How white noise affects productivity

Aiva Strelca 18.03.2019

Featured photo by Gavin Whitner,

I’ve never been a fan of noises in the workplace. I’m a writer, and for me, the perfect working environment is dead silence. While some people might find it isolating, I find that it brings out my most productive self. No music, no loud conversations or laughing, and no construction noises to distract me.

But the thing is – I work in a thriving coworking space with lots of other freelancers and companies, each with their own habits and most of them not looking for the same sound requirements as me.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love the creative vibe and the networking that coworking brings to the picture. But at the same time, I really appreciate my space – especially sound-wise.

Thankfully, I recently managed to find the perfect solution to my problem – white noise. So, if you’re easily affected by external sounds – like me – keep on reading to find out how white noise will help you stay in control of your work environment and improve your performance despite the distractions. Let’s start with the basics:

What is white noise?

Have you ever fallen asleep in front of the TV, only to wake up later with a snowy screen in front of you and static noise coming from the television? Many people associate white noise with this exact situation.

The term “white noise” is actually closely related to “white light” that combines together all colors – or frequencies of color. Similarly, white noise is a combination of all the different frequencies of sound between 20 and 20 000 Hz that our ear can actually recognize and hear.

So, when you’re hearing white noise, you’re actually hearing approximately 20K different tones of sound all at the same time.

Sounds rather overwhelming instead of relaxing, doesn’t it?

Think about it this way. When you’re in a room with two or three other people who are talking, you can easily distinguish the individual voices of your companions.

Now, imagine you’re in a stadium, and thousands of people are chatting at the same time. You can no longer determine who’s saying what. Instead, it all sounds like a blurred roar.

White noise has a similar effect. Since you hear a variety of sounds at the same time, they all turn into that distinguishing hissing sound and block out other disturbing noises.

Interestingly, we can hear white noise on a daily basis without even noticing. Some examples include a steady rainfall or ocean waves hitting the shore – both cases of natural white noise and often included in white noise videos on YouTube.

And now that you know how white noise is generated, let’s look at some of the reasons why white noise could benefit your productivity and work performance.

White noise maximizes focus

Some time ago, our coworking space hosted an improvisation masterclass during the working hours. Fun as it was, the event was also incredibly loud.

But with white noise in my headphones, it didn’t matter as my favorite white noise video provided a soothing background that not only drowned out the shouting, but eventually calmed my urge to shush everyone.

And that’s precisely one of the main benefits of white noise. By eliminating distractions, it helps you to stay focused on the task at hand without surrounding disturbances interrupting your workflow.

Similarly, this study confirmed that having white noise in the background improved the performance of children with attention difficulties and helped them concentrate better.

The bottom line is – when you’re trying to improve your ability to focus, especially in louder places, white noise delivers just the right amount of sound to stimulate your brain for easier concentrating, but skips the distraction of lyrics or beats that listening to music would provide.  

White noise boosts creativity

Researchers have confirmed that a moderate amount of ambient white noise enhances creative tasks and improves imagination, whereas a higher level of noise prevents information processing thus interrupting your creative flow.

The study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois observed people working in 50, 70 and 85 dB noise levels. 85 decibels distracted people and made it harder to think, thus impairing creativity.

However, the best performance was found among those listening to 70 dB of noise. It was just loud enough to keep the idea gateway open during the generative phase of creative problem solving but wasn’t so overwhelming as to completely distract people from their task.

Besides, if you’re a light sleeper, there’s another chance how white noise can improve your productivity. Bad sleep lowers creative problem-solving, so it’s essential to get those ZZZs under your belt.

And I don’t mean sleeping at your workstation – but improving sleep quality at home.

So, the next time your neighbors are throwing a blasting party way past midnight and interrupting your sleep routine, put on some white noise in the background to block out excess sounds. If you sleep better, you’re more likely to restore your creative abilities and be productive the next day. You can even use a time tracking app to measure your productivity levels and see if there has been an improvement.

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White noise promotes relaxation

Ever feel stressed out at work? You’re far from being the only one. Statistics show that 80% of working people in the US feel stress on the job and half of them need help in managing stress levels.

While it might not be possible to reduce your workload right away, you can start by listening to white noise to enhance relaxation at the workplace. You know how white noise helps soothe fretful babies? My motto is – if it works on babies, it will work on adults, too.

When things get hectic at work or especially after a stressful meeting, turn on the more natural white noises like ocean, river, forest, and waterfall sounds for some office peace and calm.

A study found that when listening to nature sounds, workers not only performed better, but felt more positive about their environment. Do keep in mind that even nature sounds should be calm, so avoid interrupting sounds like frogs or bird calls.

Where can you listen to white noise?

If you’re at home, you can find white noise on an unused radio frequency or TV. At the office, however, you can opt for any of these white noise options:

YouTube. Everyone’s favorite video platform offers a plethora of relaxing white noise videos, starting from static sounds to natural white noise. Here are a couple of my favorites:

White noise apps. White noise apps are available both on Google Play and iTunes. Here are some popular choices:

White noise machines. If you’re on the same wavelength with your colleagues, you can get a white noise machine for the whole office. That way, you’ll block out disturbing sounds for the whole team.  

Final words… then shhh

Are you constantly bothered by disturbing noises in your offices, or are you just looking for a means to boost productivity and focus? Either way, white noise can be a gamechanger and can make sound work in your favor.

Have a go at any of the recommended white noise sources and let me know how they worked for you in the comment section below!

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