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Do you work with distractions? September 17, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

One of my friends tweeted a link to this “work chair.” I put it in quotes because it is a couch. OK, it’s a couch that has an integrated multimedia PC and an LCD in the arm rest, but it’s a couch all the same. He starts his post by saying, “Anyone that is working from home has the TV on and probably curls up for a nap every day.” Not me, buddy. I have a separate office on the other side of my apartment from my TV. I work best with no distractions. I occasionally listen to music, but when I need to concentrate I need total silence around me. I certainly don’t have the TV on when I’m working. That said, I know everyone is different. So how do you prefer to work? Do you have the TV on in the background and would love a “work couch”? Inquiring minds want to know.



1. Craig - September 17, 2009

Yes, I generally have the TV on for an hour to see the news around lunchtime, and I often stream the Diane Rehm show on WAMU for an hour or two in the late afternoon. And I may also have music running the rest of the time.

It is nowhere near as distracting as working in an office, as I found out last October when I spent three days at one of my client’s in Berlin. In a room with three other people, I was constantly being asked one thing or another, and even when I was alone in a room, people would drop by or call. I found it impossible for the kind of work that I do, though for different kinds of tasks that require almost minute-by-minute coordination with colleagues (translation not being one of them) there is no other way.

2. bastet - September 17, 2009

If I have to concentrate, I need total silence as well. I’d fall asleep on a couch and I need my big screen on my desk to work efficiently. I do occasionally work in bed, but only when I feel under the weather. I used to listen to loud music with my earphhones to cancel out my coworkers’ babble back when I worked as a programmer/researcher. (With three girls working in the same office you can be 100% sure that at least one’s always talking.) I am so glad that these days I work from home and can take a nap or sleep in when tired. My SO always has his TV on while working, it seems like he almost *needs* some sort of background action. I totally don’t get it!

3. Ryan Ginstrom - September 17, 2009

I usually listen to music, but I have a separate office and no TV. The objective of TV is to grab your attention — not very conducive to concentration.

4. Kimmo Linkama - September 17, 2009

Joining the Total Silence team. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible. I’m doing copywriting in addition to translation, and for both, background noise is immensely irritating when you’re trying to concentrate.

As far as naps go, never. I’ll rather turn in earlier if I’m tired. Besides, I just read somewhere that the tendency to take naps during the day may indicate you’re developing heart trouble…

5. Kevin Lossner - September 17, 2009

I don’t own a TV but prefer to work in total silence punctuated by three dogs chasing each other around my feet, growling over bones and barking at their friends through the windows. And my partner contributes to the silence by calling me into her office several times an hour to read news features or examine the latest cropped dog pictures. As a result of this lack of distractions, I am able to focus completely on my work and operate with truly unbelievable efficiency.

6. jillsommer - September 17, 2009

LOL, @Kevin! I hear you about my dog barking at everyone and their mother through the window. I can always tell when the mailman comes, because she goes absolutely crazy.

7. jillsommer - September 17, 2009

I’m with the “no nap” faction too. The only time I take a nap is when I’m not feeling well, which is about once a year. Maybe once I retire (yeah, right, like that will ever happen…) I will start taking naps. However, everyone knows not to call my parents’ house from 2:30-3:30 PM, because that is when my dad takes his nap. 🙂

8. Camila Muñoz - September 17, 2009

I work with distractions too!! =D music, interesting things on the internet, watching videos, more music, chating, drinking tea (on the tv says that it is good for concentration… I don’t know if it actually works, but for me is better than coffee), and more music… the only thing I don’t stand while working is TV… weird… also take loooooong naps, sometimes, usually after/before a until midnight translation sesion xD

But the most important for me is to work ALONE, if there are more people under my responsability (example, my little sisters) I-can-not-work ._.

9. Paula - September 18, 2009

Since my husband has been working under the Kurzarbeit rule, I’ve been able to see how few distractions I have had in the past and how much I need to work in a low distraction environment. I have my own office at home, but when he’s home too it’s so much easier to linger over breakfast and to take a look now and then at how his projects in the workshop are progressing. But the most difficult for me is when he simply stands in the doorway watching me work. Why is the simple presence of another person a distraction?

Music doesn’t work either, unless I’m working with fairly straightforward technical texts, like some operating instructions. And then only instrumental. Does anyone have any suggestions for online radio with instrumental music that’s not too relaxing (zombie state inducing)?

10. Emma - September 18, 2009

I need a low distraction environment too. I don’t think I have ever put the TV on when working. I haven’t ever listened to music either. The house is chaotic enough once everyone gets home, so I appreciate the peace and quiet during the day.

My distractions are computer-based: I check for new blog posts every day and I always have a quick scan of the news on-line. Other than that I like to be able to concentrate on my work in silence 🙂

11. Anke W. - September 18, 2009

I am with the total silence and dogs (two) fraction! Cannot abide noise when I’m trying to concentrate. But then, I am a silence-loving person in general, regardless whether I’m working or not. Maybe that’s because I’m so easily distracted – if there’s something else going on, I am inadvertently drawn to listen to /watch, rather than do what I am actually doing… which is why I have an office with a door that is always closed!

12. Anke W. - September 18, 2009

@ Paula: Yes! I am right there with you regarding the husband (although mine works shifts that change all the time)! I get totally crazy when he come into the room and just sits or stands there!! Makes me nuts!

I of course meant to write “faction” not “fraction”….

And I also don’t nap.

(Too bad tehre’s no edit function for these comments.)

13. Tom Ellett - September 18, 2009

Total silence for me too. I do have a TV in my office but generally turn it on only if I want a break from work or if there’s a big news story breaking. Since I tend to forget to eat when I’m busy, the main distractions for me are usually either a hungry cat or a hungry wife!

14. Kate Lambert - September 18, 2009

I use dictation a lot so I can’t have any background noise and I’m not very keen on it either. If I’m bashing out a rough draft, I sometimes listen to radio plays (BBC radio4 or BBC7) but that’s about it. I couldn’t work with the TV on.

15. delightedscribbler - September 20, 2009

My combo is silence with NPR breaks and a perhaps a nap. The nap depends entirely on work volume and how much sleep I’ve gotten the night before. But if there is time, napping in the living room with the sliding glass door open, the fan turning slowly, and the curtains lightly blowing… ah, yes, I think so.

16. Holly - September 21, 2009

Great question! I generally prefer things quiet. Sometimes I listen to instrumental music.

When I am on a big project that requires long hours I occasionally move my work to a coffee shop but the distractions there definitely make it a slow process to get going at the beginning.

@Paula – If Pandora is available where you are, you might try making a station based on the artist “Rodrigo & Gabriela.” It gives a great mix of instrumental guitar songs. For me, they are energetic without demanding attention.

17. Corinne McKay - September 22, 2009

I have a separate office and we don’t have a TV, but I find that I need some kind of background noise (my husband says it’s too many years of working with a screaming baby in the background when my daughter was little 🙂 ). Either I put jazz radio on in my office or (and this made my husband nuts when we both worked from home and shared an office) I put news radio on in the living room so that I can hear that it’s on, not but not what they’re saying. I don’t know, it works for me! Sometimes if I have to work really late at night I listen to disco on my iPod…oh, and the two cats meowing and fighting, neighbors excavating their lawns, etc!

18. bastet - September 22, 2009

Regarding pets and work- yesterday my cat came in from the garden, jumped on my desk, puked on the paper I was revising and left. 🙂 I had to laugh out loud because the style of the paper made my stomach cringe, too. (Kitty is doing fine, btw.) 😉

19. kameleon - September 22, 2009

this is a nice film about the subject:

sometimes i like to listen to minimal music while working. philip glass music can get me in a magnificent trance and help me concentrate. while revising texts it has to be absolutely quiet.

20. Ilaria - September 23, 2009

Quoting your post: “I work best with no distractions. I occasionally listen to music, but when I need to concentrate I need total silence around me.”
When I happen to listen to music while translating, I usually do it when tired, it keeps me going! I like to listening to soft rock or pop music, but I keep it at a low volume, otherwise I’d get distracted.

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