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Ask HN: How to avoid audible (and other) distractions at work?
2 points by nothacker 1131 days ago | 7 comments
I'm a developer and work in an environment that at times noisy and audible and visual distractions usually interfere a lot with my flow (i.e. my ability to be as productive as I can be given no distractions). I am aware that listening to music all day at a higher level can result in hearing loss, so I usually try to keep the volume as low as I can or just turn the music off and keep the earbuds in as a form of less efficient earplugs.

What have you found to be the best remedy for these sorts of distractions? Noise cancelling headphones? (I'd by a pair, but I have a large head and afraid to blow $300 on something that would not work or leave me with sweaty ears.) Ear buds? Earplugs? Asking to move to a different area? Telecommuting?




Close your office door?

Noise and visual distractions are largely created by design decisions...that loft with brick walls and hardwood floors looks really cool, but carpet, acoustical tile, and gypsum absorb sound energy. Open space plans in live spaces make the issues worse.

With noise, the second strategy is sound masking. For example, having a small fan generating ambient sounds will reduce the distractions caused by sounds to which we are attuned such as people's voices. Having your earphones on low serves a similar purpose.

Opening a window helps on two levels. It reduces the hard surface reflective area and introduces masking noise. But like all anti-distraction measures, it requires the occupant to have meaningful control over their environment.

I once had an assigned office and where the desk and return placed my back to the door (and hallway beyond) and staring at a blank wall behind my monitor. I got crap from my boss for rearranging the furniture so that I could face the door because it required walking around the end of the desk to sit at it...that's what working for architects is like.

Good luck.

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Office? Do you work at Microsoft? Most of us just have cubes. Thanks for the suggestions though. I've worked in a place that had white noise generators. Really awful, imo. Much better to have silence.

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The point about offices is that the root cause of the issue is the design of the space.

The point about white noise is that an open office should have about 45db of background noise (white or pink). This means that a person is less likely to hear a normal voiced conversation 20 feet away.

What makes noise distracting is that it stands out from the background (just as automotive headlights stand out more at night than during the day).

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I'm not sure who came up with the "should have 45db of background noise", but I worked in an environment like that for years and never liked it. Others I worked with felt the same way, and some dismantled them. I don't like audible distractions, but I think reducing them is better than trying to cover them up with even more noise, unless you are sleeping. If you do use noise, I think natural running water or a fan is better than digital.

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I use a set of Beyerdynamic DT-770 headphones. They are big, have good sound and most importantly on topic, they are quite good at keeping sounds out of my ear.

You should also communicate. Talk to your boss and/or HR about how it distracts you and disrupts your work. Suggest solutions; Headphones paid by your work, sound-proofing office walls, move to another location or move other people to another location.

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Yea I was gonna say get some bomb headphones and blast the music of your choice when you're working. That's if you're into music while coding, of course.

If you get distracted by music, try getting a playlist of instrumental music, or music with lyrics in a different language. I can code with lyrics no problem, but when I'm writing an article or something I go music w/o lyrics... or music in Spanish!

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The most noise-reducing method I ever tried was putting earplugs first with big loud headphones on top of it. Worked well for me. Other people around the room didn't appreciate it much though.

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