-work music". "Work music" is music that is suitable for work. It must not call too much attention to itself; most of my work music is instrumental, and most of it is familiar to me from having listened to it many times.

    Some of my music has crazy sound effects or other avant-garde stuff that makes it unsuitable to be used as work music. Some of it is great for waking you up when you are sleepy, but far too distracting to be work music. (You might be different from me; maybe you can concentrate while rocking out to loud, hard music. I can't.)

    Some of my favorite work music is "jazz fusion", jazzy music with a strong beat (the name means "fusion of jazz with rock-and-roll").

    Yeah, maybe it is theoretically best to be in an acoustically quiet environment with no distractions. But my familiar work music is much less distracting than all the sounds of the people around me. And I'm in a relatively quiet office environment; I'm one of the lucky ones now.

    Back when I spent a year as a temp, and I had to share a single office with one, later two, and eventually three other people? Only my music and some Sennheiser HD-280 pro headphones saved my productivity and my sanity. (Sennheiser claims 30 dB of acoustic isolation from the HD-280 pro headphones. That might be high, but they do a great job overall of blocking out background noise.)


  • I use an artificial rain storm I downloaded a few years ago from http://simplynoise.com/ [simplynoise.com] . I see they have a new version.

    I use headphones in the office. They have developers mixed in with everyone else, phone reps, managers, everyone but sales staff. So it can get very noisy.

    I tried white noise, pink noise and brown noise, (which they also have), but all hurt my ears after a while, when using headphones. I find the artificial rainstorm does not. I put it in a repeating loop and it takes care of suppressing office noise. this is especially effective when combined with noise cancelling headphones.

    I find music too distracting, whether rock, classical or something else, like Phillip Glass, Sigur Ros, etc. People do not believe me when they ask what I am bouncing around to in my chair and I say Naqoyqatsi or Edgar Meyer. But the rainstorm does not distract and does allow me to concentrate.

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.