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11 Jun 2008 / Julie

“Focusing distractions” or turn it up, i can’t concentrate

If you’re like me, you need some controlled background noise in order to really focus. If it’s too quiet in my work space, I can’t think because i’m distracted by the silence. Same thing happens if it’s too noisy- or noisy with the wrong KIND of noise.

My focusing distraction (a phrase i think i invented today while talking to a friend) is music. Before I do anything, on goes the music. Really loud and through big speakers if i’m doing physical work (like working out, cleaning, painting, etc) and the same music at a lower volume (or through headphones) when i’m doing brain-must-focus work. I’ve always worked that way. I remember mom making me do my homework at the kitchen table and not being able to concentrate because it was just me, the kitchen table, and my homework. Once music entered the scene, it all got done.

I work best when it’s just me, my music, and my work. When there’s other conversations on top of the music (or in place of), i can’t think clearly.

For instance, while writing this post, i’m streaming my radio station online but I can’t get to the next thought in my head because two of my coworkers are trying to figure out the scanner 20 feet away and two others are discussing something at the other end of the office. (Have i mentioned I’d love to have a door? Ha, wouldn’t we all).

I need some sort of regulated noise to drown out the random bursts of things that catch my attention (as i’m mostly always aware of my surroundings). While music is mostly my white noise option, it manifests in other ways as well. I recall a day where there was a loud, but repetitive machine noise coming from construction nearby- while that was distracting to some- it was only distracting to me when it stopped, or changed it’s pattern. When sirens go by the window, my brain takes it as part of the street noise and i’m not brought out of my concentration- but when my cube-mate gets up to close the window because of it, the environment has changed and i’m distracted.

I was thinking about the white noise that helps me to operate at my peak and i wonder if it has something to do with the frequencies we all operate at- either *us* or our brains themselves. For instance, my bf can work and be in complete silence- he can also do *nothing* for hours, say on a weekend, not moving, just napping or sitting. While i have my moments of *still*, they are rare. I simply can’t can’t do this to the degree that he is able to- there are always thoughts in my head, a need to get up and do or for white noise to be in the background.

There’s another odd thing that’s a “focusing distraction” to me- a long IM conversation. For whatever reason, if i’m carrying on a long (over a few hours) IM conversation with someone, I’m more likely to keep to the task at hand, using the IM has my brief interludes, rather than finding myself sucked into the internets and losing time. Days I chat w/ my friends (usually just one, but all day) are days i’d mark as *very productive* if there was a scale to do so on.

Mom’s always wondered about my need for noise- or how dad and i can read in the same room when she’s got the tv on, or how i could do my homework with other than complete silence. She can’t concentrate on a phone call, or anything she needs to read or think about if there is noise (especially repetitive noise / sounds). But you put something creative in her hands (drawing, designing, knitting) and she needs the tv on in the background as her focused distraction.

Am i most productive when the white noise matches the frequency in my head for whatever the thing is that i’m doing? Perhaps.

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