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Ask HN: How do you deal with never ending noise and distraction WFH?
41 points by b20000 3 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 74 comments
I am a founder working from home on my small business, in an apartment complex in a nice location in CA. Every day there is at least 4 times a garbage pickup, by an extremely loud garbage truck. Then there is the people racing their motorcycles and cars up and down the street, the airbnbs on weekends, stay at home moms/dads or nannies with kids on balconies, the endless moving trucks, amazon/fedex/ups trucks, and so on. Then there is the endless landscaping and street cleaning trucks. Gas powered garden equipment and blowers. Even with the windows closed it is very hard to block out all the noise. How do people who live in tech metros in apartment complexes manage to concentrate on their work on a day to day basis? Love to hear stories and tips and what people have done to improve their productivity even if it means moving somewhere else.

My personal experience as a big-city dweller who has also worked for prolonged stints in suburban and very rural places is that the suburban version of this problem can really be the worst of both worlds.

When I'm vising my parents in the suburbs... its generally quiet, but that one leaf blower 4 doors down or the one garbage truck crawling down the block suddenly becomes the only thing I can focus on. The noises are infrequent and jarring when they occur.

When I'm at home in my city apartment, the background noise is truly constant - it forms a canvas, nothing really jumps out and therefore the level of what it takes to make a distraction is a lot higher.

My practical advice is to explore headphones with passive noise isolation instead of active noise cancelling. The passive isolation is pretty foolproof, even with sudden or extreme changes in background noise content that the active noise cancelling sometimes takes a moment to adjust to (or perhaps try something like working in a coffee shop for an hour to get the other extreme and reset: write emails where distraction is more OK, come home to the relative quiet of the home office for focus time. I've also found even a change of scenery can get me into the zone regardless of what is going on environmentally)

My actual but useless advice: you get used to it.

Open office was a torture at first, but after years of ear abuse some of us build the super power of just ignoring everything happening around and concentrate. A problematic (?) side effect is you also start ignoring people in front of you once you subconsciously categorized them as "noise".

It's kinda like ad banner blindness, but for sound. But it's still exhausting to be honest.

A more decent advice: if you can afford it noise insulate your home (or at least one room) or move to somewhere else. That's the same level of quality of life improvement as choosing a place with cleaner air or good water. The side health benefits are tremendous, cannot be overstated.

I agree that it's exhausting. A slight analogy away, I found that my brain has a lot more computing power after I changed my scratchy old yellowed glasses to new ones. The mental filtering isn't free.

> I found that my brain has a lot more computing power after I changed my scratchy old yellowed glasses to new ones. The mental filtering isn't free.

I go through this daily. If I notice I'm getting a headache-like eye pain, it's sign that my glasses have been slightly smudged for a period of time.

My home office is nearly silent save for when my cat is hungry. Double-paned windows make a huge difference. So does having an office that doesn't face out onto the street.

I'd love to know the opposite - how do people manage to get focused at the office? Offices seem to be full of unavoidable visual and aural distractions.

My open-floorplan office has these cubes that are larger than phone booths, and quiet meeting rooms. I wouldn’t be surprised if occupancy of those is related to higher productivity, but each costs at least $3500.

The cubes have kind of bad vibes, if I'm thinking of the right thing. Feels like I've already breathed all the air in them after 5 minutes.

Not all areas are loud like that. Actually I would say most where I have been aren't.

But I often end up wearing earbuds or headphones and listening to music while I work anyway.

White noise from a fan can help with noise. Also good for ventilation.

You can also consider changing your schedule. If you get rotated around to night shift like I am then it's going to be quieter while you are awake.

If it's that bad where you are then you should move. I have moved multiple times. Not because of noise pollution but mainly for things like saving money.

You can also try going to a coffee shop or a library. Or co-working space. Many co-working spaces have actual offices you can rent.

There are also e-ink things like the Remarkable tablet which you can view the screen outside if you really need to escape.

There are also double-pane or windows designed to limit noise pollution.

An area that is more suburban or even rural may be quieter. A lot of places in this part of Texas have apartments that are actual single story and only share one or two walls. They have not been very noisy.

If you are fully remote then you have the option of going to a cabin or RV in the middle of the woods if you want.

If you can afford it, why not take advantage of AirBnb to find a quiet place to work for a few weeks? You could leave tomorrow.

Long term, communalist view: activism to reduce noise pollution for everyone. Leaf blowers, unmuffled engines, car and airplane traffic in general; I am bothered by these things, too, and I'm guessing all this noise we generate bothers other animals as well.

Reducing or even just slowing ship traffic would help cetaceans hunt, communicate, and, presumably, get enough sleep.

Short term, selfish view: double-pane windows, air conditioning since your windows will be closed, wall hangings for soundproofing- make your office a recording studio and that might help.

You work from home... why not move out of the overcrowded urban hell? You'll probably save some money as a bonus.

What you're describing has nothing to do with WFH and everything to do with where you've chosen to live.

I experienced all of your complaints (and then some) at the CoreOS office when we were @ The Mission district in SF. It sounded like the city was burning down every other day with how often we had fire trucks blaring past the windows. The chaos outside combined with our "open office" packing us in like sardines made for my least productive workplace experience ever.

My way of dealing with it was working from unpopular cafes on the coast overlooking the Pacific, or just working from home most of the week which was a dead silent cabin residing practically within Butano State Park.

I hate to say it, but without permission to modify your structure, there may not be any great solutions other than moving.

If you're dealing with foot-fall / impact noise from the apartments above, you might benefit from moving to a higher floor.

If it's a really spacious apartment and/or you're not claustrophobic, you could maybe build a room-within-a-room structure. But it's hard to imagine that being a better option than moving.

However, if you can modify, I would experiment with a sound dampening wall:


FWIW, "soundproofing" projects are notorious for requiring more care than one would think based on initial research.

It's a big topic, but the book "Home Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros" by Rod Gervais is an excellent starting point.


Lots of vendors will try to sell you a silver-bullet product, but no such product exists. The reality is you'll probably need to employ multiple techniques, specific to the workspace and your goals.

But if you have the freedom and money to modify your working space, it can be a really fun project. It turned me from a "Let me hire someone." guy into a "Let's redo your basement!" guy. I had a blast.

Also FYI: If you want to outsource this, be aware that your typical home-building contractor might not have the skills or incentives to do the project right. Typical contractors use construction methods optimized for speed and low cost. Soundproofing may require uncommon building methods, and a dedication to iterative measurements and improvements to address sources of unwanted sound.

On the noise front the things that work for me are two-fold:

Noise cancelling headphones/earphones AND white noise (eg RainyMood) or non-lyrical repetitive music with get in flow. I actually play both at the same time normally.

For extreme situations I also wear earplugs under the headphones. But that's pretty rare.

The noise cancelling is important because it lowers the volume at which you can listen to the noise-countering stuff (eg music) which hopefully means less risk to your hearing and longer periods doing so. But note I am not a doctor/sound engineer.

The white noise helps to submerge last remnants of choppy background sound, allowing the music to dominate. Experiment to find a good baseline volume for each.

You will need to pay for the ANC, cheap ones don't work. Bose QC/Sony XM class.


Having said that, I have a great set up at home but as often as not work in public spaces with a laptop for social rather than noise reasons.

So ask yourself if you absolutely have to work from home all the time, or if you can schedule blocks where you can work remotely, and if so, do so.

Yes the world is getting louder and I have been struggling with that for years.

I live on a main road with constant traffic zooming past at all hours of the day and night. I do not sleep well. I am angry, discombobulated and generally a grumpy old man.

I tried headphones, noise cancelling headphones, wax ear plugs, silicon earplugs and good old fashioned builders ear plugs. None of these worked for me. You just cannot sleep in headphones unless you are a 16 year old gamer who falls asleep at 03:00am.

I looked into what Autistic people use to reduce or remove loud noise from their lives.

My friend who has two autistic children recommended ear loops. I looked into them, ordered them and have not looked back. I wear them all the time.

I am surprised that I actually enjoy taking them off to bask in the world of noise but I do not want noise intruding into my peaceful and quiet mind.

Did you find the loops better than the orange ones from 3M?

Well, it sounds like you get about 10 types of distractions. Which is about the same as an open-floorplan office. Some of my coworkers have these cubes-of-silence and you’ll see those in bigger open-floorplans as well.

Are you making a joke? Is there a "cube of silence" I can request in my open plan office?

“Pods” seems to be more common:


A few years ago, I had no power for 8 months, so I was coding on paper first. One day, after finishing a program, to my surprise, I noticed that I was sweating and was being bitten by mosquitos. The days before that I could barely sleep or concentrate due to the heat.

So now when I hear lawnmovers, etc., I make a conscious effort to keep myself focused. I mean, now I know that it is possible to ignore the outside world, so if I look to the side because of a noise, I try to recenter my eyes and tell myself: "here"

my friend you were just delusional in the woods

* Large, noise-cancelling headphones. I use Jabra Evolve 80s.

* Play white noise into your headphones.

* Get additional white noise by running a fan.

* installing better windows will help and is probably cheaper than moving.

That’s life moving about outside your threshold, embrace it a bit. When it’s too much, put on white noise, if that doesn’t work move into noise cancelling headphones. My family bought me a set for Father’s Day 10 years ago or so and I haven’t looked back. Good for phone calls as well.

I wish you all the best in your WFH journey. I have been doing it since 2006, it’s a “what works for you” kind of problem.

> That’s life moving about outside your threshold, embrace it a bit.

This is a bit of a patronizing conment. He’s not confused or scared by the outside world. It’s noisy and he’s looking for tips to reduce distractions.

The original poster should think that it is much less distracting than colleagues engaged in meaningless banter and gossip through the whole day , around your cube when you are in office. Very annoying .

I live in an apartment in so cal in a pretty expensive suburb. apartments are just miserable places, i dont think there is a way around. Im just looking for a good opportunity to move. idk what else you can do. density sucks, people suck.

I really dont understand what compels people to listen to music constantly on full volume. from their cars and apartments. 7am full volume and bass spanish music? why...

I like listening to a white or brown noise track when in a loud environment, whether at home or at work. Music can be nice, but for me is usually distracting, and also doesn’t mask other sound sources. I’m a fan and paying user of mynoise.net - it has a bunch of great noise-masking tracks like rain storms and white noise and “audio jammer”. (https://mynoise.net/NoiseMachines/stormSoundGenerator.php https://mynoise.net/NoiseMachines/whiteNoiseGenerator.php https://mynoise.net/NoiseMachines/audioJammerNoiseGenerator....) You can find a lot of tracks like this for free on YouTube and Spotify and other places too…

I live in a major metro city and wfh. I found an apartment with thick walls in a quiet yet walkable neighborhood. Maybe I was lucky.

Don't try escaping to a suburban neighborhood. I live in the suburbs north of boston and every single day I'm hearing lawn mowers, leaf blowers and "home improvements". I don't know why everybody isn't incensed about the noise. I think your only options are a boat, a penthouse apartment or a cabin in the woods.

cabin in the woods - what is everyone’s favourite wooded state/city/county to escape to and where you could potentially live longer term?

- High quality noise cancelling headphone. My preferred ones are Bose QC35.

- A noise machine. This doesn’t mean random noise. But anything that’s not music. My preferred is Brain.fm and/or myNoise.net (brown-ish presets).

- Very strict family policy of no disturbance by entering or asking me to do anything. I’m aggressively defending my space. Any violation will be noticed, pointed out and rejected. After a while everyone gets it. I told my family to imagine that I’m not home. If they call my name, I can’t hear them. If they knock on my office door I’m not there to open it. Any comms while I’m working must be in writing and I’ll respond when I can. I realize I sound like an asshole here, but there’s no other way to make it work with my family ;)

I let my kids in my office as long as they kept it down. Time with my kids was more valuable to me and to them than whatever work I needed to do. Unless you’re on the cusp of a working malaria vaccine in your home office I don’t agree with prioritizing work over family.

Tell that to a 2.5 yo who wants to smash on the keyboard. When he grows up, I might loosen it up.

My dad took me to his work when I was a teenager, and that's where I learned computers.

All three of my kids had to get through the toddler years. I gave them their own keyboard to bang on. If you don’t have a drawer of unused hardware go to Goodwill for a $5 keyboard and mouse.

I see people posting photos and videos of their cute dog or cat laying on their desk or keyboard, but when a human child wants some attention that’s just annoying.

I own two pairs of AirPods Pro 2 with active noise canceling. It works amazing. Two pairs because each pair lasts 6 hours, and I swap them every 6 hours while the other pair is charging in the case. This gets me through a 10 hour work day with no wait time between swaps. (the cheaper option is earplugs, but earplugs aren't always comfortable and there's the problem with occlusion, i.e. hearing the sound of your own breathing amplified, which can be a problem of its own). AirPods Pro 2 don't have the occlusion problem. Over ear ANCs like Bose QCs have longer battery lives but are less comfortable to wear -- I can't do 10 hours on them, whereas which Airpods I can.

At home, most noise comes through the windows. When I was living in Chicago, I had triple glazed windows because of the winters which had a dual function of blocking noise, and even though I lived right next two train tracks, I didn't hear a thing. Now I live in Seattle and only have double glazed windows, and all kinds of noises seep through.

There are a few solutions from expensive to cheap (they're on my to-do list, I haven't pursued any of them yet)


You can get heavy curtains, or install a soundproofing insert (very expensive, but if you're handy apparently you can DIY). Problem is you also block out all sunlight. The best option is replacing your windows but this is either expensive (if you own the place) or not permissible (if you're renting).

I tried Loop Earplugs, but there's so much occlusion that it is too distracting, but YMMV.


At the end of the day, two pairs of AirPods Pro 2 playing brown noise is still the best solution I've found (more portable than Bose QCs, and interops well with my Apple ecosystem, decent ANC)

I used to live next to a really big street right on the corner. 4 lanes in each direction, bus stops, subway stop, restaurants and other stores in direct sight from my living room.

I somehow got used to it. Headphones on all the time either playing music or white noise to block it out.

There is no secret to it, I struggled hard when I first started working from home. But it's really just background noise, not active distractions like in the office. It somehow all disappears into the background when I concentrate on work, I don't even really listen to the music and couldn't tell you what song played a minute ago.

I deal with it by living in an old quiet neighborhood in the suburbs in a small house with a big yard. The only noise here is people mowing their lawns. I lived in the city for over a decade and it made me miserable.

Check to make sure your windows are properly sealed. If it's an old apartment you might need to redo the calk or add weather stripping. A good seal makes a huge difference. Rule of thumb is if air can get through, sound can.

I also wear noise canceling headphones while working, usually without anything playing. They do wonders to muffle outside noise.

When I listen to music while working it's usually brain.fm - music specially designed to help you focus. Anacdotally I've found it useful, and they also have a whitepaper going into the science behind their approach.

My distractions at home were not noise related like yours but more from household chores. I'm convert to the philosophy of working near home - in a space dedicated for work. I use either a coffee shop or a co-working space to work in, and that's improved my productivity tremendously.

Cal Newport has written about this very well here https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/remote-wo...

Since you're a founder, maybe you can shift some of your focus-heavy work to night time. A lot of your noise sources shouldn't be an issue then.

If moving is ever an option, you might consider a house with a furnished basement. You can setup your main office there, or just have a second work area for when you need the extra quiet. It's also possible to add some treatments to a room to sound-proof it to some degree, up to the extent you might find in a recording or studio booth, say in a radio station.

I'd recommend against the basement. Personally I think natural light helps a lot in mood. There's a stereotype about unproductive basement dwellers and I think the atmosphere might actually encourage procrastination.

I live in a SFH that might as well be an apartment. If my neighbors and I stuck our arms out our windows, we could hold hands

Music on loud speakers are my choice, but contribute to the problem. Not really tenable in an apartment...

Headphones work nicely but after an hour or so I'm tired of wearing them.

White noise can help, like a box fan or something - I find the predictability of a noise helps

I just traded the distractions of the office for the distractions of home. I prefer garbage trucks to the distress of morbidly obese co-worker without a gallbladder who insists on eating an entire greasy pizza at the workstation next to me and then farting and lumbering to the bathroom a dozen times. Repeat daily for a year.

I find that playing some white noise on headphones can really help. On youtube there are many videos such as 10 hours of rain on a pond. I've been bothered by my coworkers typing, I find that the patter of rain and clatter of keyboard blend together to the point where I mostly don't notice. This also works for getting more restful sleep - I have a fan on or sometimes play the rain on a pond as background noise.

Bose headphones

This, plus mynoise.net ambient sounds. Wowza I can really zone out anywhere, even after hours in the living room with my SO watching loud witches/vampires on TV.

> Every day there is at least 4 times a garbage pickup, by an extremely loud garbage truck

Wow...I had no idea there were places with such frequent garbage pickup. It's always been once a week everywhere I've lived, although I do hear trucks on two days here because I'm next to a boundary of an area that is on a different day.

How does a place end up needing several pickups a day?

Moving is really the only long-term solution in my experience. My experience also cautions me that "there will always be something..."

WFH means that I burn out much faster on the little annoyances around my home. I can only do 2-3 years in the same physical place before I have to think about moving again.

I am hoping this next one might stick longer (i.e. 30 minutes from nearest grocery store).

I’m very very sensitive to voice and noise, one time I heard the AC water drops that happened in my neighbor apartment. That’s why I live in a penthouse now away from all noises except rain sometimes, that, or I will buy a farm and live away from any civilization or city noise, rather to hear birds and cows than someone loud muffler’s.

A good pair of noise cancellation headphones (like Bose Quiet Comforts) might help? I WFH and sometimes in the summer I have to deal with gas powered leaf blowers, or someone using a circular saw in their backyard, or a dog being neglected outside and just barking for a few hours. So put the noise cancellation headphones on and it helps.

The issue at home is that I do not expect noise and distraction. So when noise does happen, it really is annoying. My solution to noise at home is active noise cancelling headphones and music. If that doesn't work, I find going somewhere like a coffee place where I expect noise sometimes helps.

I’ve found that flow club really helps me working from home. I’m able to meet with other people and work on a todo list with them and enjoy focus oriented music. I think it’s technically a ycombinator company but it’s been amazing for me on getting things done while working from home.

Why don't you put in earplugs? The whole problem with offices for me is its rude to do so. At home no problem. I find if I do it even for a while I feel 'relieved' enough from the sound that I can then happily go back to into the clanking of daytime for a stretch

I think it's like your visual system and edge detection; a change in sound levels or types is most noticeable.

So a solution would be to generate your own noise, possibly even dynamically adjusting to the ambient sounds. I'm sure there's an app or device for that.

The device is noise cancellation :p

I mean to add obfuscating/balancing noise.

Personally I find complete silence too much, akin to a writer staring at a blank piece of paper.

I live away from traffic, but in a dense neighborhood by western standards, so there's constant low-level street noise and chatter. Apart from the occasional screaming kid, shrill-barking dog, dropped pots and pans etc, it's a nice background 'hum', something like a quietish cafe.

I mean noise cancellation headphones filters out the trucks, pans, and dogs, but many don't filter human voice range. Also why it doesn't work in some offices.

If it's too quiet, you can play some form of music, water sounds, white noise, or a mix. There's some that add the hum of cafe voices too.

White noise maker also known as fighting noise with more noise!

Or move to the country side where you have acreage enough to insulate yourself from other people.

If noise like this bothers you, then what's the point of living in a city? A co-working space wouldn't be much better either.

Over time you learn to filter out most of the background noise. At least I did. Headphones can help. You can move, you can try to block the noise out. Other than that you can’t do anything to control the noise.

Noise canceling headphones and Microphone sound cleaning software. In my case I use Jabra headphones and Krisp software. Myself and no one I have a meeting with can tell that there are Kids playing, dog barking around me.I’m not affiliated with anyone,

I deal with this, have sound sensitivity & ADHD (I cannot tune out sounds). I wear noise protection ear muffs, the kind you use at the range, over some noise cancelling ear buds. Can barely hear anything but the focus music I play.

In my experience north american apartments have terrible noise insulation

I live in the middle of a large city, in an old building, and don't really have noise issues. However, if I did I'd sound-proof my office. The noise insulation works both ways.

Combine the following : - overear earmuffs (I recommend 3m peltor x3 for human voice frequency reduction) - foam earplugs - background noise (smooth brown noise is my favorite)

I hate noise which led me to hate people too thats why I live far from big communites.

Luckily these days you could access from anywhere so move to a hamlet or have a soundproof room

I downloaded a 10-hour white noise mp3 from YouTube, and play it constantly using my ~5 dollars mi wired headset.

I can go for hours acousticly isolated from urban and home noises.

I find being in an office infinitely more distracting than being home. Personally I wear headphones and use focus mode on Windows 11

Good headphones and LoFi? Starlink + VanLife? Move to the desert where they don't need to run lawnmowers and leaf blowers.

Many folks I know used WFH as an opportunity to move away from the city where you can get more space and quiet for less money.

personally i find WFH to be a hell of a lot more peaceful than the office.

of course our office is a large open plan office...

Move to the suburbs. You still get those noises to an extent, but overall it's much quieter.

srs question but were you ever tested for adhd/add?

+1 to this. I have ADHD, and WFH noise was really a problem for me.

At first I partially addressed this with Adderall, which also works at company offices. But at least for me, the side-effects suck.

Now I address it with a well-soundproofed home office, which makes up for the lack of Adderall.

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