what tools help you focus on work when you’re in a loud or distracting environment?

A reader writes:

Since so many of us are stuck in cubicle farms, what would you think about having readers share things that have helped them focus and get work done?

For instance, I use Bose wireless noise-cancelling headphones and I LOVE them. I play music or white noise (or combine them!) when I need to concentrate.

I also have a little sign sitting on top of my monitor that I can flip to “I’m focusing” or “Come on in” — I find this helps people know when to approach me and also demonstrates that I am definitely available for drop-bys much of the time. I think that helps people tolerate my “go away” signals when I need to focus.

I’ve also been exploring different apps for music, ambient noise, and white noise — not only do particular sounds work well to drown out office noise, but my brain now associates certain music/sounds as “focus time” and it helps me get to work!

Let’s do it. Share in the comments what helps you focus at work — which could be specific tools, strategies, signals to send people away, or whatever works for you.

{ 423 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    If you want to talk about headphones, please do it here! I’m gathering all the existing headphones comments and putting them here so they’re all in one place and don’t take over the entire thread.

    1. No Mercy Percy*

      Headphones and loud music for me, mostly heavy metal. I tend to wear them more often than not, since I work in a relatively noisy office with people who socialize loudly, not caring how disruptive they are.

      1. Elemeno P.*

        Same! I also make sure to wear over-the-headphones in a bright color so it’s very clear when I’m wearing them.

      2. Little Tin Goddess*

        Same for me when I’m in the office. Especially Metallica, which is blasting in my ears now. When I’m working remotely, it’s still Metallica blasting but without the headphones.

          1. Younger than Lion King in the Workplace*

            I listen to film scores and other instrumental music. I find that having lyrics in the music I listen to throws me off, but I am the Director of Communications so I am usually writing something so it would be different for other people. Two Cellos is really great, they do covers of songs like Back in Black and other “get psyched” songs. Otherwise I listen to Daenerys’ arrival at Dragonstone song from Season 7, gets me pumped up.

            1. Younger than Lion King in the Workplace*

              Also, I am not sure if we are allowed to recommend specific brands of headphones so just delete if this is against the commenting rules, but Shure earbuds are my absolute favorite, blocks out noise really well and they are a similar material to earplugs so they expand in your ears. They are pricier, but wonderful.

            2. Rachel Green*

              I listen to film/tv scores while working too! My spotify playlist has been growing for years. It’s now over 15 hours long, so I can hit play and work for hours without interruption. The Game of Thrones score is one of my faves!

              1. Younger than Lion King in the Workplace*

                Same! I have my film scores playlist and then I have my instrumental music playlist on Spotify. Ramin Djawadi, the composer of the Game of Thrones soundtrack, is one of my all time favorites. Instrumental music is fun, sometimes when my boss is driving me nuts I listen to “Requiem” by Mozart *Shrug*

                1. Jessica*

                  Same again! I have an instrumental film score playlist (Last of the Mohicans at the top) that is my “buckle down and finish this” click in my brain. My other – when I really need to get energized for diving into a big task – is Girl Talk’s All Day. (That works even better when I’m working late, so I can have a dance party while I work.)

            3. Mongrel*

              If you like 2Cellos check out Frogleap Studios on YouTube;

              He’s a ‘one man band’ who does metal covers of (mostly) non-metal songs. If you do like them his Patreon is a great way to access his stuff ad-free :)

      3. Yarrow*

        High five! It’s noise-cancelling headphones and doom metal for me. Any music that’s upbeat but has enough texture that I can’t hear my coworkers constantly whining and talking to themselves. (Sleep, High on Fire, and Electric Wizard are my work faves lately).

      4. Fortitude Jones*

        This was my same strategy (minus the heavy metal – I would turn on classical music or hip hop and R&B) when I worked in an office. My final strategy was to find a work from home job so this would no longer be an issue, lol. I know that option isn’t available to everyone, though – some jobs aren’t conducive to working remotely.

      5. Goose Lavel*

        Headphones with loud music 8 plus hours a day is a good way to permanently damage your hearing and give you tinnitus which will ruin your life.
        You have been warned.

        1. Ellex*

          If I can hear your music through your headphones when they’re on your head/in your ears, you either have really cheap headphones, or more likely you have the music turned up too loud. Whether you care about your hearing or not, please don’t be part of the noise problem you’re trying to escape.

          1. JustaTech*

            Ear-spray! I have a co-worker who is a total opera nut, but wears these incredibly cheap headphones and sometimes there’s major ear-spray of whatever Verdi he’s listening to that week.

            1. Sarah in Boston*

              I work for a consumer electronics company that makes headphones (among other things). We call that “spillage”. :)

          2. The Dread Pirate Buttercup*

            Speaking of, anyone have recommendations for how to find headphones that are more Honda than Yugo? I tend to be a bit absent-minded, so sometimes mine get lost or shut in doors, so it’s not practical for me to spend the equivalent of a month’s rent on them, and price point doesn’t seem to be an indication of quality.

            Also, in order to be germane to the discussion, I like binaurals for focus (usually mentioning “beta”) when I can. Can’t always, because I’m front-facing, and focusing too hard can leave you with an ignored customer.

        2. NCKat*

          I have a cochlear implant, so that doesn’t apply in my case. So I plug my speech processor to the IPhone and blast away. It’s a mind-saver! It’s Bob Dylan or The Band most days.

      6. Daniela*

        Same here. Although the type of music varies, there’s nothing like drowning out my colleagues with some Metallica or AC/DC. We appear to work in the same type of environment. My officemates range from a loud bray to screaming like it’s the Final Four, and I have to repress the urge to ask for inside voices to be used.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I’ve been known to stand up, one hand holding my phone to my ear and the other hand over my other ear, and pointedly look at the screamers like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to do some work here!’ They usually got the message, but forgot it the next day…so lather, rinse, repeat.

      7. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I wear headphones or earbuds, depending on my mood, and I’m brand-agnostic. I use them to listen to white/pink/brown noise, or nature sounds like rain, storms, babbling brooks, and whatnot. YouTube has 10 hour long videos that last all day but there are a lot of noise apps for your PC or movile device. It drowns out the chatter and disruptions, and doesn’t capture my attention.

        If I listen to music I start to bob my head and sing along, and no one needs to be subjected to that.

      8. Keyboard Cowboy*

        The music choice is key. The trick is to pick something without a lot of empty space (no folk, sorry Arlo) and with high energy. I started to listen to really lush EDM for this (Porter Robinson and ODESZA) and also like music used for rhythm games (Crypt of the Necrodancer, various playlists of Pump It Up tracks). While I’m at it, the soundtracks for FEZ and Flower are way up there for me too!

        1. Alexandra Lynch*

          I’m a huge fan of the 8 hour study mix by Delta Notch on Youtube. He’s done an eight hour and a twelve hour mix, both, and they’re both instrumental alpha wave mixes that are just flat-out excellent.

      9. Booksalot*

        Same, scream rock helps me block everything out. In This Moment, Epica, and Lacuna Coil are a few bands in my current rotation.

      10. Monstaahh*

        Bidet…I’m here purely to say I know your username reference and it made me smile! :)

    2. Mimi Me*

      I have headphones to help tune out the noisy woman who sits directly behind me. She literally shouts into the phone and since her job is about 50% phone calls, it gets distracting fast. I have a spotify play list that is all easy listening (I believe they refer to it as ‘Yacht Rock’ now) which is great for tuning noise out, but not something that I really pay attention to. It’s just there. I find that I am more productive with this as well.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, when I was in an open space with a loud neighbor, I tried a lot of kinds of music before I figured out that what works best for me is music I like OK, but not too much.

      2. Rarely do I post*

        I’ve found that slower classical music works well when I need to filter out some background noise and concentrate; Yo Yo Ma is my current go-to, and some of the running water/nature sounds work well too. If I’m doing repetitive work I might add in something slightly more up tempo, but I’ve found that music with lyrics (or podcasts) can be too distracting when I need to pay attention.

        1. rmw1982*

          Same here. Slow to medium tempo instrumental music or nature sounds (rain sounds are a favorite) help me tune out noisy coworkers while allow me to concentrate on my task at hand instead of the music.

      3. Dobermom*

        Yacht Rock for the win. That’s heavy in my workplace rotation, as well. It’s just so innocuous!

      4. RecoveringSWO*

        I find that music with no lyrics is the best for me. Spotty has a good number of playlists like this with classical music, soundtracks, and my current favorite is lo fi beats.

        1. JustaTech*

          I also prefer no-lyric music, especially when I’m writing. The stuff I love is from groups like the Vitamin String Quartet who do pop music on strings. There are actually a lot of groups who cover popular music instrumentally. I like that better than classical because I already know the songs, so they’re familiar enough to tune out, where I don’t know classical as well and get distracted listening.
          A friend of mine taught at a pre-school where they played instrumental versions of Beatles music at nap time.

        2. Long Time Lurker*

          I actually listen to electronic/trance music with French lyrics. My French is mediocre, so it all blends in, but still sounds like words to me.

          1. zora*

            I like French hip-hop/rap when I need something with energy, but same thing, I can’t really understand the lyrics so it becomes background.

          2. WhoKnows*

            I wish I could do something similar, but there is an obnoxious French speaker in my office who would find out and make it her business to translate for me. I actually don’t use earbuds as I have my own office with a door, so she would find out fairly quickly.

          3. MerciMe*

            I listen to j-pop for the same reason – I love the energy, and it is entirely impossible for me to get lost in listening to the lyrics when I should be focusing on other things.

    3. Amber T*

      I listen to music with headphones most of the day. There are certain songs that I *only* listen to when I need to work, and I’m committed to not checking facebook/personal email/non-important work email during that time. For me, “Light of the Seven” is a 10 minute song from Game of Thrones where (no spoilers) a character GETS STUFF DONE, and it makes me feel like a bad ass boss when I listen to it. I’ll listen to it once or twice, take a minute break, and go back in on repeat. Megalovania from the video game Undertale is another one that gets me pumped up when I need to do some of my more… boring tasks. It’s only 2 minutes or so, so I’ll listen to it on repeat as long as I need to push through my duller tasks.

      1. Amber T*

        Adding to my music decisions, I read something online (one of those, “I read it on the internet so it must be true” sort of things) that makes a lot of sense to me. I used to listen to movie scores (I can’t listen to songs with lyrics without getting distracted most of the time), but movie music is used to make you feel a certain emotion, to embellish what’s happening on the screen. So if it’s a sad scene, it’s gonna be sad music, angry battle scene would be mad music, etc. Not all of these are great for working.

        I’m a video gamer at heart and grew up playing. Video game music, on the other hand, is constantly pushing you forward, making you feel like you need to do more. There are a lot of games out there now that are very thematic and movie like, but music from games like Stardew Valley, Undertale, many other RPGs really push you to move forward. I found that’s definitely true with me – heaven knows I’ve spent hours grinding through Stardew, so when that music comes on, my mindset switches to “what tasks to I want to accomplish.”

        1. Lucy*


          Video game scores are great to work to because they’re generally purposeful and slightly urgent. The scores are very easily found on music streaming services if you just search “video game”.

          Alternatively, I find the LOTR and Hobbit soundtracks helpful as they have a similar mood and most of the (few) lyrics are non-verbal vocalizations or fictional languages so you aren’t distracted by the content. I’ve seen that someone else has recommended GoT soundtracks, and I would +1 that recommendation for the same reasons.

          1. Ellex*

            If we’re recommending good soundtracks for work: +100000 for LOTR and The Hobbit and a lot of other Howard Shore soundtracks. Also the first Avengers film, Memoirs of a Geisha is a little different and very calming, all the new Doctor Who season soundtracks, the Inspector Morse soundtracks for those who prefer classical music, the Person of Interest soundtracks, and nearly anything by Alexandre Desplat, who is both ridiculously prolific and writes in a really wide range of musical genres.

            1. KendraG*

              Tacking on to this one: the How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack is excellent, and there’s three of them!

            2. LifesizeLawyer*

              The Harry Potter film soundtracks fall into this category, too! And because there’s 8 films to pull from, the full soundtrack playlist (available on Spotify) is looooooong so no need to hunt down more music in the middle of the day.

            1. Nessun*

              Anything by Nobuo Uematsu and I’m in! The orchestral versions or the piano versions, depending on my task. Also, the Guild Wars 2 soundtracks are lovely (but make me want to game instead of working).

        2. Marissa*

          YES! Although I do love the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek (the 2009 movie) soundtracks for working, video game soundtracks really meet the energizing, but not distracting level of background music for me.

        3. Usually Lurks*

          I’m totally a soundtracks at work person too. When I’m on deadline I really like things with good chase music to propel me forward — the Hans Zimmer scores for the RDJ Sherlock Holmes movies are a great favorite, likewise the BBC Sherlock series. I have most of the MCU movie soundtracks and love all of those too, some bring that chase scene urgency and others are more atmospheric. (I’ve been on a kick of repeat listening to Into the Spider-Verse this week). Also on my faves list: Pacific Rim, Blade Runner 2049, and the brand new Good Omens soundtrack by David Arnold.

          Also, sometimes when I really need to dig into something — often when there’s a frustrating client involved — I find the great crashing bombast of the Bach organ fugues to be therapeutic. Turn up the volume and scowl at the screen!

        4. Blue Horizon*

          I’ve been known to put on soundtracks from some of my favorite retro games, like Chrono Cross. It can be distracting the first time you listen to them though, because you keep recognising them and remembering the game stages.

      2. Lindsay Z*

        I do the same thing! I only listen to the Assassin’s Creed Black Flag soundtrack when I’m doing database work. Now whenever I hear pirate music I subconsciously think I need to be doing data entry.

      3. No Tribble At All*

        Seconding music + headphones. Over the years, I’ve collected an extensive set of playlists on 8tracks of instrumental music (video game / movie soundtracks, classic music, electronic music). However, 8tracks is a yearly subscription for access. I also recommend Pandora for when you don’t feel like searching for a specific playlist, but, like Spotify, the free version has ads. I could not live without my Bose noise-canceling headphones. My boss bought them for the entire team when we moved to an open cube farm.

      4. General Ginger*

        That’s a great description of Light of the Seven, which is also on my work rotation! That, and tracks from so many RPGs. Kingdoms of Amalur has a pretty neat soundtrack, there’s of course always the theme to Skyrim, and the old classic, Sephiroth’s theme, One Winged Angel (both the old school and the Advent Children versions).

    4. NJAnonymous*

      Headphones and instrumental music, either George Winston (love a good piano tune) or some of the ‘focus’ stations on Spotify.

      1. Robbie*

        A surprising/not-so-surprising option? Video game soundtracks! They are designed to help players be focused on their tasks without being distracting, and are all over youtube.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yes! There’s also a great community of people doing remixes of video game music in different instrumentation, if you like a tune but wish it was, say, piano or jazz saxophone instead of electronic.

          1. Amber T*

            GameChops and Cloudjumper are two of my favorites. They have some amaaaazing mixes of Undertale music.

      2. Angela*

        Another piano music fan here, I can (and do) listen to that all day. LOVE George Winston!

    5. Gussie Fink-Nottle*

      Big fan of headphones and music/ambient noise! I also use the Pomodoro method (focusing on 25 min work sprints with 5 minute breaks), which helps me say to someone “I’m focusing, can we chat in X minutes?” (Where X is however long I have left in the Sprint) Being specific about when I’m free tends to help people respect that boundary.

      Also for my own focus (if I’m having a day where I’m REALLY distractible), I like the Forest app – you set a timer and it encourages you to avoid looking at your phone for that amount of time. Doesn’t fully lock you out, but gives me enough of a nudge to not look at the phone out of habit.

      1. Amber T*

        The Tomato Timer website is a godsend. On crazy busy days I use it often, or else I’ll just mentally crash by 2 or 3pm.

      2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        I use the Forest app, too. Just seeing the wee tree is usually enough to remind me that oh, yeah, I had a Thing I was doing.

      3. milksnake*

        I came here to recommend the Forest app!
        It helps me a lot, reaching for my phone can become a distraction because of messages, and ongoing facebook conversations, etc. So when I flip over my phone and see the little tree it reminds me to move on to the next work-thing because I already designated a break time.*

        *In the Forest app you set a timer, say 60min, and it grows a tree to add to your forest. If you use your phone before the timer is up the tree you were growing will die.
        It tracks how long you’ve stayed focused for, and lets you see your forest by day, week, month, and year! So you have a visual representation of how focused you’ve been. And when you focus you get points that let you unlock other types of trees!

      4. ArtsNerd*

        I tried this and it was so good! But I can’t quite get into the habit of using it because I’m frequently on phone-answering duties. The task switching the phone requires is brutal for me, and really incompatible with pomodoro, unfortunately.

    6. Less Bread More Taxes*

      Obligatory headphones-are-a-must.

      However, I’d also recommend getting up from your desk as often as possible. If your work station involves a laptop and a monitor, take your laptop outside to check emails in the morning. Go into the common area just to draft that report. Sometimes a *different* kind of noise helps.

      1. Nicole T*


        I have a fan in my office.

        I use the WhiteNoise app – you can create your own mix. I have some for sleep and others for work.

        I also use timers (on my phone or google) and a productivity app (Productivity Challenge Timer) that helps me track time and breaks. The latter has a tiny ticking sound which for some reason helps me focus. The app also makes it into a game (you can level up with so many hrs of work/day).

    7. Little Tin Goddess*

      Metallica! And loudly. With or without headphones, depending on where I’m working.

    8. LSP*

      When I first started at my current position, I had a coworker who spoke REALLY LOUDLY. Like she projected in a way I’ve only ever heard from pre-school teachers. Headphones with white noise or classical music worked best for me to block her out while trying to work.

      I would also recommend VISIBLE headphones, because as someone with black hair, my coworkers can’t easily see if I have my headphones on and will sometimes just come up and start talking (or worse, tap me on the shoulder!) when I have no idea they are there. Before starting to work from home full-time, I was considering putting a bow on my phone head set to let people at least know I was on a call and they shouldn’t just come up and start speaking to me.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, my headphones are the old school kind that cover the entire ear and rest on my head. When I used to wear earbuds, people couldn’t tell I had them in, but the ones I have now are hard to miss.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I’m someone who gets distracted very easily, which sucks because I’m in a cube at this job. I have the same issue with someone on the other side of my cube. She’s speaks loudly and she’s on the phone a lot. It’s all business-related calls, but it’s really distracting. It’s odd that she sits where she sits (away from her team), and I asked about it, but apparently there’s no hope of her moving.

        I have a small fan at my desk and it helps to drown out some noise, but not all. Headphones or ear buds are just annoying to me, and music is too distracting, so a fan is the only option I can think of.

      3. Agrajag*

        I’m someone who relys on earbuds because I’ve yet to find headphones that don’t hurt me by smooshing my glasses between my ears and head too hard. I’d love to gain the sound quality, ability to block sound, and/or noise cancelling function of headphones though. Any glasses-wearers have recs?

        1. Hodie-Hi*

          I wear eyeglasses, and my over the ear headphones are noise-cancelling AudioTechnica. I’ve worn them for hours-long stretches over the course of several days with minimal discomfort. They completely surround my ears and the cushion is the right texture to be comfortable and yet make an effective seal. I liked my first pair enough to get them a second time, and I like the newer set even better.

    9. BRR*

      I had a pair of ear buds that I liked but stopped working. Since they were more comfortable than ear plus and tuned out noise really well, I snipped the cord (I have a tendency to move and rip my head phones off) and used them to block out noise when I didn’t want music. Bonus was people thought I had headphones in which makes then less likely to interrupt than if you have earplugs in my experience.

    10. Seifer*

      If only we could all have offices with doors that close. Until that happens, I go with noise-cancelling headphones with heavy metal. Sometimes I just hook the earbuds over my ears and really turn it up so that it kind of… broadcasts, especially when I’m trying to concentrate and want people not to bother me. But usually I just keep the earbuds in because the person that sits in front of me has a voice that carries and she will not. shut. up. and basically keeps a running commentary that gets increasingly more frustrated when people ignore her.

    11. Starchitect*

      In college I had a tendency to begin working with headphones in, forget to actually turn on the music, and get a TON of work done. Since realizing I’m super productive when I have headphones in with nothing playing, I’ve begun doing it on purpose. Maybe it’s the equivalent to earplugs or noise cancelling headphones, I don’t know. But just regular earbuds in with nothing playing puts me in the ZONE.

      1. Casual Librarian*

        I do this as well. It’s also a great way to eavesdrop if you need to but not get sucked into a conversation.

      2. Wells*

        I also do this, but more to signal “don’t talk to me unless it’s important” more than to actually improve my focus.

      3. KendraG*

        I do this as well! What usually happens is I put on the headphones playing something distracting like kpop, and as soon as I need to focus I pause the music and forget to turn it back on :)

    12. DoctorateStrange*

      Honestly, really upbeat pop and Broadway music has helped me focus more than slower, quieter songs could in regards to focusing on my work. It really excites me to do my work in one go.

    13. Jill March*

      I copy edit, so podcasts and music with lyrics are too distracting for me. I really like binaural beats along with ambient noises like oceans waves. I have an app called Sleep Pillow that lets you make ambient noise mixes, and I really like it. My current favorite mixes are windshield wipers + rain on a tent + traffic sounds and summer pool + big fan + ocean waves. (The app is free, but most of the sounds are in-app purchases, just fyi.)

      My best headphones are earbuds, but I’ll wear over-the-headphones on top of those when I don’t want to be distracted. Visible headphones helps keep interruptions to a minimum, in my experience.

      1. starsaphire*

        Editor here too. I tend toward classical music — the Russians if I want to get stuff done; softer stuff like Debussy or Chopin if I need to focus.

        I love classic rock, opera, and jazz, but lyrics tend to just get… all tangled up in what I’m editing. Of course, if I’m just doing hours of formatting, all bets are off!

        Thankfully, we have regular online trainings, so the department allows us to have nicer headphones. Not Bose-level, but pretty decent.

    14. LaDeeDa*

      I find music irritating and distracting. When I worked in an office I would usually listen to white noise to block it all out. And sometimes even that irritated me (I prefer total silence)- then I would resort to earplugs. I am so glad I work from home now, I only have to worry about the dog barking occasionally.

      1. TPSforDays*

        Just curious – do you find music in general irritating or just when trying to work? I ask because sometimes music is overly distracting/annoying to me when I’m working, and I can’t always switch that music-induced irritation off when the work day is done.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I didn’t write the comment, but I can’t listen to music when working either. It’s not because I find it irritating in general, I think it’s because I love music too much! I play 4 instruments and am not capable of listening to music without actively listening to it, which is why it’s too distracting when I work. However, listening to something like ocean or rainforest sounds does help me to focus.

      2. milksnake*

        My boss is also the type to be irritated by music, and I’m the type that cannot focus in complete silence.
        I started listening to very mellow music on 2% volume, which was just enough to barely hear it while I’m sitting at my desk so it wouldn’t bother her, but it would be enough to keep pinging my attention.

    15. Bend & Snap*

      I just switched from Bose noise-cancelling earbuds to Beats noise-cancelling headphones and the Beats will drown out anything. When I need to concentrate, it’s Beats + classical music.

      1. PeaceAndQuiet*

        Is Beats really drowning out all noise without playing music? Or does it drown out noise when playing low volume music or white noise or rain music? I have some expensive Bose noise cancellation earbuds and it’s not working, I still hear conversation close by unless I play music at a loud level which is not too good. If it works I’m interested in buying a pair. Please update. I am very sensitive to noise and open office distracts me a lot. Maybe there is hope with Beats. Thanks.

    16. LoV*

      Low-end noise cancelling headphones plus music or podcasts. They don’t block out noise like the high end headphones, but they dull it enough to make it easy to block out and don’t cost as much.

      Granted, it depends on what kind of work I’m doing. If it’s something boring and straightforward, podcasts and energetic music are great. If it’s something that requires thinking, slower or more complex music is good.

      I’m constantly shocked at the number of people who write in because there bosses don’t want them to have headphones on. I’d be ready to quit if I couldn’t listed to music – it’s too hard to work otherwise.

    17. Matilda Jefferies*

      I listen to CBC1 (similar to NPR.) Mostly talk, a little bit of music, nothing too political or controversial.

      I tend to hyperfocus on music, which of course defeats the purpose of helping me focus on my work. Same with podcasts and TED Talks and so on – I find myself listening to those instead of working. So the CBC is really helpful in that it provides voices and familiarity, and it functions as white noise without being distracting. It’s also a good way of structuring my day – I know to go for lunch when the noon program comes on, and when the 3:00 program starts I know it’s time to start winding down whatever I’m working on for the day.

      It also has the benefit of being available on an analog, old-school radio. We’re not allowed to stream anything from our computers, and this also means that I can listen without burning through data on my phone (or trying to find a wifi signal in the middle of the concrete tower I work in.)

    18. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Depending on the project, I find either dubstep (or something with a similarly hard and fast beat) for rote detail work, or for something more involved, like that involves deeper reading comprehension, classical music really helps, especially the more upbeat composers.

    19. sharpshooter*

      I too, have bose headphones, but can we talk about what a bummer it is that a lot of us are spending a beefy amount of our own money on noise cancelling headphones just so we’re able to do our jobs? These headphones aren’t cheap! I work in a tightly packed open office and most of use use these.

      1. DaBoss*

        I LOVE rainymood(.)com! It’s a looping soundtrack of storm sounds that streams from this very simplistic website. No ads, nothing to subscribe to – just go to the site and click the play button.

    20. Wells*

      I love listening to Korean pop music while I’m working, or other music in a language I don’t know. It keeps me from paying too much attention to the lyrics.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I used to do this too, but with Anime soundtracks and sometimes audio drams. I don’t speak or read Japanese, which means that back in the days of trying to buy import CDs in person I would often have no idea if what I was buying was a music CD or an audio drama until I got it home. If it was a series where the audio drama followed the manga and anime closely enough, sometimes I could generally follow what was going on, but it was much easier to tune out since I didn’t really know most of the words as individual words. I had one Marmalade Boy audio drama CD that ended up getting played a lot in grad school because it worked really well as background noise that I could tune out when concentrating.

        Unfortunately, now I work in a job where I’m supposed to look “interruptible” while at work since I need to deal with questions from people who walk in. This makes total sense in terms of my job function and work environment, but I have a really hard time concentrating with all of the other conversations in the room.

        1. MerciMe*

          Headphones over only one ear? That’s what I do when I need to be approachable, but also need the extra stimulus from listening to music.

      2. KendraG*

        I do this as well!!! Although it backfired a little bit because I loved it so much I started learning Korean, and now I listen for words I know :D

      3. SunnyD*

        I am plugging a lot of suggestions into my Amazon music, and KPop is definitely going into my work music rotation!

        1. SunnyD*

          Actually, listening for awhile, most of the songs on Amazon music seem to have several English words, just out of the blue – seems even more distracting than all English!

    21. Shhhh*

      I live and die by mynoise(.)net sound generators in my pod of extremely loud talkers. I mix a rain soundscape with a built in speech blocker wave with whatever else moves me that day (jazz, tibetan throat singing, gregorian chants, etc) and can have my whole team talking around me and not hear them. You can also customize the site to your particular hearing spectrum to minimize damage/maximize white noise.

      1. socrescentfresh*

        This- I crank up Freewhitenoise dot com when I need to drown out the talking and throat-clearing around me without trying to follow the plot of a podcast. Ocean waves are one of my favorite sounds in the world, but something more consisted (not ebbing and flowing) like rain is a better sound mask.

      2. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

        I love purrli(.)com, by the same person who made MyNoise. It’s a cat purring generator. You can control pitch, speed, etc. Calms me down like whoa.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        Thanks for this! I use a similar site but the one you suggested has a lot more options.

    22. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Without headphones I would be miserable in the open plan. Very useful for drowning out the loud, constantly yammering team in front of me, and other chatter / general movements. Luckily the desk areas have carpet where I am so it’s not so bad with shoe clicking or anything.

    23. Sleepytime Tea*

      I LOVE my wireless headphones. Do not know how I lived without them. I have the LG HBS-750. Not only are they comfortable and bluetooth, but the sound quality for phone calls is also amazing. I use them for conference calls all the time, and are great for working from home.

    24. Jaid*

      I have a pair of Kinivo over-the-ear wireless headphones. Not noise-cancelling, no, but for 20 bucks at Amazon, and over 5k people buying it with mostly no problems I heartily recommend it. It goes behind the head, so it shouldn’t mess with your hair, and the headphones are cushioned. You’d have to have your music blasting for it to “leak”.

    25. J.*

      I have the Sony 1000X over ear noise cancelling headphones, and they block out everything. Before I moved to this location, I used to work in a place that was one large room with a big conference table, and everyone sat around the same table together all day. It was the only way I could get anything done.

      Now I have my own office with a door! But the culture here is mostly doors open unless you really, really, really can’t be interrupted, and my office is right near the kitchen, so I still find myself using the headphones at least a few times a week.

      (I also really like that they have a feature where if you put your hand to your right ear, the noise canceling microphone will broadcast what’s going on around you without having to take the headphones on and off, if you just need to break for a second but don’t want to open the door for a longer interruption.)

      1. zora*

        oh wow, that’s an amazing feature!! If I hadn’t already bought my $300 headphones, I would be really tempted!

    26. Tea Earl Grey. Hot.*

      We use VOIP phones, and the headset I have functions like a nice pair of headphones. All audio routes through them, and they automatically lower the sound when a phone call comes through.

      Pretty sure they’re the Jabra 360 model. Can’t recommend enough!

    27. zora*

      I have a pair of wireless/noisecancelling Sony WH H900N
      They were about the same price as Bose, I think I got mine for $270. But I heard they were a little bit more comfortable, and I am sensitive to that squished head feeling.

      They are awesome. Just with Noise cancelling on, they don’t really block out all voices, but with Noise Cancelling plus quiet music on, they really do. And I’m easily distracted by all the people in my office who like to YELL ACROSS THE ROOM TO EACH OTHER. gah!

      I do have to remember to charge them, but I keep the mini-usb cable attached to the USB of my laptop, and about once a week I plug them in overnight.

    28. Me (I think)*

      My 20th anniversary gift catalog from my employer (“choose any one thing!!”) included a decent pair of wireless Sennheiser over the ear headphones with active noise cancellation. Greatest. Work. Gift. Ever.

    29. Nessun*

      I adore Bose noise-cancelling headphones for focusing on work. My music of choice changes depending on my mood – sometimes I need something calming, and sometimes I need the beat to get me pumped on a project. In a loud office (we’re open plan) they get rid of most outside sound, and in a quiet office I find it’s easier to concentrate if I’m not super conscious of how loud my typing is!

      1. hayling*

        Also love my Bose! I use the Calm app and just put on “timed meditation” with one of their white noise backgrounds.

    30. I am not a Lllama*

      I tend to wear the old style headphones that cover my whole ear instead of earbuds. I have two hearing aids, and it is difficult to take them out to put ear buds in. Plus it gives a very visual and obvious clue that I’m not ignoring people, I just can’t hear them.

      1. Syfygeek*

        I had bright pink over the ear headphones I would use when doing billing, budgeting or other “money” related tasks. I’d use those, and people would still come up and start talking to me.

    31. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      Headphones alone signal “go away” to my team – or at least they’re supposed to. In reality, they’re noise-canceling, which means I also need a rear-view mirror because my coworkers sit behind me and tend to sneak up to ask me (stupid) questions when I can’t hear them.

      Music, if I choose to play it, varies depending on project. Classical or movie soundtracks if it’s something I can, and need to spend hours on. If it’s work on one specific supplier, it tends to be power ballads, interspersed with Eye of the Tiger so I can fantasize about punching our stupid useless account manager everytime I encounter one of his totally avoidable errors!

    32. kc89*

      when my co-worker who makes an excessive amount of mouth noises is really on my last nerve I put spotify on and BLAST it (rip my hearing) and just stare at my phone waiting for it to ring. I can’t listen to loud music and multi task because I always need to be ready to answer the phone.

      So listening to music is a last resort because I can’t do anything but stare at my phone, but it’s a godsend when I’m at my wits end

      1. SunnyD*

        My coworker found a way to forward her desk phone to Skype, and just leaves her headphones on – a phone call would interrupt music. Might be worth the google.

    33. erynlibrarian*

      can any glasses-wearing people recommend headphones that don’t pinch?? i have a pair that has great sound, but they pinch terribly behind my ears where my glasses are.

      1. Chinookwind*

        My bone conducting one doesn’t interfere with either my regular glasses or safety glasses as it is flat, not tubular. It fits between my head and the arm of the glasses.

    34. Chinookwind*

      I am a receptionist/admin assistant in a fabrication shop, so I have to balance cancelling out all the screeching metal while working on spreadsheets with being able to hear the phone ring (which happens only sporadically), so noise cancelling is out. What I use instead is a cheapish, blue tooth, bone conducting “earphone” that sit around my ear and rest against my skull, above the ear.

      Even though it is bright red, most of my coworkers are shocked when they realize why I always touch my ear when they enter the front office (I am turning off the podcast). Because it sits outside my ear, it doesn’t block sound but it does drown out the fabrication sounds leaking through the wall. I do have permission to listen to listen to a radio up front but I find that too distracting as it is always on and can interfere with hearing someone speak. This way, I can easily turn it off regardless of where in the room I am.

    35. fogharty*

      I wear over-the-ear wireless headphones and listen to a tv show or movie I’ve seen many times before, so I don’t have to actually watch it. Any of the Jane Austen adaptations work well because they are so dialog-heavy. Or “Breaking Bad”. Or “Veep”. Or else I am not listening to anything (sounds of silence) which helps me concentrate on detailed work.

    36. Chaotic Neutral*


    37. Bad Janet*

      So buried under all the music chatter is my asking for recs of in-ear wireless (to the phone. buds-wired-together is fine) headphones for small ear canals.

      Not to be all dainty-princess about my ears/head, but it’s an endless search in my life for wireless in-ears that are small enough, b/c over-ear gives me headaches. But I seem have small ear canals, AND what I’ll describe as either a too small or too shallow concha cavum (so buds like Airpods fall out super easily. I’m not dropping that $$ to lose them in a day).

    38. Anonymous Software Engineer*

      I use Bose QC-35s with earplugs underneath. Note that in order to do voice-cancelling, they need to have music playing in them.

      (I hate it and occasionally have to go in the corner and cry from how stressed it makes me trying to focus without quiet)

      1. PeaceAndQuiet*

        I hear ya fellow techie. I’m a quiet nerd and I hate open office. It wastes everyone’s time because when real work needs to get done people said they leave early and finish at home so they can focus in the details in quietness. Open office may save in a little rent but it wastes how many hours of staff focus and rework cause they need to concentrate in those tiny details. An engineer salary per hour times how many engineers times how many hours lost in a year adds up. People who like open office are those who talk all day and don’t need to sit down and do detail crunching or analyzing work. Open office plans looks cool but are not functional. Wastes more money than they claim to save. I think by offering cubicles they offer focus and higher productivity yielding faster product to market and a better product.

    39. Kate H*

      I love to listen to podcasts and audiobooks at work. I’ve been slowly working my way through my second listen to Critical Role campaign one thanks to eight hours a day of staring at a computer screen.

      I have a pair of company-purchased noise-cancelling headphones but they…don’t work. They block out noise outside the room well but I can actually hear anyone speaking inside the room even clearer. The team behind me recently hired on two new team members and now that team talks for about seven hours out of the eight. I’d say about half the time it’s work-related because the manager is training the newbies but the rest of the time it’s just random conversation shouted across the room at each other. The list of things I wouldn’t do for a quiet corner somewhere is getting rapidly shorter.

    40. Brenda J Ainsburg*

      I use earplugs to drown out noise, and then put headphones on over them that play white noise. I sometimes have to work in an open room where there is a lot of conversation and it is very distracting. Earplugs block out a lot of the conversation and white noise via the headphones covers up the rest of distracting noise. So with nary a syllable coming through, I can focus on my work!

    41. theelephantintheroom*

      I know this thread will be bogged down with headphone recommendations, but I gotta throw mine in. If you want budget-friendly, I’ve been pretty impressed with my LETSCOM earbuds ($20 on Amazon). They hold a charge well, the sound is great, and there’s a little voice that tells you when you need to charge and lets you know when you’ve successfully turned off the buds (maybe I’m weird for appreciating that little feature). They also have controls for power, pause/play, and volume. So I can quickly and discreetly pause when put on the spot. My ONLY complaint about these earbuds is that there is a slight delay when you pause and play.

      I wound up getting earbuds instead of large headphones because of price and because I can easily travel with them (I commute on the train) AND I can run with them on. Ideally, I’d have a pair for each situation, but I was trying to save money. So one pair for all three.

      I went with a very bright color and I have short hair, so there haven’t been any issues with people not knowing I had them in. (If you have long hair that covers your ears, you might consider larger, more obvious headphones. I work with one woman with long, curly hair and it is IMPOSSIBLE to tell when she had earbuds in.)

      If I’m not using them, I drape them around my neck. Partially because I know I’ll lose them if I don’t, but also to sort of train my coworkers. It got people used to seeing them, so now the small number of people who would come to my desk know if they see bright pink on my head, they have to approach carefully (if I get “in the zone” I scare easily and loudly).

      In a perfect world, people would send me a quick ping before coming to my desk, but…they don’t, so this is what we gotta live with.

    42. Shay*

      I listen to mynoise.net using noise canceling headphones. My favorite is listening to the sound of water running using the speech blocker setting.

  2. battle_sloths_attack*

    Ugh yes!! Give me tips. I sit RIGHT by the printer and have a low walled cubical. People LOVE to chat with me, even when I’m trying to concentrate.

    1. Pilcrow*

      Couple thoughts about re-arranging your physical space:
      * Put a taller barrier up on the printer side to keep you out of the eye-line of people by the printer. Can you get a rolling white-board, for example?
      * Arrange your desk so your back is to people at the printer. (Probably want to invest in a anti-glare screen cover to keep people from reading your monitor if you do this. )

      1. Joielle*

        Rolling whiteboard is a great idea, or maybe a tall plant? I’ve done that before and it’s worked great – something really awkward about talking to someone through the leaves of a large dracaena, so people usually don’t bother.

      2. JSPA*

        Macramé is coming back (so they say); maybe a hanging-plant rack (like a multi-level coat rack, where you can strategically hang plants to block the more problematic sight-lines). Ferns are bushy and do well in low light.

    2. Marissa*

      I’ve found it helps to have something else to get people’s attention by the printer, like a calendar with interesting pictures or something. If there’s something else to look at maybe their attention wouldn’t always go straight to you.

    3. boo bot*

      So, this is kind of weird, but when I’m concentrating I tend to have a delayed reaction to stuff – like, if someone talks to me, I won’t actually realize it or understand what they’ve said for a minute or so (sometimes literally). Once I “hear” them, I’ll respond normally, but it’s like my brain puts them on a “play next” queue until I finish whatever thought I’m in the middle of. I suspect it’s totally annoying, but it’s not voluntary, and it definitely gets across the message that I’m not in a place to be interrupted right now.

      I don’t think it would be too out of line for you to cultivate some version of this – just don’t look up right away when someone talks to you – like, take a second and finish what you’re doing before you answer. I don’t mean this in a performative, passive-aggressive way, but just, don’t do the automatic, polite thing of pretending that the person isn’t interrupting you.

      Maybe that would come across as super rude, I’m not sure – I don’t work in an office, so take it with a grain of salt.

      1. Emma*

        Ha! When my friend was writing his PhD he did this to an extreme.

        Throughout the day, his wife would pop her head into his office to tell him about things or ask non-urgent questions – would you like a cup of tea? – I’m going to the shops later, let me know if you’d like anything – so-and-so has invited us round for dinner on Friday – did your holiday get approved yet? – and so on.

        He would never answer her at the time, but next time he had a break scheduled, all the responses would make it to the top of the queue, and he’d walk into the room she was in and say “I’m making myself one, thanks, we need more toilet roll, sounds great, yes, it’s all approved” and then wander off.

        They both thought it was hilarious, and I agree!

        1. boo bot*

          LOL, that is impressive! I don’t think I could keep track of it all like that (unless I made a list – I could make a list. Superpower augmented!)

        2. WorkerBee (Germany)*

          As teen I was an avid book reader and something similar happened when my mom poped her head. Only difference, I did answer right away but the actual question wouldn’t register with me for minutes even though I always answered the question in the “right” way (as in I gave the answer that I would have given anyways) It is amazing how the subconscious works.

    4. BookishMiss*

      I have my desk arranged so my back is to the printer, and I usually am busy, so I look busy. Alternatively, for people who decide they must talk to me for some reason, I acknowledge a greeting and then keep working with no further acknowledgment.

    5. hayling*

      I used to sit by the printer and fax. I’m actually pretty good at troubleshooting those machines, but I would feign ignorance, otherwise people would ask me about it all day long! “Sorry I have no idea how to replace the toner.”

    6. MerciMe*

      Can you wear headphones? (I promise I’m not being sarcastic – it’s a really strong visual cue.)

      Alternatively, can you plug in a small fan? It creates cheap white noise, so you can just look at people wide eyed, make the “I’m sorry I can’t hear you” gesture, and point to the copier while shrugging…..

      1. Rutty*

        My brain works the same way- if someone asks me something when I’m clearly busy (brow furrowed, earbuds in), it takes me a minute to register that someone’s trying to get my attention and then another minute to shift my brain to the new topic. I once had a boss call me “insolent” because I stared at her with a confused look on my face as I was trying to register “Interruption! Focus change! New topic!”

  3. Duchess Honeybadger*

    I have an office, but with a glass wall and a door that’s usually open. When I’m crashing on something and can’t be interrupted, I leave a sign on the door telling people when they should expect it to be open again. It helps my team gauge exactly how emergency-ish their emergency is and gives them reasonable expectations.

  4. SarahTheEntwife*

    I love MyNoise: https://mynoise.net/noiseMachines.php It has a vast array of different background noises, from white noise to nature sounds to the Voyager golden record. You can adjust the different tracks (like the forest sounds but not the crickets? get rid of the crickets!) and set it to animate their relative loudness so that you get a subtle changing effect and it’s not as same-y.

    I’ve currently been listening to the classical radio station since I need something with a bit more structure than MyNoise tracks but that still doesn’t have words (I like words for brainless data entry; what I’m doing now needs more focus and reading).

    1. Zap R.*

      I love MyNoise. I have Tourette’s so a little bit of ambient music keeps that part of my brain occupied enough to prevent me from ticcing at work. Not sure why it works, but it really does.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Thank you so much for this comment! I’ve used this in the past but had no idea that it could generate tonal music as well as just sounds, so I dug deeper and found it. I was looking for an ambient music generator in the vein of Brian Eno and Mr. Rhodes is perfect.

    2. Slanted & Enchanted*

      Someone mentioned mynoise in a comment a couple of months ago and it has CHANGED my life! My job is about 75% writing, and I’d leave my office to camp out at Starbucks because I need “cafe” background noise–my office is silent except for the one person who’s on the phone most of the time. I just couldn’t get in the zone to write even though I have an office with a sliding glass door.

      Now I can stay at my desk and stream mynoise from my browser and then layer on a spotify coffeehouse playlist and I can write like nobody’s business. (This makes me so excited I had to restrain myself from writing my entire comment in all caps! :) I love it so much I even gave mynoise money, which I generally don’t do for random internet sites that ask for underwriting.

      1. JSPA*

        noisli has cafe chatter too. Also white and pink and brown noise. If you get it wrong, you may drift off instead, so find your settings at home, first.

    3. AyBeeCee*

      “I’ve currently been listening to the classical radio station since I need something with a bit more structure than MyNoise tracks but that still doesn’t have words (I like words for brainless data entry; what I’m doing now needs more focus and reading)”

      I have a few Pandora stations created with foreign language singing for languages I don’t understand, this is also helpful because I’m unlikely to sing along and take up that words-processing part of my brain on that when I need to be reading. Podcasts at 1.25 speed are my go to for data entry.

    4. Kiwiii*

      I haven’t used MyNoise (but am definitely going to check it out!) however have had lots of success with Noisli, which only has about a dozen white noise/background noise options, but has the ability to layer them over each other, which I’ve always found to be super helpful. My personal favorite is layering Very Quiet coffee shop noises with louder rain and night sounds.

    5. Zombeyonce*

      In that same vein, I love listening to video game soundtracks when working on something that needs focus. They’re often really great music but also designed specifically to be background noise.

      My favorite is the Skyrim soundtrack but there are hundreds of them you can find on YouTube, and many several hours long so you can set it and forget it.

      1. Zap R.*

        There’s a Persona 5 mix just for this purpose, I believe. Also, vaporwave remixes of Zelda music are surprisingly rad.

      2. Anthro Prof*

        Yes!! I wrote my whole dissertation to a YouTube video of 10 hours of Skyrim music and ambient noise. I always play it when I need to focus, it puts me in a great getting-stuff-done headspace.

    6. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

      Another website that does this is Coffitivity (https://coffitivity.com/), it is also an app you can download on your phone or tablet. Basically it is a moderate level of ambient sounds from a cafeteria / Lunchroom / University café / etc. and it is based on a peer-review study that claims that ambient sounds improve creativity.
      I used it when I was studying at the university (not during the study phase itself, but when I was summarizing or writing essays or other creative tasks for classes).
      I still use it when I’m alone and need to focus on a task at hand.

      For the studying during exams at Uni, I used this site: https://harry-potter-sounds.ambient-mixer.com/gryffindor-common-room which gave a sound impression of how studying in the Gryffindor common room would be. (The geek in me loved it :-) ).
      It is close to the Coffitivity app, but also with fireplace sounds and a bit of a draft coming from the windows etc. This site also gives the opportunity to fine-tune the different sound levels. I really liked that.

      1. L*

        Ah ambient-mixer.com is my favorite – tons of Harry Potter (and others, some really good Sherlock Holmes themed ones) and there’s something about carefully choosing my fantasy soundscape that is really encouraging at the start of a productivity session.

  5. Toodie*

    I take advantage of my extreme near-sightedness, and work without my glasses on. I can see my computer screen perfectly but all the other stuff is fuzzy and easier to ignore.

    1. boo bot*

      This is brilliant, and I wish I could do it (I can’t even see my computer screen without my contacts – maybe I have an old pair of glasses somewhere that would mimic the effect, though…)

      1. cncx*

        my vision changed by a couple of diopters rather quickly and this is what i do when i really need to focus- i have an old pair of glasses that were newish when the rx changed and have computer coating- these are my “write report” glasses. Just strong enough to read the screen.

    2. irene adler*

      Similar take here.
      I wear my computer glasses while working (with bifocals for reading). They don’t allow me to see much beyond the computer screen and the paperwork on the desk.

      1. Mimmy*

        Yup, I’ve thought of doing this – either take them out or just turn them off if they have that feature. When turned off, they’re almost like ear plugs.

    3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I do that when I’m working on schoolwork at home on my couch. Works really well, except for the critters that are fuzzy and insistent that it’s suppertime. :)

    4. Wells*

      I’ve done this! My station is very close to a busy front counter service desk, and it’s extremely (EXTREMELY) difficult for me to not automatically look up and smile whenever people approach. Of course, that means they expect me to help them. I take off my glasses periodically to train myself to ignore the front and let the people actually tasked with serving clients do their job.

    5. ashie*

      Oh good lord that wouldn’t help me at all! I have a clear range of vision of about 4 inches. If I try to read without my glasses I have to hold things so close I have to close one eye so I don’t see double.

    6. MayLou*

      I do almost the opposite. I have glasses with a really small prescription (0.25) and a small prism, and I wear them when I’m working as a mental reminder to focus. I don’t really need them for vision unless I’m tired, but they work brilliantly on a psychological level!

    7. JSPA*

      cheap computer glasses. If you’re nearsighted, I think it’s a 2 diopter less extreme (e.g. -4.0 to -2.0) for laptop and a 1 to 1.5 for desktop? Check with your optometrist (or use a cheap online service, as you can leave the glasses on your desk, so even if they’re cheaply made, they won’t fall apart). I have my good glasses, then two $80 pair of glasses for laptop / close work and for computer / mid-range.

  6. PNW Jenn*

    I’ve used traffic light-style signs to indicate to chatty coworkers whether I’m available to talk:
    Green – 100% available
    Yellow/orange – available only for work-related talk
    Red – focused on a project and unavailable

    You could also try a “back at [clock]” sign to indicate when you’re available to chat.

    1. beepboopin*

      We are a research center in an academic environment and most of the project managers are in open cubicles. Our office initiated something similar. We have a Red Cactus which means “Do not approach at all” Yellow Pineapple which means “Busy working- only approach if time sensitive or project related” and Blue Rainbow which means “I’m open to chat.” We had multiple staff meetings as well as on boarded individuals about the new system. We’ve been using it for about 6 months and it works really well. Only problem is people outside the department (and students) aren’t aware of the system so it doesn’t stop them from coming in but that’s usually rare for our type of work.

      1. Canadian Public Servant*

        beepboopin, are the indicators like paper signs, or small stuffies, or what? I like it, but can picture it several ways!

        1. beepboopin*

          They are paper cut outs (from a die cutter) that are laminated. We put velcro strip on our computer monitors/doors/cubicle entrance (whatever your set up is) and on the little cut outs so we can easily move them off and on. The cut outs were based on what our die cutter options were but it also softens the message a bit

    2. Jadelyn*

      Our IT support guys have cubicles, and they’ve put up LED light strips – just cheap ones from Amazon – and red means they’re on the phone/busy, green means they’re available, blue means they’re off the clock/on break.

      We have little lights in our office windows, green being “I have the door closed for noise reasons but feel free to come in if you need something”, yellow is “I’m on a call but it’s not confidential/I can put it on hold for a sec to talk to you”, and red is “I’m on a call and it’s confidential, do not come in.”

      1. Yes!*

        OMG the subtitles / closed-captioning just made my day. AAA+++ white-noise experience, would do business again. :D

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I use this to sleep when I’m somewhere that doesn’t have a fan/AC/other white noise option. It is wonderful.

    2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Man, I absolutely HATE that. Like sandpaper on my ears. It was such a relief when I turned it off.

      In other words, what works great for one person doesn’t work for everybody. Try a lot of options to find out what works for you.

      1. Orange You Glad*

        I can’t stand white noise but I discovered brown noise (it’s a different hertz? I think??) and I DO like it!

        There’s also pink noise. If you’re interested, it’s worth googling the different options to see if one works better for you?

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          I just googled them. Pink noise isn’t as awful as white noise, but still unpleasant for me. Brown noise is not unpleasant, but not an improvement on silence. I’ll keep it in mind if I ever need something like that. The noise level doesn’t bother me at work, and earbuds are banned anyway for safety reasons.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      I posted about it above, but I find video game soundtracks even better than nature sounds, and readily available on YouTube.

      1. Emma*

        There’s really cool science behind this! Videogame developers want you to get sucked into the game, so the soundtracks are designed to keep you focused without the music itself becoming a distraction. I don’t know the details of how they do it but it’s a common thing, and makes videogame music perfect when you need to concentrate on work!

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I love the Gris soundtrack! Oddly enough, I can’t listen to Subnautica’s soundtrack because just hearing the music brings back the anxiety I always got playing that game because sharks would always pop up and scare the hell out of me. (I had to stop playing because of that!)

    4. Don't Live By The Tracks*

      This sounds like being in a subway underpass while a REALLY long train passes through the station ahead. Not sure yet whether that’s a good thing or not… :P

  7. Amber Rose*

    When I need to actually focus with no interruptions, I take over the board room. That may not be possible for most people, but if it’s possible to just get up and move, I highly recommend it. Otherwise I just tune most things out. Sort of like when I’m in a busy restaurant or something, even extremely noisy things just become irrelevant background.

    Now, if anyone has any ideas for tuning out my coworker’s under breath singing to whatever she’s listening to, which I actually can’t tell because her singing turns everything into a high pitched screech. For some reason, I can’t tune it out. The higher the pitch, the harder it is to ignore. I’ve asked her to stop but it didn’t work, I just got a bunch of passive aggressive comments about how I don’t like her singing.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yes, I am not sure how much mind I have left. :(

        She listens to her music on a small speaker rather than through headphones, which is fine. Quiet music that I can’t even hear most of the time, no problems. But it kind of defeats the purpose when she’s singing along.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I purposely do not listen to music at work so I can avoid being your coworker.

      Maybe try to get her hooked on podcasts or audio books? They work for me.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Same. I’m basically incapable of NOT singing along to something I’m listening to – or humming, whistling, tapping things – I have such an intense urge to “participate” with the music somehow, so I skip the issue entirely by not listening to music unless I’ve got the office to myself.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      UGH gawwwd I had one of these at a previous company. I shared a cube wall with her and it was awful. It was a high wall, but it didn’t help. And what was worse was that she had her radio going–no headphones–and someone else a few cubes down has hers going, on a different station, and no headphones either. It was terrible.

    3. Agatha31*

      I’d keep asking every time she does it. Polite reminder type response. This isn’t about liking/not liking anyone’s singing – this is an office and singing is a weird thing to think is cool to do in a job surrounded by ppl trying to work. Under breath singing is WORSE too because anything you cant QUITE hear is a huge freaking distraction.

    4. Spcepickle*

      My next door cube neighbor sings in Vietnamese, so I for sure have no idea what she is singing. I haven’t figured out how to tune it out. But is better than random whistle lady on the other side.

    5. Batgirl*

      Gah I hate this response to complaints! “Oh I can’t respond to complaints because I’m offended by them!” It’s the world’s worst Catch 22. I always respond to “Oh you don’t like my annoying habit” with “I sure don’t! You’re still doing it but I’ll keep reminding you until we break the habit”. Sometimes though they can only be reformed by genie.

    6. Gerta*

      That would drive me round the bend! It would definitely not take me long to respond in the affirmative to her passive-aggressive comments either. How incredibly annoying and inconsiderate.

  8. The Ginger Ginger*

    mynoise(dot)net is a nice online noise machine. Lots of variety in types of sounds, lots of personalization options. It helps when I’m so distractible that even music is hard to focus through.

  9. Allornone*

    I’m not sure if this counts, but I have a fidget cube. I don’t know what this says about me, but I’m a hardcore fidgeter. I focus/think better when my hands are moving, and the cube is the perfect outlet to that need. It also helps in meetings because somehow it keeps my mind from wandering when things get dull. I rely on it so much, I even bought a super “fancy” one so it looks mildly professional to anyone who might notice.

    1. Allornone*

      and no, I never owned a fidget spinner. Those don’t accomplish the same thing and are/were really just silly toys (though I admit, my dad has one (my very crazy uncle sent it to him out of the blue) and I’ve been known to play with it a bit on visits.

    2. Amber T*

      I really enjoy my fidget cube – it definitely helps me focus. I have a cheap crappy one (won it at Dave and Busters), and I will say that it’s loud, especially the fidgety things I like doing (the light switch thing and the three buttons are what I usually gravitate towards). Do they make quieter ones? I’m always afraid to use it with my door open – when I hear a coworker constantly click a pen, it drives me nuts, so I don’t wanna be that for someone else.

      1. twig*

        I have an “official” fidget cube that my husband bought me. It makes some noise, but is quieter than, say, a pen click.

      2. Allornone*

        Mine is (relatively) quiet, to the point where I use it my office with my door open and I doubt anyone has noticed. The only side that really makes potential distraction-level noise is the light switch side. But, while I try to avoid that side in meetings, I find if I switch it slowly, it’s quiet enough that no one really seems to notice. My boss is the only one that’s commented on it, and that’s because she saw it in my hand and was curious. My “fancy” one (again, it’s a fidget cube) is the CHUCHIK Best Fidget Cube and can be bought off of Amazon for about 10 bucks. I highly recommend.

        1. SunnyD*

          Well that’s now in my Amazon queue. Didn’t know that existed, but I could use it!

    3. Liz*

      I have coloring books at my desks (and used to have origami paper) for exactly this purpose! Although it definitely only works because my meetings are all on calls (no video) – for my rare in-person meetings I put the coloring books away.

      1. BookishMiss*

        Pocket rocks (worry stones, etc) and squishy stress balls for me. I’m not stressed, just helps keep my hands busy.

      2. Gumby*

        Mine are binder clips. And a wooden clothespin which I have been flipping over since lunch probably. (I do use cork coasters for the part of the flipping where I put one end of the clothespin on the desk for each half-flip to muffle any sound.) But mostly because I haven’t ordered a Tangle yet; I have no idea where the one I had at my last job went.

        1. Carlie*

          I got the steel tangle and it was totally worth it. (I have had several types).

          Also a big silly putty fan. And I use Pilot Frixion pens that the halves unscrew for refills, and it’s totally quiet screwing and unscrewing them during meetings.

    4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I have some cheap fidget rings – looks like they’re called spiky sensory rings by most online sellers. I keep one or two out at my desk because I work with kids pretty regularly and some of them would start taking my desk apart (removing the cover over the cord cut-out, messing with the various adjusters) while talking to me. This has almost completely stopped now that I have the little rings for them to mess with instead. The ones I have are gold and silver colored, so would probably not look particularly out of place in an office environment.

      I’m thinking of of getting a bunch and giving them out instead of candy for Halloween this year.

      1. Allergy Mom*

        If you do, please put out a teal pumpkin so your neighbors with food allergies know your house has non food treats!

    5. Jady*

      Make sure these fidget things are silent!

      I’ve seen a lot of ones that make clicks and other various sounds when being used.

      Your co-workers will hate you.

  10. irene*

    i can’t do Noise Cancelling because part of the problem is too much sensory input and Noise Cancelling just gets interpreted as More Noise instead of baffling and muffling other sound. it also tends to be physically painful. when i was working in a cubicle space, i got to be the designated Fan / Heater location so I could use that white noise and the cool / warm air would help my neighbors. we were lucky that the facilities managers rarely came to our satellite office, so we didn’t get dinged for it…though sometimes when the extra fan or heater was on and someone wanted to use the electric kettle, we’d have to coordinate to not blow a fuse :)

    i’m on the autistic spectrum so i’m easily distracted and overloaded by sensory input like conversations, phone calls…even with the white noise generating comfort devices, i struggled with focus in the cubicle set up, and still do sometimes now that i have my own office with a shutting door. but one trick for sensory overload that also helps with the focus and being cold is a heavy blanket and cardigan! i have a throw blanket i folded twice that i put on my lap and i wear a heavy drapey cardigan at my desk. i guess, beyond being warm, they make me feel grounded and less fidgity so i can focus better. i used them back in the cubicles, and a lot of my coworkers did too (because it was so cold!), but i don’t see blankets used as much in my new job. then again, it isn’t so cold here since the building isn’t an archives.

    i’ve tried using the pomodoro method for task-focusing, but getting the timing right is a stuggle. now that i’m in the office, if i need to really focus on a task, i put on a YT concert video. (public radio stations like WGBR in Boston have them to run 40-90 minutes) i get some nice music and a hard stop time to work towards. i’m trying to build up a collection of different performances for different moods, but TinyDesk concerts are pretty good for shorter spans. it’s kind of like playing a CD, I guess, versus the unending MP3 stream or Autoplay.

    1. JaneB*

      Oooo, love the blanket idea! I wear my dressing gown at home – heavy towelling, the same sort of idea. Hmmm, now to find a professional looking work item, maybe a scarf?

      1. irene*

        how do you feel about learning to knit or crochet? :D a handmade blanket in the right size can be surprisingly heavy and comfy, and you can have more control on making sure that it fits your lap/chair without overhanging. that is one of the problems i have with my folded blanket – it slips around and corners start to drag and look sloppy. i had a knitted one several years ago, but i donated it to someone in need, and now i’m making plans to created a weighted quilt with the university’s logo, so that if i’m working in a conference room or something, it will look nicer and maybe more professional. (I already own a small blanket with the logo, our department received them as morale-boosting gifts a couple years ago, but it’s airline style and not heavy enough.)

        1. JaneB*

          What a great idea!

          I actually have a great heavy blanket I’m making at the moment (crochet, double thread cotton yarn, weighs a ton, very very soothing to work on)! I could maybe use the same pattern/stitch/thread and design myself something more office-sized…

          1. irene*

            bonus! once it gets a little bit big enough to sit in your lap while you work on it, you can bring it to the office and crochet during phone calls or add a few stitches while waiting for Excel to load up a big file.

            provided you wouldn’t get ugly looks in the office for crocheting, of course. i’d forgotten, but i did used to do this in my cubicle office when i was running big print batches or had a long series of phone calls and a few coworkers took it up during their coffee breaks. i have a lot more small tasks i can do in between now, but i see a lot of colored-in desk calendars when i go down the hall, and one coworker has asked me about learning to do fibre crafts, so we might see knitting during downtime become a trend in this office, too.

      1. irene*

        Probably, but it’s not something I plan to pursue at this time because I don’t have any kind of recent psych history or dx and I’m not sure whether official accommodations would be any better than the “this is a good and supportive office environment” things I already have.

        My new job only has private offices with doors, which is honestly a huge help. It was the *biggest* hurdle I had before, because I simply could not focus on my work if my neighbors were discussing a project or on the phone, but there simply weren’t any other options than the cubicles. On the other hand, that job was in a museum so I could take a 5 minute breaks to visit the art galleries when I needed a refresh, which is different from being in an office mostly alone all day.

        But now that i’m repsonding to this…I’m wondering if maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to try, if only to explain to my boss why I have certain quirks or behaviors. My diagnosis is from when I was 8 in 1992, before Asperger’s was common or even used much for AFAB children, so even though reading it is eerily like reading a checklist for Asperger’s girls in 2019, I’m officially “not” autistic, and I was turned down for accommodations when i was a student as a result. But the official dx is extremely similar (it’s missing a few things that the ASD dx does account for, like the sensory overload) and maybe now that I’m older and know better, i can leverage it to get what I need.


        1. Close Bracket*

          “My diagnosis is from when I was 8 in 1992, …, I’m officially “not” autistic,”

          I am so confused by this statement. Isn’t having a dx the very definition of officially autistic? What more do you need?

          I told my current boss bc over the course of my job history, many of my traits are things that have shown up on performance reviews as things that people have complained about. I haven’t told anyone else I work with, though. I’m not even sure whether I have a diagnosis bc the person I went to just didn’t give me a lot of confidence and I never went back to learn her conclusion.

          1. irene*

            next-day follow up in case someone else wonders:
            my dx is not for an asd. it’s for something with a lot of similarities and often comorbid with asd but it doesn’t account for everything that an asd diagnosis does. in fact, the criteria for the dx i received are based on adults, because it’s so rare to be able to identify it in children. but in 1992, when asperger’s wasn’t something the doctor knew about, this dx was the closest she could get to labeling my differences.

            i do have open communication with my boss about some things like my perfectionism or struggle with comprehending time/future planning, but this is the first time i have a boss who really pays attention and cares about her team, so i’m also still learning about how to bring up things that aren’t immediate challenges. i’m a little bit afraid that if i tell her i’m on the spectrum without the paperwork to back me up, it’ll just sound like an excuse, especially since i’m already trying to recognize my challenges to improve them and it’s a slower improvement than i would like.

            (frankly, as i type this, i think the biggest accommodation i need based on previous success is a reduced schedule but that just isn’t possible. i would need to show that i can be on top of the work i already have in only 40 hours, but of course part of the reason i’m behind is that i’m so tired and overwhelmed that i can’t focus…and we’re a department that has an endless supply of tasks to be done)

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      I have a similar headphone problem, I get headaches wearing them for too long, and it ends up being even more distracting. I can do it for short bursts, but there is no way I can wear headphones all day.

      Often I can just tune out on my own and get on task, but if I’m feeling especially frazzled or sleepy or what have you it’s hard for me to get in the swing of things and focus. I’m still looking for options that aren’t “wear headphones all day,” but it’s tricky when you’re in an open office plan and need to keep yourself focused without bothering anyone else.

  11. SometimesALurker*

    I’ve found that taking stock of what distractions I *can* control and dealing with them has helped. I didn’t realize how many little notification sounds my computer and office phone made until I made an effort to turn all of them off except the ones I really use. It has lowered the overall noise level, even though these things aren’t the worst offenders.

    1. Wells*

      Oooh, yes!!! And visual noise as well. We have a messenger app that pops up little visual notifications every time someone on your contact list logs on or off, unless you disable it. It blows my mind how many people in my office spend all day with that blinking at them unnecessarily.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes! My rule is that I use notifications only for situations where a *person* wants to talk to me – so generally, personal and work email, text, and FB Messenger. Notifications that an *app* wants to talk to me (FB likes, retweets, breaking news, the latest sale at Sephora, etc) are all turned off.

      I also have the content hidden for all the notifications on my phone, so I can hear the sound but I have to make a deliberate decision to go in and see the message. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to my phone to check the time, and gone down some kind of rabbit hole because I could see the first few words of a text or an email, so I checked that instead and then it’s ten minutes later and I still hadn’t looked at the clock! A blank notification apparently doesn’t light up my brain in the same way that half an email does. (I also read recently that a lot of Young People are going so far as to buy analog watches to avoid this exact problem! Will wonders never cease. Now get off my lawn!)

    3. zora*

      Oh, yes, good call! I forgot I did that, but same here, I’ve turned off all of those email/skype, etc pop up notifications. Nothing I do is *that* urgent, and I naturally notice the little flag icons in the taskbar pretty quickly anyway. But it makes a huge difference to wait until I’m at the end of the sentence I’m typing to notice I have an email, rather than having things constantly pop up in my face.

    4. ArtsNerd*

      Turning off incoming email and slack notifications and setting up a ton of filters to auto-mark certain stuff as read has been huuuuuge for me.

    5. ChemMoose*

      I am playing with Boomerang for Gmail (I think they also work for other mail servers too). This wonder-extention does:
      1) Sends e-mail at times you specifiy (Want to send e-mails at 8am even though you are drafting it at 10pm?)
      2) Pauses your inbox. With an outgoing message! You don’t want to see every time you get a new e-mail? Pause your inbox! Tell people you are getting work done and won’t get back to them until x time. All with a click of a button!

  12. Anathema Device*

    I am going to go against the grain as I don’t like to wear headphones or want to be reliant on them. I’m more about focusing on what I’m doing and naturally tuning out my surroundings.

    1. boo bot*

      I think that you’ve hit on precisely the issue for a lot of people – that just focusing on what we’re doing and naturally tuning other stuff out is itself The Problem, and the methods are in place to help us get there.

      Do you have a sense of how you do this, or is it something that comes more naturally to you? Like, is it, “just focus” or do you have a method? I think that what you’re describing is kind of the ideal, and I’m curious whether it’s something that you developed consciously.

      1. Jasnah*

        Personally I’ve cultivated a kind of mindset of, “If they need me they’ll ask for me” and I try to only tune in to others’ conversations if I hear key words like my name or the kind of work I do. So I’ll hear “—-Jasnah–” or “—– Stormlight ——” and then perk up.

        Also my office is really quiet so making an effort to keep my voice down not to disturb others.

      2. Scarlet*

        It is the ideal! I’m so jealous. I have severe ADHD and I wish more than anything I could just “naturally” tune out my surroundings. Nope, I have to take max doses of Adderall to come close. Agh.

    2. Ennigaldi*

      How did you train your brain to do that? I swear I have some attention issue after years of playing in orchestras where my brain has to focus on ambient sounds as if it’s the cello section and I’m waiting for my cue to come in.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        I’d never thought about it that way, but I also spent years doing choral music when I was younger, so listening carefully to all of the noise cues to see when I needed to come in again/where we were in the overall piece/church service/larger performance was also very much a thing I learned to do. Perhaps I shall break into the next annoying, loud personal conversation at work with the alto line from something!

    3. Bostonian*

      I have to admit I’m pretty good at that, too, in most situations. I use earbuds in the rare case that I can’t tune someone out, but that usually doesn’t last very long.

    4. New Job So Much Better*

      Same for me, naturally tune out everyone else. Unfortunately that makes me jump all the more when someone comes up behind me.

    5. Thankful for AAM*

      I find I am able to tune out all the noise around me in our open office. I had no idea it was even an issue until I realized how much the convos bother the woman who sits right next to me. But when anyone makes a noise that I interpret as distress, I am out of my seat without realizing it (theres a lady who groans ALL THE TIME who works across the room, my coworker sighs for attention, etc).

      So it comes naturally to me to ignore it all but I wonder if anyone can reframe things so they only hear the emergency stuff (which is not likely in an office). Like AAM says to reframe drama at work as something to watch with popcorn.

      I hope that helps.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        I also realize that when I am working, I am narrating what I am doing in my head, that seems to get me started and focused and then I dont narrate anymore till after an interruption and then I refocus.

    6. Us, Too*

      This. The way you build this skill is through mindfulness training. Also, I employ obvious things like turning off notifications on my computer, disabling the sound on it, etc to eliminate whatever distractions I have direct control over. But I sit in a super high traffic open work space and, honestly, it’s fine. I get used to it and just focus on my work and get into a good “flow” and the rest I can ignore then.

    7. Jady*

      I’ve been getting better at this over time. It definitely takes long-term practice.

      Although I will argue that being reliant on headphones is fine! Try a variety of different headphones – over-ear, in-ear, noise canceling and not, some in-ear buds can expand a bit in your ear to behave like earplugs. You can find ones you like if you look around!

      Being mindful of where your focus is at any time is important. If you get distracted from someone talking, don’t listen in, or wait for them to go away, or start being annoyed. Switch your focus back to your work.

      I talk to myself in my head. This (for me) in a way creates some internal ‘noise’. I work in programming, so I’m internally walking myself through logic and problems and troubleshooting, etc. Some people think silently or in images, so that can be a difficult transition.

      If you get distracted by them, turn off all the notifications around you. Not just your computer chat messages and stuff, but your personal phone, cover up your voicemail blinking icon, silent your work phone if possible, etc.

      Whenever you can just get away from the noise, do that. I work on a laptop and there are a lot of places I can physically move while at work. A conference room, a break room, an empty office, we have some tables outside the building that I could sit at, etc.

      If possible, arrange your desk to minimize your visual range if you’d be comfortable with that. If your back is to the hallway, you’re not going to see people walking by. On the other hand, this usually means people see your screen or sneak up on you and that’s uncomfortable. There is usually a middle-ground to reduce visual distraction.

      Raise the issue with people around you who are just being rude and inconsiderate or unaware. It’s perfectly fine to do this. I’ve many times said to people things like “Hey can you go to the break room, I’m on the phone and I can’t hear over your talking.” If someone is talking/humming/singing to themselves, ask them (kindly) to stop because it’s distracting. Sometimes people don’t realize they are doing it. I once even had a guy sitting beside me BRING HIS GUITAR to work and playing it AT HIS DESK while talking music-stuff to another person beside him. I sent them away real quick. Don’t tolerate people being inconsiderate jerks.

      Consider signs or other symbols to keep people from interrupting you. It’s standard practice in my office that if someone has over-the-ear headphones on, they are NOT to be interrupted unless the building is burning down. This can translate into other things, like hang a Do Not Disturb site beside your monitor, or whatever you can come up with. If people ignore it/forget it, don’t let them interrupt you. A simple “Hey I’m in the middle of this and need to concentrate, can it wait?”

      If people interrupt you a lot for things, try to be proactive. If Bob’s waiting for you to send a TPS report and you’re behind, send him a message/email in advance saying saying you’ll send it tomorrow. That way he doesn’t come to you to ask about it in the middle of something.

      Encourage people to use email and texts/chats for simple things (like where is the TPS report). And be a person who reads and responds to those emails and messages. (Even if a simple “Ok thanks” or “Thanks for the reminder”). This keeps people from feeling ignored and reinforces that electronic communication is effective.

  13. Xingcat*

    I give myself permission to schedule “meetings” a couple of times a week in smaller conference rooms that aren’t often-used, so I can concentrate in seclusion for a while. The office also allows for work in the cafeteria area, or in various little secluded areas built for that purpose, which I appreciate. Find your own space every once in a while, if you can!!

    1. AnotherAlison*

      In general, though, people should be sure this is okay first. At my work, If you were a lower level employee who didn’t schedule a lot of meetings, you may not be aware of the lack of conference room space. (We’re extra busy & extra cramped due to a pending move from 4 buildings to a consolidated campus.) Trying to schedule a 10-person meeting without a week’s notice is an absolute nightmare, and when I saw ONE GUY walk out of the conference room that we were waiting on for our 10 am today, I about lost it. Seriously. It’s a 12-person room and you reserved it for yourself for an hour when there are no rooms in this building during the prime 9-3 time slots?

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        We refer to trying to book meeting space at my workplace as “Space Jam”. It’s pretty much impossible to book meeting space on certain days and times, and we end up holding meetings in some really awkward spots. We sometimes end up making confidential phone calls or having 2 person meetings in the supply closet.

        I’m pretty sure our office manager would just refuse to book the space if I tried to book a room just for me, but we have a person in the middle of room booking because we’re so short on space and have to ration stuff.

      2. Just Elle*

        My work has outlook configured so that you CAN NOT book a conference room without at least one other invitee. They do it by setting rooms as resources, and you cant have a meeting without a human, once you have the meeting you can invite resources. Wonder if this is a possibility for you?

        That said, we also have little breakout rooms that fit 3-4 people that cannot be reserved, its first come first serve. So we don’t have people booking giant rooms for just them anyway.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          We book rooms as a resource, too, but I can book it with just myself on the invite. . .which I do to get a space reserved sometimes while I’m still drafting up the real invite.

          Our new campus has a bunch of those little rooms. I won’t be there until December, though. People who are there now are all like “It’s so easy to get a space” but that will probably change when the other 2/3 of our office move over.

  14. Mystery Bookworm*

    I had a former boss who would occasionally (like 6ish times a year, not once a week) put an internal out of office that basically indicated she was head down on difficult project and would be responding to emails on the next day. She would often work from home on these days.

    1. Bubarina*

      I do this about 4-6 times a month, and it’s amazing! I’m an academic researcher at an R-1 university research institute, and there are days I have to concentrate and write without distraction. Even if I’m in my office and not working from home, people know not to stop by. And it cuts down on all of my emails because my colleagues don’t want to wait for a response and will figure it out themselves 9/10 times. If I don’t block off this time on my calendar, I get interrupted about every 10-15 minutes by a student or someone else in my department.

    2. Ammonite*

      My old office had a specific policy for “writing days” (academia-adjacent, there were expectations to publish) where you had the official ok to be unresponsive and do what needed to be done to focus, whether that meant working from home, a different part of the building, in your office but with the door closed & locked, etc. If you were taking a writing day, you’d schedule it in advance on our internal calendar so it would be clear that you weren’t available for anything that day.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Yes, she used to block out her calendar in advance as well.

        I think practices like this are great, especially for certain roles where a certain amount of bulk concentration is necessary.

    3. ECHM*

      When I was a reporter and had like four stories to do, I would go to KFC, buy an all-you-can-eat buffet, go back for seconds and thirds all afternoon while writing. Made the work bearable.

    4. MerciMe*

      I book the time on my calendar under the project name (just me) for a specific appointment time/duration, then add a category. I tell my team they can always schedule over green, but if it’s orange, check first. If I’m on an orange project, I find a place away from my desk to work so they have to at least walk at least a few extra steps to interrupt me. And if it’s a *really* orange project, I try to work from home and ask them to text me if it’s too important to wait for me to respond to e-mails.

      It cuts down on unnecessary meetings, and I can still be available if there’s something urgent.

  15. Elizabeth Proctor*

    I unfortunately can’t focus on anything if I have music right in my ears. When I can play music not into headphones, I listen to something like The Piano Guys or other instrumental versions of more current songs.

    1. boo bot*

      Yeah, I can’t really wear headphones while I’m working – I find music way too distracting, and white noise just makes me feel like someone’s going to sneak up on me.

    2. KendraG*

      This is interesting to me because I’m the opposite – music in headphones doesn’t bother me, if it’s coming from speakers it distracts me because I’m used to “music from speakers == out of my control”

  16. Professor Ma'am*

    I had a piece of fabric that I’d attach to either side of my cube entrance with clips. This way when I really really needed to focus on my work I could ‘close my door’. Yes, the cube walls were short enough that people could still look right over the ‘door’ but I found people got the visual cue and left me alone.

  17. JaneB*

    coffitivity is another good source of background noise.

    I am SO glad I still have an office which is kind of mine (academia) – I can’t wear both sides of a set of headphones or ear-things, especially around other people (partly laboratory training where you always need one ear clear for hearing something going wrong, partly anxiety, partly claustrophobia – I can’t listen to stereo music in the car without getting anxious/feeling trapped, thank heavens for an old car and mono options, so having the noise actually pressed up against the sides of my head really freaks me out). So I can play stuff quietly on my computer (paper-thin walls and open door norms, so it has to be quiet or agreed with your neighbour).

    What do other people who can’t wear headphones/ear things do as an alternative? (I know they are banned in some places, for example). All my other focus-habit options are obnoxious when sharing space – humming/singing quietly and repetitively, talking to my work or myself, fidgeting (and tapping, especially my feet), playing with objects with my feet (I have this great foot rest which is actually a pair of pedals. But it isn’t silent, and the noise it makes is part of why I think it’s great).

    I suspect I’m not neurotypical (best guess ADD but my therapist keeps pointing out things I do that might put me onto the autistic spectrum somewhere – but I’m female, in the UK with no local access to adult diagnosis services, middle aged and book-smart so I went through school before people LOOKED for those things in verbal girls who were doing fine in exams, just labelled as various kinds of naughty or disruptive or bad) so will not be at all bothered if anyone’s comments are a bit armchair diagnosis-ish!

    1. LQ*

      Here’s my alternative to noise making thing…(It may not work for you but I’m really similar on all the thing so I’m going to throw it at you)…I like things that physically respond and feel like sound. The iPhone I have has a force /3d touch thing where if you press on it it sort of …thumps back at you. And I LOVE that. It sounds like a tap sound but better. There have to be some kinds of silent physical sensation “sounds” that are like fidget toys but silent and not smooth. Mostly I just do the thing on my phone. (I also love the “I didn’t see your face it didn’t unlock” physical tapping.) I have a few other textural things that are very nice in my office (smooth, soft, fuzzy, matte but the good kind) which help a lot as fidgetable things too.

  18. Lost Oregonian*

    My situation is a little different, I’m an admin at an independent school. I struggle less with noise and more with faculty, students, and parents who NEED ME! A closed door is often not enough to keep people from knocking. I regularly have to explain to students that needing candy is not an okay reason to interrupt a meeting. So, when I really need to focus and get something done, I’ll go down to the local coffee shop. Something that would take me all day to get done in my office, I can knock out in an our of uninterrupted time.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      I feel your pain. Hiding is definitely an effective tactic. When people can’t find you, somehow they magically resolve their own issues, or they wait for you and no one dies! Amazing!

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I had a job where we were both expected to focus on the work we were doing (for example, I had to manually tabulate my department’s payroll off paper timecards, splitting in-out punches into hours per paycode per person) and also be immediately ready to Cheerfully Acknowledge anyone who walked into our space while we were focusing.

      If you were focusing on someone, and didn’t Cheerfully Greet someone and immediately shift your attention to them, and their needs, it reflected poorly on you. You weren’t welcoming! You were unapproachable! You were standoffish! You were rude!

      It was SO EXHAUSTING. You could never focus on anything, because someone might open your closed door and require your Cheerful Full Attention at any moment, lest you be labeled as not a team player.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        If you were focusing on “something”, I mean. (1st line 2nd paragraph).

      2. Chinookwind*

        Luckily I only have one colleague who hasn’t figured out that there are certain times of day as well as certain signs (like my desk is covered in papers with numbers that I am following closely with a ruler as I enter them line by line) that I can’t greet you immediately and warmly. He cheerfully interrupts me and expects an immediate response and won’t go away until I give it (others have noticed and commented on this too).

        I would love tips on how to be more blunt about how his small task/question is NOT more important that timecards without getting rude. He has even interrupted me when I am on the phone, so cluelessness is his middle name. He also can’t figure out why I am not as warm and friendly with him as I am with everyone else in the shop.

        1. nonegiven*

          “F-off, come back Later.”


          “I SAID L A T E R !” (with a finger pointing at the door.)

        2. Cheerful and Clueless*

          Late to the party, but have you tried being direct? Generally cheerful clueless people don’t understand subtext, so having it clearly explained can be helpful.

          “Hey Fergus, I’m in the middle of something right now, can you send me an email? I’ll get to it once I’m done making sure everyone gets their pays”

          “Fergus, when I’m in the middle of doing something and you approach me directly and wait for an answer, it makes it difficult for me to do my job, as my train of thought is often disrupted, and it results in rework – Its stressful for me as I want to make sure everyone gets paid on time. If I’m (on the phone/following lines of a sheet with a ruler/standing on one leg) it generally means I’m busy, but if you email me your questions/concerns, I’ll get to it as soon as I can.”

          “Fergus, you know how I asked you to email me rather than approach my desk when I’ve got my ruler out? This is one of those times. Please email me and I’ll get to it later.” And then refuse to engage after that – if you’ve got your ruler out and are going down line by line, just don’t look up. Its going to be awkward, but that’s on him after that. You’ve made your needs clear, and he’s refusing to work with you.

  19. Nobody Here by That Name*

    Since most people have the headphone issue covered, I’ll go a different route: if you find it hard to focus due to anxiety about people being able to read your screen while you work (say due to confidentiality issues, or not wanting people to see your work until it’s ready) you can get plastic filters to put on your monitor to help with that. They make it so that you have to be right in front of your monitor to read what’s on it, but it’s impossible to see from the side as you walk past. When my job moved to an open office plan everybody in HR got them for their monitors and swore by them.

    1. Jasnah*

      I see these all the time and they are super helpful! It’s a removable screen that fits into slots taped to the four corners of the screen so you can remove them whenever you need to.

  20. Ellex*

    I have a bunch of new coworkers and they’re all foot tappers – and of course we have those plastic chair mats, which magnify the sound. One of the newbies left, and the replacement…is also a foot tapper. There’s also a lot of personal phone calls happening around me lately, which are not supposed to be going on, and it’s remarkable how much more annoying a quiet murmur from one person is than a conversation between two or more people nearby.

    I’m fortunate to be able to wear headphones and listen to music. I find film and television instrumental soundtracks are best for concentrating, and if things get noisy around me, I’ll switch to bluegrass or rock. I was able to install the Amazon music app on my computer, which has an excellent selection of free music for Prime accounts. I’m having fun exploring the oeuvre of Fats Waller lately, which has been surprisingly good for both my own focus and drowning out my tap-dancing coworkers.

    Physical comfort is a big help for focus. I found that, due to the height of my desk, there was no way to set the height of my chair that didn’t put some kind of strain on me. I got a footstool, and that has helped tremendously. A mouse pad with a wrist rest, a pair of Hand-Eze gloves (great for people who do a lot of typing or crafting), making sure the color/contrast/brightness/height/placement of my monitors is set to minimize eyestrain and neck-strain.

    Lots of little things that really add up. You can get used to discomfort surprisingly fast, but why should you?

  21. L'Artiste*

    I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on the big Bose headphones so instead I bought literal ear muffs for noise protection like people wear at shooting ranges for about ten bucks. They are a GODSEND and really block out most conversations even in neighboring cubes at normal levels, plus if you want to listen to music ear buds fit comfortably under them.

    1. Phlox*

      I wear noise protection for safety headphones at work too! The 3M Peltor. They look like headphones so it doesn’t look like I’m wearing safety equipment at my desk. But they are so great for reducing the volume of people talking in my open office!

  22. Emily S.*

    A white noise machine is my favorite tool to reduce distractions.

    Also, a tidy, well-organized desk is a huge plus for me. If I can keep my space looking VERY neat and organized, I don’t have clutter that is bothering me.
    (I hate clutter, and find it distracting and sometimes even stress-inducing.)

    1. Emily S.*

      Also, I have found time management tools to be very helpful. I once took an online class about time management basics, and one of the points from the class was that you need to determine when your “Einstein window” is. It sounds silly, but what stretch of the day is the time when you can best concentrate and focus? (For me it’s first thing in the morning, like from 7:30-9:30 am, but that’ll be different for everyone.) Then, you have to protect your window — avoid distractions from your computer or your colleagues during that time. Then most importantly, the key is to use that window of time each day to focus on your most important and strategic work. He said you should only spend about 50% of your time on the more mundane, basic, just-have-to-do-it tasks, and the other 50% of your time on the ~ 30-35% of your work that is most strategic/important. That might not make sense, but I found it to be very helpful.

      If anyone’s interested, it’s a Lynda class by Todd Dewett. I think the title is Managing Your Time. Lynda-dot-com can be accessed through public library systems, or alternatively, they offer a free trial.

      1. always in email jail*

        This is huge. Protecting your productive time (I had never heard the Einstein reference to it before!) is a huge tactic. I often suggest that to employees who are struggling. I’m not naturally great with time management and have diagnosed ADD I haven’t taken medication for for years, but protecting my productive time (from myself and others) is huge. I save other tasks (timesheet, travel reimbursement, easy-to-answer emails) for a “to do” list for the times of day I’m in more of a slump, and I power through by enjoying crossing them off the list!

    2. LQ*

      Strong second on the cleaning my physical space. I talked through this recently with someone else as well. Having a space that is visually noisy (or texturally noisy, or odiferously noisy) makes as big a difference to me as auditorly noisy but I think it’s easy to focus on the volume. Sometimes I can’t change the volume, but I can change the visual, or other things. Noise that makes focus hard comes in many forms. I also will go through and knock out a bunch of small tasks because having the noise of all those little things can make it hard to focus.

      1. Emily S.*

        Precisely. This was also mentioned in a different Lynda class I took, about overcoming procrastination. One of the points made there was that you need to reduce or eliminate distractions, and having a tidy desk is a big part of that. (There were other good points made in that class also. The main message was that you have to figure out why you’re procrastinating, and go from there — is it due to distraction, a lack of confidence, feeling overwhelmed, feeling creatively blocked, or just dreading/hating the project?)

        There have been some research studies on clutter, as well. I read about one study that found that being in a cluttered environment can make people feel stressed out, compared with spending time in a neat, tidy environment. That was very interesting!

  23. AdAgencyChick*

    Oh. My. God. I’m trying to figure this out because people in my office often don’t even respect a closed door! If they see through the glass I’m in my office, they’ll knock and walk right in, sometimes even if I shake my head or cross my hands in an X! The more junior people who sit out in the open have it even worse.

    Tactics, from most to least effective:
    1) Pointing out something that the person who wants my attention needs from me that I am working on, and saying, “I need to work on [Your Project] right now.” Effective if true, since the attention hog realizes there’s something in it for them to leave me alone.
    2) Saying, “I need to focus on [thing I was doing] for the next 30 minutes. Please come back later.” Less effective, because there’s not as much of an incentive for the attention hog. But putting a time stamp on it so they know how long they have to wait can help a little bit. Reinforce, if they keep asking the question, with, “Sorry, I really need to do this now.” Sometimes requires a few repetitions before the attention hog figures out they really are not going to get what they want by being a pest.
    3) Shutting the door, without also doing 1 or 2.
    4) Wearing headphones, without also doing 1, 2, or 3.

  24. Choux*

    ASMR lets me focus like nothing else. I load up YouTube on a tab in the background and play the videos. Super easy for that to become background noise that relaxes me.

    1. hayling*

      Oooh I never thought to listen to ASMR at work! What type of ASMR do you think works at work?

  25. Anonymous for this*

    I share front office space with a co-worker and it’s been a struggle. I’m quiet and introverted and they’re the opposite. They constantly get visitors who come by and chat for a half hour (the visitors ignore me) or they’ll get many personal calls to the office phone. Unfortunately I can’t use headphones because it’s a front office space for a high-level person and I have to look approachable for visitors.

    Any advice for me? I realize that it’d be best to talk to this person, but they have given me attitude about other things (eye rolling when I speak and condescendingly talking to me) that I know it won’t go over well.

    I realize that this job is not the right fit for me since I am not a front desk person, but after a long period of unemployment and just getting back on my feet I need to keep with it for a while.

    1. NotAPirate*

      1. Step up your alone time outside of work. Seriously. It seems counter to reduce friend time because of annoying coworker instead of increasing, but introverts get energy from being alone, so an increase in any social interaction even negative needs to be countered balanced.

      2. Find a common ground with this person, something, anything. Have a topic you can chat about. Maybe its a cute pet one of you owns, maybe its a shared knowledge of a hiking trail, maybe its a shared love of coffee. Find something. Having one pleasant topic you can have a 2 min conversation about during the day will reduce the irritation.

      1. Anonymous for this*

        1. I live alone and am a solitary person, so time outside of work is definitely time for me to savor in that way.

        2. Good idea! From time to time we do see eye to eye on things, so I’ll take advantage of those moments.

    2. Hank*

      There are many wireless bluetooth earbuds for a reasonable price, with many being quite unobtrusive. If management or you coworker notices/objects, frankly state that the frequent and loud interruptions related to coworker make it impossible to focus without them.

      Download a long white noise or some such MP3 (like the Celestial Noise 10 hours link above) to your phone, put in the earbuds when needed and you can drown out all but the loudest interruptive noises.

      Or if you can still work with music, same advice but use your playlist.

      1. Anonymous for this*

        Unfortunately this office is about appearances, so even something considered “unobtrusive” wouldn’t be. The co-worker is the EA to the high level person and loves to point out that certain things will make our office/HLP “look bad,” and I’m trying not to draw that type of attention to myself.

        NotAPirate’s advice is the best I can take since I’m limited in what I can do in my situation, but I appreciate your help!

        1. WellRed*

          How about a small soft earplug on the side of you she sits on, even just ocassionally during the worst of it? Frankly, I don’t think someone on personal calls us a good look, either.

        2. Chinookwind*

          If you have long hair, than a flat, bone conductive earphone might help, especially if you can get one the same colour group as your hair. I think I have even seen them that have been decorated to look like jewelry.

    3. Jasnah*

      I don’t think there is a good solution for you, as you certainly can’t wear headphones at the front desk and it sounds like the job isn’t a good fit for you. Maybe you can focus on what you can change and what you can’t, for example you can’t change how often someone contacts your coworker, but you can ask her to take personal calls elsewhere (it also looks bad to have the front desk person talking to a friend in front of visitors) and you can definitely push back on her attitude.

    4. Koala dreams*

      Clear or beige/brown earplugs? They are very discrete. They don’t make the noise disappear, but lowers the volume. There are even earplugs made for musicians that are supposed to keep the quality of the sounds while keeping volume down.

      As for talking with your colleague, could you point out that her making personal phone calls and chatting with friends look unprofessional? If she actually cares about looking professional it might work.

  26. Beatrice*

    I have a hard time focusing if I’m not warm. I don’t have to be actively, noticeably cold, just not warm. If I have something I really need to focus on, I reach for a blanket or a sweatshirt or a heating pad or a hot mug of tea. In winter, I usually have a few chemical hand warmer packs in my purse for emergencies, and I’ll use those in a pinch. Something about warmth helps me feel centered.

    1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Hard same re: warmth. Since my office refuses to turn the thermostat in my area above 68 degrees in any season, I have a series of office-designated sweaters and blankets I work in at my station. It looks silly but if they want me to be able to focus on anything other than how cold I am (even in pants and long sleeves and socks — not talking summery dressed here) that’s how it goes. I love work from home days because I don’t have to freeze or tune out loud people.

    2. anon attorney*

      Haha, you are the anti-me *disappears in puff of smoke*. I cannot concentrate if I am too hot. Which I often am, thanks menopause and central climate controlled office building.

    3. Joielle*

      Me too! I also have a heated footrest, which is amazing in the winter and also good for ergonomics. Being cold is so distracting (and for me, if I’m not actively warm, I’m cold).

  27. Minta*

    I am very easily distracted, annoyed, and overwhelmed by sound—whether it’s loud talking, constant chatter all around, loud phlegm-management, chewing, droning motors, candy wrappers

    I rotate through these all the time. I employ different tools for different situations and moods.

    High-fidelity ear plugs
    The block out most sound but let you hear people if they approach you. Also great for people who are bothered by constant or droning sounds like loud HVAC units but don’t want to cut out all sound.

    In-ear earbuds
    Noise-cancelling headphones or in-ear earbuds
    I don’t bother with ones that just dangle in your ear like AirPods or Apple Earbuds
    Sometimes I insert them without must–just using them as earplugs.

    Binaural Beats
    Favorite app for this is AmbiSci100P
    I usually hate constant running sounds like white noise, but I found that I love this app’s brown noise. Very relaxing. The accompanying music pieces are also great with the helpful concentration and focus beats.

    To concentrate – instrumental music is best for me (electronic, new age, dance, world, jazz)
    To motivate – speed metal or dance music with a clippy beat

    Get away
    Find a cubby, closed office, other room, outside if possible, walk around the block or building

  28. NotAPirate*

    I make a post it wall above my computer. When people interrupt with needing something I add a post it with what they need. I also add all my meetings as separate ones at the start of the day. It works well as a visual, people walking behind me notice that “oh hey Pirate’s got 15 items where she normally has 1 or 2 let’s not check and see how they feel about that episode last night” and it helps me remember what I’m working on, I can glance up when I start getting distracted and remember what I should be focused on. Also tearing down post its and tossing them after completing a task is satisfying. I started doing it for just the meetings so people would stop emailing me mid meeting to ask if I was in a meeting and when would I be back. I found it helps with the people interrupting with things they can do themselves too, delayed gratification makes it more likely they’ll actually read my workflow documents instead of asking me to just do it this once.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This is cool. I like that it can signal from a distance the kind of day you’re having.

      Great idea.

  29. Matilda Jefferies*

    I have ADHD, so I often have trouble changing my attention from one task to another. I’ve developed a handful of tricks to help me do this:

    *A specific, two-minute meditation from the Insight Timer app. It really helps when I need to drag my attention away from something I’ve been working on – I can’t go directly from Task A to Task B, but I can use this meditation as a deliberate pause to help my brain make the switch.

    *Physical cues – lipstick and reading glasses. I don’t necessarily need my reading glasses at work, but I’ve found that if I’m disciplined about always wearing them when I’m working and never wearing them when I’m not, they’re a good physical reminder if I start to wander off. Oh, I’m wearing my glasses! That means I should be working! Lipstick always makes me feel like I’m “ready” for whatever is about to happen, so again it’s a physical action that I can take to help make the transition from one thing to another.

    *I also like to take a piece of paper and write the word FOCUS at the top in great big letters, then write the *one* thing I’m supposed to be working on. I keep it nearby when I’m working, so whenever my brain starts to go squirrelly, I can write down whatever random thought I’m having and then get myself back on track.

  30. Rika Kemme*

    Since I can’t focus with ANY noise, including music, I actually wear earmuffs for construction work. Only I’ve done my best to find a nice looking pair that can almost be mistaken for big headphones so it doesn’t look too weird in an office environment. They’re collapsable, fit into my bag and dampen sound up to 36 dB.

    1. PM by Day Knitter by Night*

      Can you provide some details? I work in an area that doesn’t allow any wireless or bluetooth devices – so no phones, MP3 players, or wireless headphones – and blocks any kind of streaming anything, including YouTube. I miss music and my white noise apps…

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        You can pick up ear protection things like this at most home improvement stores. I got a pair at Harbor Freight for using while doing yardwork, and my mom got a pair to wear at her desk when they moved her from an office to an open plan. Hearing protection is a good keyword to search on when looking online – you’ll get both earplugs and over-the-ear options.

        If you’re not allowed wireless headphones, I’d suggest getting ones that look really obviously like safety equipment (you can get bright orange ones that would be good for this) so they look less like something that plays music.

      2. Phlox*

        I have the 3M Peltor X4A – though they might not work for you because they do look pretty headphone-y.

  31. krysb*

    I have a crazy ability of being able to ignore everything around me. Loud machinery, loud people, whatever. I can just tune it out. I attribute it to being a total introvert from a large-ish (4 kids) family. It was basically a form of self-protection.

    1. Gumby*

      Me too.

      Oddly, one of the few things I *can’t* ignore is music (sometimes I can if it’s instrumental) or video. Conversation 2 feet away from me? I’m barely aware it is happening. TV on in another room showing a reality show that I have no desire to watch? I’m completely drawn in. My parents have the TV on for “noise” approximately 90% of the time. I once watched about 6 hours of some Dallas cheerleaders try out show because I just could not ignore it.

  32. Sleepytime Tea*

    So there’s these cool little lights that connect to your phone or even ones that you can hook up to your computer that sync with your IM status in Lync (which is connected to your phone and Outlook calendar). They change color to indicate if you’re available or not, if you’re on the phone (great when you’re on a conference call), and so forth. They are super useful in a couple of offices I’ve worked at. People will walk up to your desk, see the light is red, or flashing, or whatever to indicate that you’re not available, and they just turn around and walk away!

      1. Former Admin turned Project Manager*

        The ones we use at my office are BusyLight. They sync with our IM/phone to go yellow if we are busy (either because we have a meeting detected through our IM status or if you manually set your status that way), red for DND, flashing red if we are on the phone, or green as default. Most people stick the indicator on their monitor, but mine is on the outer edge of my cubicle so it can be seen from a distance, since my monitor is on the inner corner of my cube space.

  33. NeverNicky*

    I work mostly from home and although I love the silence, there’s still many distractions, especially as I’m our organisations social media and web person so I can legitimately have these “always on”.

    I think I read about Focus Mate on one of the open threads here and it’s been really valuable when I need to get my head down and do those many little tasks that could spin out to fill a day when actually an hour would be plenty. The little noises that come through from the other person typify “companionable silence” and the accountability makes me focus.

  34. Liz*

    My distractions are not necessarily other people but… myself. I use the Forest app on my phone to prevent me from distractions there. On my computer I “snooze” notifications when I have something I’m working on, and depending on the project, I might turn off my extra screens or even undock my laptop so I only have a tiny screen and don’t have the “real estate” to pull up another browser window to get distracted with.

  35. Frinkfrink*

    ADHD here. I have a lamp on my desk and when I’m in that zone where everything is a distraction, I turn off the overhead light and turn on the lamp. Not being able to easily see the rest of the room helps narrow my focus to the area immediately around my desk. Bonus: when people stick their heads into my department, it looks like my light is off and I’m not in, so they go away without knocking on my door.

    For a number of years I was able to focus my brain on coding by playing a specific playlist only while coding. It got to the point where I associated it with coding enough that I could drop into the zone within a few minutes of putting it on. The secret (for me) was that it was nothing but Japanese boy band pop music. The music was bland enough not to pull my attention away, especially once I got familiar with it, and as I don’t understand Japanese, my brain wasn’t getting pulled away by the lyrics like it does with songs in English.

  36. Lilysparrow*

    I find that binaural beat music really helps me focus better than ordinary music or white noise. I don’t know whether it’s really affecting my brain waves, or if it’s just good at muffling sound and being slightly boring.

  37. lnelson in Tysons*

    I like the use of headphones.

    I have also worked in office where everyone in the open area has desks, so more chances to be distracted. After a while I was able to tune a lot out by concentrating on whatever task I was doing.

  38. 10th Dr vs Crowley - go!*

    A small thing: when I notice I’ve been having trouble focusing, I clean and organize my desk so it doesn’t have stuff strewn all over it.

    I find having stuff in my peripheral vision really does impact me even when I don’t notice. It doesn’t help reduce noise from my office-mates (there are 5 of us in cubes in an otherwise enclosed suite), but having a tidy desk lowers the “background barrier” to focusing and makes it easier to focus despite other distractions.

    1. Courageous cat*

      Yeah, this is huge. Same goes for at home too. I can’t relax or do anything positive until all the negative/messy/etc stuff is out of my hair.

  39. EH*

    I am stoked to check out all the noise sources people are sharing!

    My preferred one is Ambient-Mixer dot com – they have a massive library of individual sounds, and you can create your own mix or listen to any of the complete ones shared by other users. I mostly use it for going to sleep these days, but when I was in an open plan area of the office, I it kept me from flipping out on the regular. My top tip: always include “Hell Rumble” (Unreal Ambiances > Horror). Turned down til it’s barely audible, it masks a LOT.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Someone at work recommended tabletopaudio dot com. It’s apparently music to play RPGs to and has a lot of variety of ambient and music combinations. I downloaded 5 or so 10 min tracks and just play them on a loop when people around me are talking.

  40. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

    My two favourite things to listen to when I need to concentrate (especially on writing something) is either weird repetitive binaural or ambient music, or the powwow station. Either one is hypnotic in a way but also helps drown out everything else.

  41. earl grey aficionado*

    Not sure how possible this is for most folks given office dress codes, but as a freelancer who occasionally works in noisy coffee shops, I can’t tell you how much comfortable clothes (soft fabrics, roomy cuts) help me focus on my work. I can handle more formal office wear if I’m giving a presentation or otherwise doing something that demands my full attention, but if I’m already struggling to pay attention due to noise or people interrupting me, the tiniest bit of scratchiness, stiffness, or tightness in my clothes suddenly takes up the last bit of my concentration. I live in cardigans, soft blouses or dresses, and elastic-waist pants (in office-appropriate fabrics, they don’t look like sweatpants) whenever I’m out and about. And of course, when I’m working from home I fully give into the sweatpants/pajamas urge!

    1. Mine Has One L*

      That’s funny… I’m the opposite! In my work-from-home days nothing helped me focus like showering and getting dressed in fairly formal clothes.

  42. literal desk fan*

    I’ll be following this thread as well, as I find my work environment exceptionally distracting!

    These have worked best for me:
    1) Shure in-ear monitors / headphones with earplug-like tips — These create such a great barrier against sound (and also any in-ear headphones without tips just fall out of my ears, no matter what shape they are), but on their own, they don’t block out enough sound, so I still need
    2) White noise! I use the TMSoft White Noise App, which I love because it lets you mix your own sounds. My mix of choice is Airplane Travel + Blowing Wind + Brown Noise + Stream Water Flowing + Tibetan Singing Bowl. Compared to the other mixes I’ve tried and the individual sounds, this one blocks out voices the best. I do still have to turn the volume up higher than I’d like, which makes me worry about hearing loss.

    I find music too distracting, and I can only listen to podcasts if I’m doing something extremely tedious that I don’t need to think about at all.

    Unfortunately, having in-ear headphones in for too long can hurt and cause other issues, and I can’t wear over-ear headphones because they cause headaches because they push my glasses into my face and my earrings into my head. Sigh.

    I look forward to learning what others do! Especially those who can’t use headphones for various reasons, as it would be helpful to have some alternatives.

  43. Christina*

    Classical music! I listen to this at no other time, but it’s been my go-to since writing papers in college when I just needed to bang out some work. I can’t focus with music with lyrics. I just use whatever earbuds came with my phone and they’re good enough, over-ear headphones are hard with glasses.

  44. Lena Clare*

    Honestly, I don’t know that there a good solution. When headphones don’t work I end up going into the conference room. It’s not totally quiet as there is no door (!) but at least I’m alone so I can make calls in relative peace.
    Occasionally I’ll work from home.

  45. Mockingjay*

    This thread is timely. Next week we are moving to a new space with cubicles. I have to give up my beloved office with a DOOR.

    I like the idea of using color-coded signs for availability, if we need it. I am hoping not.

    “My door. My kingdom for a door!” *Sobs softly in corner.

  46. Aunt Piddy*

    I have a small set of exercise pedals (like a tiny bike) under my desk. I pedal all day, and it keeps me focused and less sedentary! I can’t work any other way now.

  47. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

    I have a couple of spotify playlists. One that’s just one ambient song (#13/Blue Calx by Aphex Twin) on repeat, the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack (minus a track or two), and one of the city noise of New York City. Subways, streets, etc. All three help me focus.

    If I need to relax AND focus, I use purrli.com It’s an adjustable cat purring generator. You can change speed, frequency, types…. It keeps me from chasing people down the halls with a letter opener.

    1. Wild Bluebell*

      I’d be so depressed if I listened to the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack on repeat, lol

  48. Third or Nothing!*

    https://www.ambient-mixer.com/ is really nice for creating soothing ambient atmospheres to drown out noise. Currently listening to one with birds singing and leaves rustling to drown out my coworkers’ loud conversation next to me.

  49. Raincloud*

    Just because I don’t see this in any other comment – rainymood.com! Just an endless loop of rain sounds. I find that music distracts me because I want to sing along and white nose makes me feel suffocated (couldn’t tell you why), but this is calming and really helps me get in the zone.

    1. peanutbutty*

      I LOVE rainymood. I have my back to the window and sometimes a surprise to turn round and see it is not raining after all.. ;-) This is my go to when I need to focus.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I fall asleep to the “heavy rainstorm” setting on my white noise machine, and I’m always surprised when I get up and it *is* raining!

    2. Mill Miker*

      The paid version of their Android app is very nice too. 4 different locations, with separate volume controls for things like the rain itself, thunder, and more location-specific stuff (like the crowd in the cafe, or the crickets in the countryside). It also doesn’t act like a music app, so you can actually play you preferred music over top.

    3. kc89*

      yeah I just listened to the celestial whitenoise someone linked, and on the one hand it did relax me but I also felt like the world was pressing down on me like I was in a MRI machine or something lol

      I find rain noises much more pleasant

  50. birch trees*

    I actually have an opposite question. I work best when I have something to drown out (using my trusty headphones) but if I’m put in a quiet environment, even listening to music doesn’t help. Any tips on how to stay focused in a quiet environment if you’re better at focusing in chaos??

    1. NJBi*

      Café noise generators! I had this same problem when I was studying abroad and all the libraries+study spaces at my abroad university were true quiet zones, as opposed to the library café and collaborative study areas where I usually worked at my home university. The Forest app has a café white noise setting called “Cafe in Paris” or something that I would turn on–it features muffled conversation, clinking spoons, coffee maker whirs, and other noises, so it’s more complex than music/podcast/ocean noise.

    2. Rosaline Montague*

      This was me transitioning from teaching high school to working in our district office. TOO QUIET! I use the Pomodoro method and walk around the building during the 5 min breaks.

  51. NJBi*

    I use the Forest app as a combination white noise machine + focusing timer. The app plants a digital tree that you “kill” if you close the app/use your phone for something else, which is great for if I fall into that rut of “complete task, check phone” and need to break out of it by just making my phone off-limits for 30 minutes, after which point I won’t feel the urge pick it up for the rest of the afternoon! The white noise is also very useful. My coworkers and I all eat in the office (four desks and sometimes one or two others will come down and work at our large meeting table on a laptop), but there are a couple of person+food combinations that really distract me–I’ve gotten my misophonia mostly under control, but not all the way!!–and so I’ll plant a tree on the app and crank up the forest noises. Same for the rare two-person meeting or phone call that has to happen in the open office. In college I used Forest a lot to track productive time (e.g., I’d create a label for “reading” and be able to track how many hours I was spending on course reading per week, which was useful for time budgeting), but now I just use it for the white noise and habit-breaking functions.

    Meanwhile, 2/4 of the people in the office have full over-the-ear sound-cancelling headphones where as soon as they have them on, they’re completely dead to the world. It makes it feel almost like having a shared office with the one other coworker, who happens to be the person I work with most closely, since I can still have a quick conversation with her without bothering the other people in the room.

  52. Flash Bristow*

    Love the sign on the monitor! I did similar – I had a little flag that I pinned to the wall dividing my cubicle and my colleague’s, so he knew I had music on and didn’t talk to himself through the wall and feel silly when I didn’t notice.

    He was quite a particular person in many ways, so if it worked for us I’m guessing it will work in many other places!

  53. NW Mossy*

    I grab my focus time by shifting my schedule, which I strongly recommend if your company/role allows for it. About 5 years ago, I shifted my schedule to start at 6:30am for a week to have more time in the afternoon to spend with visiting family. I loved the quiet time at the start of the day so much that I’ve stuck with it ever since – the ability to clean up emails and set my intention for the day before the cube farm fills up saves my sanity.

  54. LawLady*

    I have my own office and can close the door if I want, but there are cubicles outside my office. This morning I went out and told the two people who are right outside my office that if ever I am making noise that is distracting them while they’re trying to focus or make calls, I will so not be offended if they shut my door. I usually try to be thoughtful and close the door if I’m taking a conference call on speaker, but sometimes a client calls me up and wants to discuss something and I get drawn into a long conversation and don’t have a chance to close the door.

    1. alacrity*

      I sit outside offices and how I wish that the owners would say something like this! Especially when two are in a call with each other and both are on speaker phone.

  55. LQ*

    When everyone else is gone I wander the halls with a slinky to help me think. I’m considering taking up juggling for this, it’s quieter. Honestly though just doing a lap of get up and go to the far printer rather than the near one is helpful for me sometimes. I find that making sure I’m doing the right kind of focus for the task is important. If it is a UGH I hate this it’s boring and tedious then things like timers and such really help. But if the focus you need is really deep thinking kinds of stuff then creating some space is really helpful (go for a walk, play with a slinky, something to THINK about it and then come back to the doing of it).

    The hardest stuff for me is when it is boring tedious thinking.

  56. Kiwiii*

    This is maybe silly, but I love video game sound tracks as a focusing music. Games like Skyrim and Frostpunk have soundtracks that are somehow infused with purpose and movement enough that they tend to keep my mind on task as well.

    1. Manders*

      Oh, I love video game music for productivity! I’ve read that a lot of those tracks are designed specifically to get you in the flow of doing tasks.

    2. dramadork884*

      That is genius!!! I use movie soundtracks but I bet video games ones would be great!!!

  57. Delta Delta*

    I’m not sure how this is/could be helpful, but I have observed about myself that when I’m trying really hard to concentrate, I become hyper-vigilant. That makes every cough, every stray conversation, every foot tap seem like it’s a sonic boom. Then I become focused on the distractions and I can’t focus on what I need to do. The solution I’ve found is to be a hyper-planner. I’m constantly looking ahead 2 weeks to tackle things that far out specifically so I’m not in a cram-concentration situation. I know this doesn’t work in every situation, but changing my work flow has really helped to cut down on distraction since I find I’m not as easily distracted since I’m ahead of the game on things.

    Usually if I’m in one of these serious concentration modes, though, it’s because I’m working on a writing project. If I can’t control the noise around me I add to it by reading my words aloud. I can hear my own voice best so this helps me overcome noise around me. (I know this might bother other people so I try to save it for extreme situations)

  58. Manders*

    Does anyone have any tips for dealing with sensory overload? I live in a noisy city and commute on public transit, so I’ve noticed that my ability to tolerate noise in my open office waxes and wanes depending on how much noise I’m being exposed to outside the office. Getting outdoors helps, but even the parks around here can be loud and crowded, so I’d love to find a way to… reset my tolerance for loud or intrusive noises? Learn to tune things out better? Is that even possible?

    1. irene*

      Keep in mind that sensory overload is ALL senses, not just sound! If you’re finding that you’re struggling to tolerate noise, try modifying you rother sensory input.

      1. Heavy blanket / drapey cardigan / cozy scarf to feel grounded and reduce additional air-flowing-across-skin or whatever (cardigans can help keep shirt tags from rubbing the back of my neck, I’ve found)

      2. Dim your lights – if you can reduce the brightness of your monitor, block off direct sunlight, turn off lamps, etc.

      3. Reduce scents or use just one scent – maybe a diffuser at your desk is too much, or maybe it helps, it depends on the other environmental scents (I’m a “no scents at work, simple orange or grapefruit at home” person)

      4. what’s going on in your peripheral vision? is there a lot of movement all the time? can you change position or rearrange your desk to block some of it?

      But seriously, don’t think of it as JUST noise that’s becoming unbearable, sensory overload is all senses, and all senses can work together to balance too much of one of them.

      1. Manders*

        Unfortunately, I have very little control over any of these things in my office! We’re all crammed into an open office with bright overhead lighting, and there’s no way to change the direction I’m facing or get further away from scents/sounds/overhead lights. There are pretty much always going to be people moving in my peripheral vision, people sitting directly behind me, etc. My clothing’s already comfy and I’m not particularly sensitive to stuff like tags.

        An office expansion will be coming sometime in the future, but it won’t eliminate all of these issues, we’ll always be a packed open office.

        1. irene*

          Oh, that stinks! I’m always so grateful that when I was in the cubicles, the walls were high enough up that it blocked a lot of visual distraction. And for about 6 months, the fluorescent bulb directly over me was burned out – when it finally got fixed, i was surprised at how much more distractable and irritated i was feeling, until i realized what had changed. I have no idea if that would help you, or if it’s even possible.

          i have heard of cubicle awnings or little decorative umbrellas here on AAM that could be used to provide privacy or block light, but it sounds like your office might be too packed for that to work.

          it’s unfortunate that city life and crammed-in-together life means so much sensory overload that can’t be managed easily. if you haven’t tried a lap blanket, give it a shot – it does wonders for me when i can’t control any other variables. kind of like a thunder shirt for a dog. :)

    2. FloralsForever*

      I have a hard time with extra noise, too, even white noise. One thing that really helps me deal with it is my home set-up. Even if it’s hot, I find a way to shut my (double pained) windows at night. I live close to a freeway and the drone can aggravate me, but my windows really muffle the sound. That way, I have a higher tolerance for noises I cannot control, throughout the day. I look forward to shutting those windows!

      Also, learning to be in my body helps, even just for a minute. If I find a quiet location, even if its a single stall restroom, and I can take an extra moment, I sit and do a body scan, looking for tension. No screens. The extra minute or so helps me reset a little better.

  59. Lilly76*

    I also work in a cubicle farm ~not too big but there are a few people who belong on different teams that sit with my small team because of lack of space where the rest of their team is. So they get visited a bit frequently. We all have headphones BUT my boss has directed us to only wear them in one ear and to leave the other open. None of us are in positions that get frequent and high priority phone calls that we would need to hear or anything like that. So the headphones are essentially useless and when used in that manner make it harder to focus. Anybody have any ideas for how to convince them to change the directive?

  60. Admin Amber*

    Sometimes I would just leave my cube and go walk the stairs for 10 minutes or so. There was a woman who was always visiting/talking/gossiping loudly. It really helped me refocus my thoughts when I returned to my desk.

    1. Van Wilder*

      And close Outlook! If I want to make sure I don’t miss my next meeting, I set an alarm on my phone.
      I also have my phone on do not disturb.

  61. goducks*

    Thanks to this thread I discovered that Spotify has fan noise tracks.
    I have a private office, but my team is all in cubes outside. I like being accessible and try not to close my door unless I truly need to. I like to be able to hear when issues arise, as well. Unfortunately, the office as a whole has almost no ambient noise, and the internal acoustics are such that every sigh, toe tap and throat clear, as well as every comment made by my staffer who talks to herself bounces right into my office, which is terribly distracting. Headphones cut out too much sound and I hate the uneven nature of wearing only one. Computer speakers make music sound too tinny (unless I spring for fancy ones with a subwoofer, which I’m not going to do). I need to block out the toe taps, chair creaks, and sighs while still being able to hear certain conversations. Fortunately fan noise is great for that, and is unaffected by low-quality speakers. I’m trying it now, and it’s so much better!

  62. dramadork884*

    I have a playlist called reading and writing on Spotify. Its all songs with no lyrics because I find them distracting. I mostly have movie soundtracks on there.

  63. milksnake*

    I usually listen to lo-fi hip-hop in a low volume, and use the Forest app to help stay focused. (I went into more detail about the Forest app above in a comment thread.)
    I can’t use headphones because I’m losing my hearing and they would damage it more, so that’s pushed me to find some soft unobtrusive music. I actually created a completely separate Spotify account for work that’s entirely genres like soft jazz, and lo-fi hip-hop.

  64. angelalala*

    Step 1: Go to Soundcloud
    Step 2: Find the Syneptic VIP station
    Step 3: Listen to “calm ambient mixes” for soundtracks from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc.

    These are SO WELL DONE and help me super focus when I need to.

  65. a*

    I wear headphones, but people don’t respect them. There are some necessary interruptions for our job, so I don’t get too upset. However, there is a part of my job that requires high intensity visual concentration, which is hard to maintain. So when I need to do that, I get a movie or a series and put it on the computer, so I have something to look at for several seconds at a time before going back to the work. It helps me break up the task by allowing microbreaks without actually stepping away and giving myself an excuse to do something else. Fortunately, I a) sit in the farthest corner from the door, so no one can see what I’m up to and b) have a boss who doesn’t much care what we get up to as long as our work is done and we’re not attracting unfortunate attention.

  66. Light37*

    I really like https://www.ambient-mixer.com/. It’s got lots of options, and you can mix your own. You can also alter the options to suit you. Whether your desired background is the Ravenclaw Common Room, a Scottish coffee house, or a Zen garden, you can find something that will work.

  67. leeapeea*

    THANK YOU for this! I’m at a new job where I’m the only one in the open (a lobby of sorts) and my desk is at the crossroads of a hallway of offices, the printer, a rest room, and the stairs. There’s only 20 people here but enough foot traffic to be distracting in what is otherwise a fairly quiet office. I’m also the primary phone-answerer, so I have legitimate interruptions constantly, though my duties go far beyond reception (mostly recruiting and business development with admin support). I’m fairly social so I don’t mind a conversation here or there, but honestly I think people have these interactions with me simply because I’m here in the open. I was on a webinar today and had three people interrupt me for social interaction despite wearing BOTH earbuds and CLEARLY watching and interacting on my computer.
    So far I’ve been able to use one ear-bud if I need noise of some sort- can’t use headphones since I need to be able to respond to phone calls. I have a desk fan that can provide some white noise (and also encourages me to keep my desk relatively clutter-free). I couldn’t play music or white noise on speakers since the sound would disturb others. I like the ideas others posted about using signage – flags, notes, pineapples – to let people know your availability. I’m also going to consider re-arranging my desk so I’m not facing the traffic flow and purchasing some screen protectors mentioned upthread as well.

  68. Story Nurse*

    On Thursdays I work outside of regular office hours (with permission). Today I arrived at 3:30 p.m. for the weekly department meeting; I’ll work for an hour as well as I can with everyone around, and then get dinner and go to an after-hours work event before coming back and putting in five or six hours of solid work in the blissfully, beautifully silent office. The only person who disrupts that is the night janitor; she and I are on “show me the latest pictures of your kids” terms, and once she’s done vacuuming I can really get into the groove.

    Family support is essential for this, of course. My kid is used to not seeing me at bedtime on Thursdays because I’ve been doing this since before they were born. My partners handle school pickup, dinner, and bedtime, and I occasionally Skype home to say goodnight.

    Obviously this isn’t an option for everyone, but if it sounds like it might suit you, it’s worth asking about.

    1. FloralsForever*

      I do this too! If I commute at the typical 8-5 time it’s awful, so I work a later schedule. Let me tell you, the last two hours of the day, when most people are gone, are the two most productive hours in my day!

  69. infopubs*

    I used to work disaster relief jobs with groups of volunteers, in donated spaces with zero privacy. Think old WalMart buildings filled with folding chairs and tables. Part of my job was working on a confidential spreadsheet that required my concentration and for no one to look over my shoulder. I had a special hat I would put on, and everyone was trained not to approach me when I wore the hat. The spreadsheet was for a department called CAS, so I wore my CAS hat. Lots of jokes about what rhymes with CAS hat, but that actually helped people remember to obey the “no peeking, no distracting Infopubs” rule. I could just point to the hat without even looking up. Worked great!

  70. alacrity*

    For those in cubical farms, it’s also useful to inquiry of building management if they already pump in white noise. They do it at our office, and while you don’t notice it at all when it’s on, you most definitely notice how LOUD everything becomes when it’s off. Individual machines are good, but if your employer is going to make people sit in any sort of open office (from cubes to open desks) then they really should also be supplying some sort of white noise.

  71. FloralsForever*

    I can’t do headphones or white noise. Headphones physically hurt and white noise is just more unpleasant sensory input. Surprisingly, I listen to “Spa Meditation Music” on really low and have it emanate from my laptop speakers and I find it’s just enough…

    Also, I’m fortunate to work in an environment where I can control how people contact me. I typically work better if I’m not talking, so I tell everyone (as pleasantly as possible, of course!) to contact me via IM first. “Just ping me.” It’s less distracting for me because I don’t have to change anything in my body – no turning around, no talking, no resetting – and I can get back to the task at hand a little easier. But here’s the important thing: I respond quickly. If I am requesting people contact me a certain way, I darn well better reward that behavior. Of course not everyone works that way, but it does cut down on interruptions (which are my main source of distraction).

  72. HB*

    I am fortunate enough to have an office, but in another section of my building there’s a large office space with a mix of suites and cubicles in the center. I don’t know when it started but there are signs posted EVERYWHERE that cubicle zone is a “quiet zone” and they enforce that, it’s a very quiet and peaceful environment. Also some cubicle dwellers have successfully petitioned to get those little opaque plastic slider-doors so they can do a minimum of closing off their space when they’re working on things. I think that’s a must if you are stuck with cubicles – high walls and a “door” if you can get it!

  73. RickCartland*

    Open plan office/hot desk policy here. Things can get quite noisy depending on where you sit. Luckily there is (mostly) the opportunity to move desk part way through the day if your immediate desk buddies get a bit excited. As I’m not in a front-line/customer-facing role I can often just plug in the earphones and bang out some tunes. We are permitted to block out chunks of time/days to focus on deep work, and the boss doesn’t really care if we work from home during those days.

    Although my best method of concentrating and blocking out the noise is… work from home :)

    BI/DBA (SQL Server/SSIS/SSRS/SSAS/Power BI, and data warehouse) style work.

  74. The Dread Pirate Buttercup*

    Also, Pomodoro. Pomodoro is a lifesaver. I have hard ADHD, so on REALLY bad brain days with an impossibly daunting task, I’ll start with a one-minute timer, then go to two/ six minutes, then increase again until I find my max… also, keeping my blood sugar up and actually taking my breaks (I used to work in industries that theoretically had breaks, but only a Very Bad and Lazy Worker would take them, breaks and legal protections are stealing from the company, don’t you know?) worked wonders for my productivity.

  75. Midge*

    Pandora station with kind of meditation/new age “music.”

    I love white noise for sleeping, but this kind of stuff is better for me when I need something natural yet relaxing to drown out ambient noise and conversations.

  76. Kate Daniels*

    I’ve tried white noise apps or machines, but they don’t work well for me, so I’ve been contemplating getting some sort of fan for “real” white noise (I’m very open to recs!). Our office space almost feels clinical/sterile in its silence, and I think I’d be able to concentrate more if I couldn’t hear every keyboard click, cough, crunch on a snack, or stomach growl of others (and feeling self conscious of any noise I make) in the deathly quiet.

  77. Shad*

    So, I work in about the smallest possible “open office”—two employees on opposite walls of a living room sized room along with the printer. And my coworker in this space spends a lot more time on the phone than I do. So I listen to podcasts or audiobooks with one earbud. It’s pretty well trained my brain to tune out speech unless I’m specifically listening to it, so I can ignore my coworker on the phone, tune back in when she’s actually talking to me, notice when one of the coworkers elsewhere comes in to evaluate whether I need to listen, etc.
    Of course, I’m also the person who will tell you I sleep better with a familiar show on (minus the screen), so definitely YMMV.

  78. dee 20*

    I’m not allowed to wear headphones at work for safety reasons, so I bought a pair of earplugs designed for use at concerts (but also marketed toward people with sensory processing issues). They’ve been super helpful — I can still hold a conversation, but a lot of the distracting/background noise gets muted enough that I don’t get agitated.

  79. Not My Real Name*

    I use youtube videos of airplane cabins as my white noise. I have been on some very long flights, and there’s a kind of peace of mind that hits me after about 45 minutes, or maybe after dinner. Anyway… all my problems are 30,000 feet below me and literally thousands of miles away. The videos trigger that, and if I don’t need my secondary monitor, I put up the image, too. My favorite shows the wing of a plane through the cabin window and clouds passing by. Ahhhhhhhh

    I have also used tri-fold poster boards as temporary cubicle walls. It cuts down on visual clutter, but I only do that when I have to focus on numbers.

  80. Blossom*

    Thank you for this thread! I wonder if anyone can empathise with my situation? I’m not too bothered by steady, “routine” office noise – e.g. routine phone calls, work discussions. I’m also perfectly happy to be “interrupted” by colleagues. However, I’m driven mad by loud non-work conversations. It’s happened in a few workplaces that the two or three loudest, bubbliest people will find each other and fall into a habit of having extended loud chats with lots of hysterical laughter, silly voices and so on. In my experience, senior management are not concerned about this and even see it as a sign of a happy work culture (I’m sure this would vary hugely by industry! But in my line of work, that’s the vibe). I sometimes put headphones on and listen to ambient noise (and will check out playlist suggestions on this thread). However, I’d rather not be listening to headphones at all – I find it exhausts my senses in a different way to have a wall of sound clamped to my head, and I can’t do it all day. Noise cancelling headphones are a bit pricey for me. I also feel a bit self-conscious to be slamming on my headphones with a face like thunder (not intentional, but honestly the noise drains me so much I can’t do a good job of hiding my irritation). I think continuing with ambient noise on headphones is probably my best option still, since it seems like I’m an outlier in this office culture. I don’t think I can talk to the people making the noise, as a lot of it is literally the way they laugh and the natural pitch and volume of their voice – hard for it not to come across as “can you please change your entire personality, physiology and vocal chords”, especially since I am on the wrong side of office culture here. Anyone else been in this situation?

    1. Koala dreams*

      Earplugs! Or if you can’t use earplugs, get ear protection from a hardware store. Earplugs just lower the volume of the noise, you can still hear some things. I just keep a pack of cheap pink foam ones for those days when general noise level is too loud, but you can get different ones for musicians or travel for example so try a different kind of the foam ones don’t work for you.

      Also, it’s perfectly fine to ask colleagues to keep their voices down and take non-work discussions somewhere else.

    2. literal desk fan*

      I’m the unlucky one in my office who has to sit directly behind these 2-3 bubbly people. *cries forever* One of them does really annoying voices and one of the other ones said to the third person, “I love it when she does those voices!” and I’m just sitting over here like, “NOOOOOO it’s the worst!!!”

      The only thing that’s helped me so far is headphones. I don’t have noise canceling headphones either, just those in-ear ones with the tips that are like earplugs. That combined with my white noise app has helped the most, but I agree that it isn’t always desirable to have a wall of sound around you all day!

      In my experience, though, those chatty people won’t even notice you’re putting on headphones or care. Sometimes I feel like I’m putting on my headphones AT those chatters, but they just keep on keeping on with their annoying conversation, so clearly they aren’t getting any sort of message that they’re being disruptive (or have no remorse in any case), so I wouldn’t worry about what others are thinking when you do it!

      I haven’t tried this myself, but at some point I want to say something to the effect of, “I’m not sure you realize this, but your non-work conversations are loud and lengthy and can be heard by all and sundry. Would you mind relocating if you want to be chatty?” But, like, nice. :)

      1. Blossom*

        Aww, it’s such a weird comfort to find another person living the same nightmare! I remember one previous colleague with an incredibly annoying cackle – at least, to me – I still remember the day her boss said “doesn’t Lucinda have the most wonderful laugh” and everyone murmured in fond agreement. Will be more remorseless with headphones from now on – they can’t actually see me, due to the layout of the office, so I do wonder if that’s a part of it; they actually forget other people are there. And that makes it feel harder to say something, because I’d have to get up and go into their area. Still, worth considering.

  81. Bess*

    The noise generation site I really recommend is mynoise.net. It’s free, but if you contribute voluntarily you can run multiple generators at the same time.

    Seriously…this site is AMAZING. Tons and tons of generators of different types–someone goes out and records stuff to make them. You can customize everything to an insane degree–you can make the generators dynamic, explore presets within each generator, you can raise and lower certain frequencies, etc.

    Layering them is really fun, too. A lot of them work really well combined.

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