Thursday, June 11, 2009

Noise or No Noise?

by Felicia Donovan

Having worked for many years in the microcosm of law enforcement, I always found it fascinating how different one co-worker's office space could be from another's. Beyond the individualized "decor" that reflected individual personalities and tastes - photos of the kids stuck to a bulletin board vs. mahogany-framed photos carefully displayed - the one thing that always stood out is the amount of noise each person seemed comfortable to work with.

For some, this meant the constant crackle of a police radio that was piped through the phone system and could be toggled on and off. For many others, it was music. For others still, it was talk radio.

My office remained mostly silent. I've always admired those who can work with a fair amount of background noise, but I'm not one of them. I've been assured by many that having music constantly play in the background is the only thing that allows them to concentrate, but my brain apparently isn't wired to think and listen at the same time. Trouble is, my brain automatically switches into "listening" mode as soon as there's other noise, especially music, so I can't seem to multitask without tripping up. This seems a particularly cruel way for my brain to process considering how much I love music.

What about you? Noise or no noise and what kind?


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Like you, music makes me stop and listen rather than write, so no favorite tunes for me while I work. I also live on a very busy street, so I have constant traffic background noise outside my apartment window. That noise I can block out, unless a siren is thrown into the mix.

At the law firm my office is sandwiched between two attorneys who are very loud and yell back and forth to each other every day. Sometimes it disturbs me, sometimes it doesn't. Depends on the level of concentration I need at the time and what they are saying.

I cannot, however, work very well at my writing or at the day job with absolute silence. And in college I couldn't study in the library. It was too quiet. Go figure.

Alan Orloff said...

For me, it's Gregorian chants or nothing.

Since the monks moved out last August, I've been stuck with silence. Just the barely audible hum of my laptop.

G.M. Malliet said...

The only kind of music I can write to is classical (no lyrics), but I don't usually bother to turn on a radio, iPod, or whatever.

I do have a noise machine from Brookstone in my office that has, among other settings like "white noise" and "ocean waves," a setting called "focus." To date, I'm not aware of being any more focused when I use it, but at least it's not a distracting sound. More like the sound of violinists trapped in a distant subway.

And, with Sue Ann, library silence distracts me, as well.

Cricket McRae said...

White noise for me, or occasionally classical music -- no words, or I else I stop and listen.

Earplugs are my friend.

Felicia Donovan said...

That's interesting that we're all so sensitive to lyrics. Guess that's the writer in all of us - wanting to play with the words even when they're sung.

G.M. - You reminded me of something. I once bought a nature CD, "Sounds of the Ocean," I think it was called, to play at night so the dogs would stop alerting to every animal since the windows were opened for the summer. Doggone it if there wasn't a seagull cawing on the CD and that just set them off even more!

G.M. Malliet said...

Felicia - I know the lyrics to almost any song ever written - that's the problem. The more terrible the song, in fact, the more likely I am to know all the lyrics. Totally distracting. And then, of course, your brain gets stuck on a piece of dreck like "Young Girl" for the rest of the day.

Too funny about the dogs!

Lisa Bork said...

I never studied in the library either. Too quiet. Puts me right to sleep. I'm okay with a little background noise, just no one talking in the same room, no dog barking out the window, and no radio on the desk.

Felicia Donovan said...

Lisa, no dogs barking? Goodness, you'd never get any writing done in my house!

G.M., "Young Girl" as in "Young girl, get out of my heart?" Now you won't stop humming it nor will I. Is that the one you mean? Amazing that you know so many lyrics. You could be on a game show where you use that brainpower to try and win a fortune that rarely manifests. Oh wait, you already are a writer...

G.M. Malliet said...

No, sorry, Felicia, it's "mind," not heart. As in:

"Young girl, get out of my mind
My love for you is way out of line."

I have always assumed he was using the term "mind" loosely. (He could not have a heart, either, or he would not have written a song that sticks to the mind like chewing gum.)

Keith Raffel said...

I write in a cafe three blocks from my house. They play music, but turn it to low volume upon request. A humming in the background works well. The most important ingredient of productivity for me is NO internet access.