The Sound of Silence: Tuning Out the Office
According to studies, it is more difficult to concentrate on everyday work tasks in a quieter office environment ΓÇô as gentle humming, tapping and buzzing proves more disruptive than conversations and ringing phones.
But what can you do to tune out the natural and never-ending background noise of a quiet day at the office? Read on to discover the science and solutions to your fraying concentration.
Listening to Nothing
ΓÇ£WeΓÇÖre designed to be listening,ΓÇ¥ explains Jo Solet of Harvard Medical School. ΓÇ£ItΓÇÖs very hard to shut it off. Background noise produces a higher cognitive load, so it uses a higher level of concentration or effort to pay attention to your tasks… you can get fatigued.ΓÇ¥
ItΓÇÖs true: a quiet office with the gentle hum of the air conditioning, the buzz of the fluorescent lighting or the distinct tap-tap-tap of a colleagueΓÇÖs keyboard causes as much disruption to the human brain as very loud, incessant or startling noises.
In fact, it is believed those ΓÇÿlong waveΓÇÖ, dull and monotonous sounds are far more disruptive over longer periods than bursts of moderate but occasional ΓÇÿshort waveΓÇÖ sounds such as an audible conversation or a ringing phone.
ΓÇ£ItΓÇÖs about finding a sweet spot in terms of productivity,ΓÇ¥ says Frank Mruk of the New York Institute of Technology where budding architects work on the science of ΓÇÿarchitectural acousticsΓÇÖ ΓÇô efforts made to understand and control this distracting white noise.
That ΓÇÿsweet spotΓÇÖ or middle way between disruptive and dull is ΓÇÿambienceΓÇÖ. Acceptable background noise that hides a personal conversation but doesnΓÇÖt force raised voices is the best to increase and encourage productivity in the office.
But not everyone works in an ambient office. And until architects of the future design a workspace that is neither loud nor quiet and both public and private, you might need a solution to help you concentrate.
If you find yourself tired and drained, vaguely disturbed by background humming, or if youΓÇÖre frazzled and stressed from in-your-face noise, there are a few DIY techniques you can use:
ΓÇó Noise-Cancelling Headphones ΓÇô Headphones and ear plugs arenΓÇÖt the most sociable of devices but handy if you need to get your work done for deadline.
ΓÇó Ambient Music ΓÇô Rather than shutting out all noise completely, some people find it helpful to use normal headphones to listen to calming background music.
ΓÇó Start Early/Leave Late ΓÇô Some workers find it invaluable to have that extra hour alone before or after work to get started on the toughest tasks of the day.
ΓÇó Training Your Mind ΓÇô A more Yoda-like technique is to focus your concentration and practice ways that work for you to get things done without distraction.
Are you disturbed by office quiet or noise? How do you combat distractions in the workplace? Share your experiences in the comments below.