Why You Need Less Noise for Work

and Your Health. Belle Cooper has written a very thoughtful piece on the problems with noise at work and play, and the importance of silence in one’s life.  On noise she writes:

Two types of everyday noise can be bad for us. One is excessive noise, such as the prolonged loud noise of being near an airport. The other is simply the distraction of general noise around us, such as conversations or interruptions from colleagues in the workplace.

The former may seem worse, but both can be detrimental to our productivity—and sanity.

Cooper lists a litany of horribles caused by exposure to chronic noise from traffic or airports, like high blood pressure, heart problems, and sleeplessness, but she also explores the effects of everyday noise on those of us not exposed to these chronic noise sources.  What is the effect on those of us who simply experience what she calls “general daily noise?”  She writes:

If you work in an open plan office, you’ll probably find [distraction and interruption] is an even greater problem. Ollie Campbell, CEO of Milanote and part of Navy Design’s multi-disciplinary team, says open plan offices come with their own implicit values. They make team members feel that disruption is acceptable, collaboration is the key priority, and serendipity is worth the interruptions it requires.

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Distractions and interruptions are such a common part of our workdays, we don’t even think of them as excessive noise anymore. It’s often more obvious when we don’t hear the noise of distractions around us at work than when we do.. A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that knowledge workers have focus periods of just eleven minutes on average, in-between interruptions. As Campbell said, “if you need to focus, ‘work’ is pretty much the worst place you could be.”

So what can be done to reclaim some peace, to regain one’s focus and concentration?  Cooper suggests that we shut out both excessive/harmful noise as well as “the more general commotion of the modern workplace” so that we can create our best work.  And she’s armed with research that shows that silence doesn’t just relax the brain:

One study of mice found that listening to silence for two hours every day prompted the subjects’ brains to grow new cells in the hippocampus, which is related to our brain’s memory abilities. While new cell growth doesn’t always provide health benefits, in this case those new cells did become new, functioning neurons within the mice brains. In other words, silence could make you a little smarter.

Ok, perhaps that reaching a bit, but Cooper shares some anecdotal evidence that silent time helps us make better long-term decisions as well as spur creative thinking.  In the end, we can’t cocoon ourselves and block out all noise, but when we have the chance, Cooper suggests that we opt for silence.  Sounds good to us!

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