Whistle while you work

Most of the people I work with use headphones to listen to music while they work. At least the engineers, coders, and researchers do – I suspect the admin departments don’t so much. I’m the rare exception who doesn’t generally have headphones on while busy.

Occasionally though I will take in my iPod and headphones – usually when I have a deadline looming and need to work solidly on something without being interrupted. Because normally I don’t have headphones on, I can hear everything that happens around me, so it’s fairly easy to overhear something and get distracted. That’s what I try to tune out by using some music so I can concentrate more solidly on my work.

But, doing this the past couple of weeks while working on some end-of-year reports, I notice that listening to music doesn’t really help me much. I find it distracting. I’ve never really used music consistently while I’ve worked on anything. I didn’t use music while doing school homework or studying or writing essays or any of that.

I brought my iPod into work because I figured it would cut out external distractions, but I find the music at least as distracting. I can’t help singing along (silently), or humming the tune in my head, and once I notice what I’m doing, my attention is fully on the music and not on my work.

Music has never been something I have filling the void of silence in the background while I’m doing other stuff. I like silence while I’m concentrating on stuff. I absolutely cannot read a book, for example, with music on. Music, to me, is something you pay attention to. Something you put on when you have time to sit on the lounge and do nothing else but listen. Or jump around the house like a rock star singing along to all the lyrics.

I like music, I really love some of it. But I seldom listen to it, because I find it so attention-grabbing. I think I’ve always been this way, but I only really noticed it in the past week while trying to work on that report at work, and finding myself distracted by the music. Despite deliberately bringing in an iPod to use while working, I found myself only turning it on for an hour or two a day, and getting more work done when it’s off.

I don’t know what it is. Music pierces my consciousness. I like it so much, but I can’t have it around when I need to concentrate on other things.

8 Responses to “Whistle while you work”

  1. Chris Adams says:

    That’s interesting.

    I find it hard to listen to music without singing along if I’m not doing anything to occupy my mind like driving (that sounds bad, but I mean my intellect as opposed to my perceptions, I suppose). When I’m driving, I’m far more often in the mood to listen to people talking on podcasts or, more rarely, the radio.

    Conversely, when I’m reading something I can’t possibly listen to people talking like that, and music is good; but when I’m working with my hands at work, I go crazy if I can’t be reading something to occupy my eyes and brain. Hell, I don’t even like to use the bathroom without a book to occupy my brain.

  2. When I’m driving is actually when I listen to music the most. Concentrating on driving doesn’t seem to use the same part of the brain that I need to read/work.

  3. David Mc says:

    I can’t concentrate while listening to music with lyrics. Instrumental music is fine though.

  4. Daniel says:

    About two years ago a group of birds decided they would make the tree outside my bedroom window their regular 5-am hangout. This wasn’t the nice kind of birds with a pleasant song, no – these were some really annoying type of pigeon that would go dooDOOdoodoodoo, dooDOOdoodoodoo, incessantly until we woke up and threw something out them to drive them away.

    I downloaded a thirty-second white noise sample from the Internet, looped it using Audacity, and created a half-hour white noise track that I left playing all night on my iPod. It worked wonders.

    An alternative to music, if you like.

  5. Robert Prior says:

    I find the sound of ocean waves works well for screening out some background sounds, while not grabbing my attention itself. It doesn’t cut through PA announcements or colleagues holding a conversation across the room over my head (schools are noisy, and horrible places to try to work or learn), but it worked great when I was in an adult environment.

  6. Prrrty says:

    Ambient music works for me.
    In situations where silence is not possible, but I want to block external distractions, I listen to Brian Eno’s ambient work, for example. Or sound tracks used in films.

  7. David says:

    Daniel, have you tried http://simplynoise.com for your noise generation needs? I’ve found I prefer the brown noise to the white or pink, but all three are useful. Strangely though, after a few minutes, my brain picks out patterns in the noise.

  8. Erik says:

    While normally I do need music around me(or a combination between music and talking) for my regular work when I really have to concentrate for some tasks I need complete silence otherwise I get really irritated.

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