Perhaps you’ve found yourself in this situation: the one where you sit down to focus on your creative work and realized the environment is entirely too quiet for you to be productive. So you turn some music on. Problem solved, right? But you realize into the third song that you can’t focus on your work because you know all the lyrics and find yourself singing along instead of being creative.
Maybe in these cases, you’ve switched the playlist to something a little less known, something that fades effectively into the background so you can concentrate once again. Or, maybe you work in an environment that is pretty noisy already, such as an open office setting. While the place is efficiently noisy, you find you can’t concentrate because you are completely unable to push the gossip going on two desks down from you out of your head.
The Impact Of Sound
Sound can be your own best friend or your worst enemy when the time comes to get those creative juices flowing. According to a Harvard Business Review article on focus and productivity, the level of sound and type of sound around you can significantly impact your ability to be creative and productive. Many people who find concentrating on the task at hand difficult in an open office environment are the same people who are wildly productive in different noisy environments such as a coffee shop or a coworking space.
Studies On Sound And Creativity
A recent study observed four groups of participants engaging in creative tasks at varying levels of sound ranging from total silence to 85 decibels. Those who were most productive at their task worked at around the 70 decibel level. Work at all other sound levels was not nearly as productive as those working at the 70 dB level.
This sound level appears to be key in invoking a form of “distracted focus” according to the article, where our minds can wander just enough but not too much while we are focusing that trigger creative juices. So the key is to have a decent amount of background noise in the work environment that triggers that creative component of the brain.
However, if that source of sound draws the worker’s attention away from the task completely, then that sound is acting in a counterproductive way. That’s why many people who work in open office environments don’t prefer this kind of layout. It’s not the noise level itself. It’s the type of noise, such as nearby conversations, or disruptions by face to face conversation, that impede the ability to concentrate.
Working at a coffee shop or other environment such as a coworking space gives you the perfect level of noise you need to get into a creative zone of productivity without the distractions of familiarity. The same goes with music you love or other things to listen to. You may like the idea of having some white noise in the background pumping through your headphones. But if you’re drawn into the song instead of into your work, then that sound is no longer helpful to your productivity.