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Do Headphones Help Or Hurt Productivity?

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the drowning-out-your-officemate's-annoying-habit dept.

Businesses 405

Hugh Pickens writes "Derek Thompson writes that there is an excellent chance you are wearing, or within arm's reach of, a pair of headphones or earbuds. To visit a modern office place is to walk into a room with a dozen songs playing simultaneously but to hear none of them. In survey after survey, office workers report with confidence that music makes us happier, better at concentrating, and more productive. But science says we're full of it, writes Thompson. 'Listening to music hurts our ability to recall other stimuli, and any pop song — loud or soft — reduces overall performance for both extroverts and introverts.' So if headphones are so bad for productivity, why do so many people at work have headphones? The answer is that personal music creates a shield both for listeners and for those walking around usm says Thompson. 'I am here, but I am separate. In a wreck of people and activity, two plastic pieces connected by a wire create an aura of privacy.' We assume that people wearing them are busy or oblivious, so now people wear them to appear busy or oblivious — even without music. Wearing soundless headphones is now a common solution to productivity blocks. 'If music evolved as a social glue for the species — as a way to make groups and keep them together — headphones allow music to be enjoyed friendlessly — as a way to savor our privacy, in heightened solitude,' concludes Thompson. 'In a crowded world, real estate is the ultimate scarce resource, and a headphone is a small invisible fence around our minds — making space, creating separation, helping us listen to ourselves.'"

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Two Words: (0, Flamebait)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 years ago | (#40161367)

"Ghetto Blaster"


"Boom Box"

if you prefer, cracker.

Re:Two Words: (1)

jakimfett (2629943) | about 2 years ago | (#40161587)

"Ghetto Blaster"


"Boom Box"

if you prefer, cracker.

This. In the context, very little sense it makes.

Re:Two Words: (4, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 years ago | (#40161775)

Would you have preferred as a first post, that I introduced you to the marvelous properties exhibited by Clean My PC?

Re:Two Words: (4, Informative)

magarity (164372) | about 2 years ago | (#40161597)

No kidding, the author is full of loaded language. Why not just "headphones" instead of "two plastic pieces connected by a wire"? I think he's pretty clearly got something personal against headphones in the first place.
The place where my father worked had a good solution: everyone was in a rotation for music of the week. You brought your CDs and they played on a multi-disk capable boom box (or ghetto blaster) in the corner of the office for that week. No one brought anything too annoying or weird because everyone else could get revenge on their own week.

Re:Two Words: (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 2 years ago | (#40161823)

That only works if peoples' tastes in music are similar enough. One person's "annoying" or "weird" is another person's "normal", and vice versa. Just about any modern country music is "annoying" to me, yet among a bunch of southerners that kind of music is perfectly normal. Rap is beyond "annoying" to me, but among certain demographics (namely various younger people), that music is also "perfectly normal". What if one of the people on the team is from Iraq and wants to listen to whatever they listen to over there? You don't think that'd be "weird" for everyone else?

Re:Two Words: (1)

nschubach (922175) | about 2 years ago | (#40161905)

Around my office, I feel as though revenge would be encouraged... We had signed up on some silly "DJ" site where 5 people get to pick songs and others would rate them. Eventually the design side joined us and started playing repetitive as hell electronic music. One of the developers loaded up some Mastodon and it all went downhill from there. We ended up just going back to headphones.

Study does not support conclusion in summary (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161383)

I would expect
silence > music > office noise

Re:Study does not support conclusion in summary (5, Interesting)

jakimfett (2629943) | about 2 years ago | (#40161639)

silence > music > office noise

I would agree with this, except I would put classical music [] and/or binaural music [] above silence, as both have been shown to improve concentration and reduce learning and recall times.

Re:Study does not support conclusion in summary (4, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#40161857)

I would agree with this, except I would put classical music [] and/or binaural music [] above silence, as both have been shown to improve concentration and reduce learning and recall times.

I'm not sure the binaural thing has been conclusively shown to have a benefit, but I have found that listening to music with binaural beats does make me feel like my mind is clearer and more capable of extended periods of concentration.

Silence would be best, I think, but the problem with the average office is that it is anything but silent, even when it's quiet. There are keyboards clacking, machines humming, cpu fans whirring and air conditioners blowing.

The main thing I'd like to say about this article is that I'm more concerned about what is making workers happy than what makes them a few percentage points more productive.

Everybody is already plenty productive. Too productive, maybe. Our lives are out of balance when it comes to productivity/happiness. Almost everyone I know could stand to be a little less productive and a little more content.

Re:Study does not support conclusion in summary (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#40162041)

For me I seem to be much more productive with music. Mostly when I am coding. Writing code is rather easy and if I don't have music, my mind will wonder and I will spend more time in my thought then writing code.

Headphones do improve concentration (5, Insightful)

CycleMan (638982) | about 2 years ago | (#40161385)

... compared with the random office noises around you, a reliable predictable set of stimuli is easier to tune out. Music is almost white noise when contrasted with folks taking loud phone calls about medical problems, unattended phones ringing at their desks, and so on.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (3, Insightful)

neilbaby (53319) | about 2 years ago | (#40161461)

... compared with the random office noises around you, a reliable predictable set of stimuli is easier to tune out. Music is almost white noise when contrasted with folks taking loud phone calls about medical problems, unattended phones ringing at their desks, and so on.

Here! Here!

And it is doubly important when you're working in a bullpen with a bunch of over-caffeinated, Asperger-ish software engineers.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (5, Funny)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 2 years ago | (#40161503)

Here! Here!

At least when discussing a story about effects of listening you should get "hear, hear!" right.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (1)

nschubach (922175) | about 2 years ago | (#40161923)

I think you interpreted the post all wrong. They were trying to get your attention so they could put in a slam about developers.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (5, Interesting)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 2 years ago | (#40161877)

I worked in a bullpen in my last job (and this was one of the main reasons I quit without notice one day when I get too fed up with it). The software engineers weren't the problem; they're generally quiet. The problem was all the stupid managers constantly walking by, wanting to stop and chit-chat, or talk with my manager endlessly (he sat across from me), sit their ass on my desk while I'm trying to work, or worse tap me on the back when I had my headphones on. The other problem was the stupid loud air-conditioning unit in the ceiling directly over my desk that would drone for the entire day until 5PM sharp, when it suddenly became much quieter.

I had to stop wearing my headphones because of the assholes sneaking up on me all the time and nearly giving me a heart attack, and it eventually drove me nuts enough that when my manager gave me shit about coming to work too late (staying late to make up for it wasn't good enough for him, even though my productivity was far, far higher after 5PM when the noise and commotion all stopped), I threw a resignation letter at him and walked out.

My advice: never take a job in a bullpen environment.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161519)


It is unreal how noisy people can be in an office environment, especially while gossiping. The "inside voice" is a lost concept on a lot of folks, so to be able to concentrate, I keep headphones and earplugs at my desk.

On a related note, I keep a set of headphones in the datacenter as well since it's a noisy world in here.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 2 years ago | (#40161989)

The problem isn't gossipping or people not understanding "inside voice", the problem is loud-mouth asshole managers who think they're so important that everyone should listen to them whenever they're around.

Yes and no - see "Peopleware" (5, Interesting)

alispguru (72689) | about 2 years ago | (#40161525)

Consider the results of an experiment I first saw described in Peopleware [] (scroll down to "Creative Space"). The researchers compared performance at Fortran programming between people in quiet rooms and people in rooms with music. The good news is that performance was about the same. The bad news was:

There was a hidden wildcard. The specification required an output data stream be formed through a series of manipulations on numbers in the input data stream. Although unspecified, the net effect of all the operations was that each output number was equal to its input number. Of those students who figured this out, the overwhelming majority came from the quiet room.

The part of your brain that listens to music is apparently also the part that notices odd things in your code, and it can't do two things at once.

Re:Yes and no - see "Peopleware" (1)

jakimfett (2629943) | about 2 years ago | (#40161745)

The part of your brain that listens to music is apparently also the part that notices odd things in your code, and it can't do two things at once.

I would be curious as to what type of music was used...I've read a decent amount about music being used to provide boosts to cognitive abilities and to decrease learning time...would this test have turned out different sets of results if say, classical music and pop music were used?

Re:Yes and no - see "Peopleware" (5, Interesting)

greg1104 (461138) | about 2 years ago | (#40161813)

The trade-off I've found when programming is that I find it easier to enter into a flow state [] when I have music playing. That seems to be from a mix of blocking out distractions along with being more upbeat when hearing things I like. Whether things are familiar is key too; music I've never heard before is distracting, it's old favorites that go into my "flow mix".

It's possible for what I'm describing to be true and all of these other results to be as well. I wouldn't expect a programming flow state to be the best thing for either concentration for optimum memory (what's tested in TFA) or for detecting unusual patterns (the Peopleware study).

Yeah! (1)

khasim (1285) | about 2 years ago | (#40161551)

I don't know what the article is going on about but my experience is 100% the opposite.

'If music evolved as a social glue for the species â" as a way to make groups and keep them together â" headphones allow music to be enjoyed friendlessly â" as a way to savor our privacy, in heightened solitude,' concludes Thompson.

I play crap I like to drown out the distractions. If I played crap I did not like then it would be the distraction.

This has nothing to do with "friendlessly".
A friend of mine keeps having us synchronize play times and then she types the chorus to me in chat.
And how many chat windows does everyone here have open when they have their headphones on? There's nothing about "solitude" there. We're communicating and interacting.

But we're doing it without the background noise.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about 2 years ago | (#40161557)

I like music.

I like music a lot more than the sounds of the whirring fans, the babble, and the typing noises.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (3, Insightful)

jaden (22302) | about 2 years ago | (#40161567)

ding ding. more or less what I came here to say and what other comments seem to reflect. headphones might not stand up against non-distracting sounds or silence... and if they're piping in pop music for tests i'm sure they might reduce your random number recall. but on a whole it's a study that doesn't reflect something a number of us have experienced to be true... if you want to deeply concentrate on something (writing code, or something else that often benefits from extreme focus)... tuning out one sense of the world around you with headphones - even if it's by blaring NIN - is better than the random whispers of conversations around you breaking your attention span. it's a moving target... no stimuli in an isolation tank, hallucinations; too much stimuli... seizure or ptsd (depending)... just right minus sound - some code that might require slightly less tweaking down the line (but probably some ptsd too).


Re:Headphones do improve concentration (3, Informative)

almitydave (2452422) | about 2 years ago | (#40161719)

I wear headphones (and usually listen to music when I'm wearing them) to quiet the conversations and noisy distractions, including the ever-present white noise generator, which is designed to drown out the conversations and noisy distractions caused by our open floor plan (no cubicle walls, to facilitate communication), but is so loud that conversations are difficult unless you speak loudly.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#40161955)

Best place I ever worked had cubicles, but they had all four walls (and six feet high). It helped drown-out the noise to provide the engineer with privacy.

Re:Headphones do improve concentration (3, Informative)

0100010001010011 (652467) | about 2 years ago | (#40162009)

Especially if the music is 'nonsense'. I listen to [] all day long. It's one constant song spun by some DJs in Germany. There are no breaks and songs just flow one to the another. When the DJ does come on he's speaking German so tune him out and since they're matching beats there is almost always a constant beat that I use to type to.

True - I use white noise instead (1)

Bill of Death (777643) | about 2 years ago | (#40161387)

I do find music - especially music I like - to be distracting. Which is why I often listen to white (or brown) noise on my headphones in the office. Blocks out office noise without being distracting.

Re:True - I use white noise instead (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | about 2 years ago | (#40161711)

I often play white noise as well. That or some kind of spacey electronica...anything without voices helps me concentrate a lot more than listening to the people around me talk. This study might be accurate for some people, but it's certainly not for me. I've experimented myself and I can't concentrate on my work when people are talking around me, headphones drown them out.

Productive by the pound (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161399)

They help depending on what you listen to, but a high-bran diet will likely do more.

Less distracting (1)

kasperd (592156) | about 2 years ago | (#40161403)

While working with headphones may be a bit distracting and reduce productivity I find the noises that I would hear without the headphones to be more distracting. Finding a quite workplace is not as easy as it should be.

Maybe if the office was quieter (2)

Snowblindeye (1085701) | about 2 years ago | (#40161623)

I wonder more people using headphones is also a result of the move from dedicated offices to cubicle farms. A lot of the offices I've worked in were so noisy and distracting, I've often used headphones not because I felt like listening to music, but to drown out the noise.

I've seriously considered getting a pair of ear protection headphones like an airport worker and just using those. Or noise cancellation headphones.

Re:Less distracting (5, Funny)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | about 2 years ago | (#40161631)

Finding a quite workplace is not as easy as it should be.

Yes! It's quiet difficult these days.

The devil I know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161405)

I know that listening to headphones makes me less productive--but it's more productive than having to listen to all the inane chatter around my cubicle along with people dropping by to talk, cell phones ringing, etc...

I'll take slightly unproductive headphones verses the really unproductive office environment...

'pop music'... (4, Insightful)

MarcoAtWork (28889) | about 2 years ago | (#40161407)

that's why most people I know that listen to music while working/coding do not listen to pop (or vocal music in general), but to classical, trance etc. also the article says that silence is better than music in general, which is likely true, but among music and office noises (with random conversations/noises) I am sure people are more productive with music vs without

Re:'pop music'... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161455)

I agree with this, I listen to 'Payback' by James Brown on loop, the constant riff puts me in a groove and very rarely am I distracted by the song rather, it prevents me from being distracted by others. Cheers.

Re:'pop music'... (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 2 years ago | (#40161569)

I will occasionally leave my headphones on with no music, just to not be interrupted (not that it stops everyone). For music, I find that music that I know well lets me concentrate well, where good music that I don't know well distracts. Pop music doesn't generally fit into either of these categories, so I'm not sure of its effect.

Re:'pop music'... (4, Insightful)

Zephyn (415698) | about 2 years ago | (#40161627)

I have a similar experience with music. Instrumental music drowns out the office noise and tends to enhance the thought process. Music with lyrics tends to get too distracting. And if it's modern pop music, part of the productivity loss is probably due to having to resist the urge to take out one's own eardrums with a staple remover.

Re:'pop music'... (1)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | about 2 years ago | (#40161725)

Agreed. I like a wide variety of music, from thrash/speed metal to hip hop to mbube to electronica, but when I'm trying to be productive, I usually settle in with some ambient techno/downbeat like Morcheeba, Tycho, Bonobo (love love LOVE his Black Sands album, but they're all top notch), Boards of Canada, Little People, and many others. Just recently discovered Washed Out, his Within & Without album is currently blowing my mind.

I just tend to work better when I have something that I can groove to but doesn't require a truly active ear to appreciate, and downbeat fits the bill for me. I tried listening to trance at the behest of some coworkers who swear by the stuff but it was just too frantic for me to really get into that groove I like.

I don't disagree that there are probably some that are less productive with music than without, but I know for a fact that I'm not.

Re:'pop music'... (2)

Sperbels (1008585) | about 2 years ago | (#40161777)

I agree. I find real trance (not the crappy bubble gum crap cheer leaders dance to) puts me in a state of mind that's quite conducive to coding.

Re:'pop music'... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161881)

Music from a language other than the one you are coding in, also seems to work for me (I had exposure to all three languages since I was a child, not sure if it will work for languages that dont make sense to me).

Re:'pop music'... (2)

second_coming (2014346) | about 2 years ago | (#40161907)

Jean Michel Jarre is excellent for working to, particularly Oxygene and Equinoxe.

Music doesn't help my productivity (3, Insightful)

subreality (157447) | about 2 years ago | (#40161409)

... but it's a lot less damaging than listening to 6 conversations among people around me. Personally I like "earplug" style headphones which block out most of the noise; then I can use very quiet music to mask the rest.

Re:Music doesn't help my productivity (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 2 years ago | (#40161599)

Exactly .. also, the isolating headphones allow you to block out all outside sound at much lower music levels, so hearing damage is not as much of an issue. They;re great on buses, etc, as well where you can block out the rather loud ambient noise. When I was commuting on a bus and watching recorded TV shows, I noticed that I needed to have the volume extremely loud to be able to hear things without using isolating headphones. I don't think it would take long before measurable damage was done.

Re:Music doesn't help my productivity (1)

dindi (78034) | about 2 years ago | (#40161765)

I swear I am not affiliated to Bose, but I really think the best thing I ever got for myself to aid work was a QuietComfort headset. I used studio Sony's for years and after 3-4 hours my ears/head was hurting from the pressure. I cannot use the in-canal blocking ones (I go nuts, they hurt and fall out) so I needed an other solution. (actually the Bose MIE 2 for iphone is comfy, but it is not blocking, nor has noise cancellation).

For me the around the ear/cup design is the most comfy with active noise cancelling. I know they actually mess with some frequencies in your music, but for trance/psy/goa/progressive they are awesome (actually for hip-hop or anything for a lot of bass too).. The cable also works well, if you rip it out it slips out, so a broken cable is a broken cable, not a new headset which I appreciate at the $300+ price tag.

Re:Music doesn't help my productivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161869)

Bose QC15, yes, best headphones. $350 was a lot of money for me, but these are actually worth it. Very confortable - I can wear them 12h a day without any issues.Investing in a few AAA NiMH batteries and a good charger is a good thing too!!

Another thing is, I always have the sound setting on them set to LO. Finally.. Quiet... Awsome...

Best music to listen to is either nothing (just noise cancelling), or some quiet classical or electronica without lyrics. Lyrics and anything loud is what is distracting..

White noise (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161429)

Listening to a white or pink noise may, in a noisy environment, improve concentration.

Headphones hurt my productivity. (5, Insightful)

pathological liar (659969) | about 2 years ago | (#40161433)

Unfortunately I work in an open concept office, so it's either headphones or listen to everything else around me, which is infinitely worse.

Ever notice how the people who decide on an open concept office usually have a door to theirs?

Re:Headphones hurt my productivity. (3, Informative)

OzPeter (195038) | about 2 years ago | (#40161575)

Unfortunately I work in an open concept office, so it's either headphones or listen to everything else around me, which is infinitely worse.

Ever notice how the people who decide on an open concept office usually have a door to theirs?

Best cure for an open office plan is a white noise generator [] . The first time I heard one in an office I was amazed at how quite it was.

Re:Headphones hurt my productivity. (4, Funny)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | about 2 years ago | (#40161717)

Best cure for an open office plan is a white noise generator.

Yes. I often find a 5 MW gas turbine (I like Siemens SGT-100, myself), will drown out most office conversations (But not all - Connie, I'm looking at you!). The exhaust, unless well-vented, will also tend to deaden (in both senses of the word) office noise, as well.

Pink Noise FTW (1)

sirwired (27582) | about 2 years ago | (#40161773)

A Pink Noise Generator is wonderful! ("Pink" noise is a different set of frequency bands tuned to cover up conversation. "White" noise is roughly equivalent to radio static; it sounds a bit harsh.)

When ours shuts off after hours, if I'm still at my desk, you get a weird "open" feeling when it shuts off. And, if somebody else is still there, I can clearly hear them from across the cube farm.

Re:Headphones hurt my productivity. (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 2 years ago | (#40161939)

Yep, that's exactly what I saw in my last job, where I had an "open concept" (bullpen) environment. The asshole bosses who talked about how great this was for "collaboration" all had walled offices with doors.

More to life than productivity (1)

QuincyDurant (943157) | about 2 years ago | (#40161447)

Robots don't need headphones.

What sort of music? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 2 years ago | (#40161453)

Unfortunately I can't find any information about what sort of music they tested. For example, if someone is singing, it can be very distracting; in a way pure instrumental music isn't. Also the type of instrumental music may matter (modern or classical, slow or fast, etc.).

Re:What sort of music? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161497)

yeah i can't take vocals whilst working, and nothing too complicated either. One of my favorite pieces is Waiting for Cousteu by Jean Michel Jarre, about 45 minutes of concentration aid.

Re:What sort of music? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161683)

I actually have a Pandora station that I've narrowed down specifically for work: upbeat, fast(-ish), and little to no vocal. Some jazz, Sousa-esque marches, quicker piano pieces, etc.

I keeps the fingers moving at a good pace while not being distracting. I don't ever need to listen to what someone is saying and can jam away for hours on end.

I don't let my kids have earbuds. (0)

Nutria (679911) | about 2 years ago | (#40161479)

Besides the standard parental "You'll hurt your ears!", the main reason is that it's been obvious to me since they became popular that constant ear bud usage is antisocial, and as long as I have control over my kids, I'll do everything I can to prevent it (even if that means listening to music I can't stand being played from a stereo).

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (2)

MsWhich (2640815) | about 2 years ago | (#40161583)

Playing music your parents hate is also antisocial, and in my experience most teenagers are capable of figuring this out pretty quickly.

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (1)

Nutria (679911) | about 2 years ago | (#40161795)

Playing music your parents hate is also antisocial

While I can't stand my daughter's pop music, my kids haven't yet reached the stage of purposeful antagonism yet.

Also, they know to keep the volume down when I'm in my office.

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | about 2 years ago | (#40161841)

Don't teenagers socialize by playing music their parent hate?

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (3, Funny)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | about 2 years ago | (#40161751)

even if that means listening to music I can't stand being played from a stereo

Boy, you would have loved me in my Death Metal phase in high school. After a few hours of Napalm Death or Cannibal Corpse, you probably would have bought me a pair of headphones yourself.

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161835)

There was a time when it would be a simple, "If you play loud music in your room, you have the equipment you use removed from your room. If you find a replacement, you have the power points removed from your room. Enjoy trying to masturbate to porn in the living room with the family computer, kiddo."

And this is why I won't have children.

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (2)

flimflammer (956759) | about 2 years ago | (#40161927)

Kids don't need porn to masturbate. Heck, you'd probably be doing the boy a favor. His imagination will make far prettier girls to him than most websites on the internet will.

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (2)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | about 2 years ago | (#40162069)

I grew up before most people even had a computer, let alone one in their room, but I know from my own experiences (see my comment below) that disallowing your kids to have a little privacy is probably more damaging psychologically then the fucking earbuds are to their ears.

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (0)

Nutria (679911) | about 2 years ago | (#40161853)

No, I'd have told them to stop being rude to the rest of the family.

Re:I don't let my kids have earbuds. (5, Interesting)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | about 2 years ago | (#40162011)

Because denying your child the use of headphones is so respectful.

Everyone needs a little privacy from time to time, especially kids. Denying them their privacy, even if said privacy is escaping into a pair of headphones for a little while, seems to me almost abusive. I listened on the headphones because I was considerate of the fact that other people don't want to listen to my music. Take that away from me, and now your comfort level means as much to me as mine obviously does to you, i.e., jack fucking squat.

I grew up an Army brat with a typical 'spare the rod and spoil the child' stepfather that treated me like one of his troops and pulled shit just like the GP (I remember once he denied me the right to a lamp in my room for 3 days after "talking back" because he knew I enjoyed reading, true fucking story). All his bullshit resulted in was years of resentment that it took me into well into my adulthood to rationalize to the point where we're able to actually have a relationship at all, and it damaged not only our relationship but my relationship with my mother as well.

I don't have kids, but believe me, he taught me a lot of ways not to treat my children when I do eventually have them. I suspect GP is doing well on that front, as well.

Yes. (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#40161487)

Listening to music or Talk radio or audiobooks stops me from wasting time on the internet, and thus doing some actual work. (puts on headphones) (resumes coding)

Maybe if... (5, Insightful)

__Paul__ (1570) | about 2 years ago | (#40161491)

...idiot MBA-wielding managers didn't keep shoving people into morale-destroying open-plan offices, they wouldn't have to wear headphones to get a modicum of privacy.

Re:Maybe if... (4, Insightful)

dubbreak (623656) | about 2 years ago | (#40161715)

Excellent point. When I had a private office with a door I had the choice of having the door open to the general R&D area (keep up on what's happening), closing the door for quite concentration and wearing headphones if I liked (some things headphones were good for, some times I need absolute quite to focus on the problem.. depends on a lot of factors).

We ran out of space for private offices so I ended up sharing a single office. We could still close the door however headphones were the only option if my office-mate was discussing something with another employee.

Move forward and there was even less space. The solution? Tear out the offices in favour of an 'open concept' office which would 'improve communication' among team members. I ended up having to wear headphones daily regardless of whether I wanted to.

I ended up leaving for another opportunity and work from home (mainly). Sometimes I play music, sometimes I don't but no headphones (I run proper stereo components). I find it so much more productive because I have the quiet I need for complex problems whenever I want without having to get up and shut a door. Plus I have better lighting (natural daylight!!), better chair (because I'm not a cheap ass and recognize the benefits of a good chair), better keyboard (same deal again). There are a lot of factors in productivity (many of which are environmental), but I'm quite certain any decent dev can tell you want they need to be productive. Not giving them things like a good chair or mechanical keyboard (if that's what they want) due to 'budget' is pure bullshit. If a good developer thinks they need it, they probably do and it will pay back in productivity quickly. Sometimes providing something like a door isn't realistic under the circumstances but if that's the case then why you are providing a sub par work environment needs to be investigated. If you want nothing but the best from your employees then the right environment needs to be provided for those results.

Is "Recall other stimuli" what matters? (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 2 years ago | (#40161499)

Seems to me like they picked something random that they could measure, and are then trying to generalize it to be something that matters for work. I'm not seeing how the ability to "recall other stimuli" is a test for productivity. I would think it would be more along the lines of "generate a bunch of code."

I find that music helps me for certain things. Normally I don't listen to music at work, unless it is noisy or I just feel like it. My headphones generally sit on my desk except when I'm using them for work, like editing video.

However for some tasks, music seems to help focus me. Design type tasks would be like that. Most recent was when I ported the website for my parents store over to a new shop platform. I had to redo a lot of the HTML, redesign the layout to work with the store widgets and so on. I put on headphones, queued up music, and slammed it out in like 4 hours in the middle of the night.

I didn't need to block out noise, I was up visiting them, in their guest room, in the the middle of the night. They were sleeping, nobody was around to bother me. However the music helped focus me, helped me slam the task out.

First person shooters are another area. My friends tell me I play noticeably better when I listen to music in the background.

The natural response... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161527) open plan offices; it's the only way to get work done.

I disagree (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161531)

I disagree with the findings. In my experience most people wear headphones to drown out the noise generated in an office environment. It doesn't take too many days of listening to your neighbor on the other side of your cube wall talk to his wife about whats for dinner or your other neighbor who loves to hum to his music before you run out and buy a pair of noise cancelling head phones. Maybe If the CEOs would try and do a little work outside of their corner windowed office with the door shut things might change.

I had a co-worker (2)

MsWhich (2640815) | about 2 years ago | (#40161559)

I had a co-worker who always listened to NPR through her headphones at work. I have no idea how she ever got anything done.

Like most people I know, I tend to listen to instrumental music (classical, bluegrass, whatever) when working or studying. Silence would probably be better but unfortunately I've never had a working environment where silence was an option. I'd like to find whoever came up with the concept of an open office plan, lock him inside an elevator, and then blast top 40 music at him 24/7, for his sins.

Bean counters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161573)

Depending on your job, being productive sometimes means being creative. Music helps. Feeling good during your work might make you like your work more. And thus more willing to go the extra mile when the need arises. Music helps.

I do turn off the music when I really need to concentrate. Whenever needed.

Now be silent, I need to concentrate on my music.

Yes and No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161629)

I think it depends on the activity. When I'm reading, I agree that music can interfere with storage and recall. However, when I'm coding / writing, music over headphones gives a big performance boost. It gives the isolation described in the article but the additional "arousal" from the music helps me get into the flow and I am significantly more productive. I have to do disagree with the OP on the interpretation of this study. Performance of recall-based concentration is not the same as performance for creative tasks. So go to the library when you want to read, but strap on those headphones when you want to get some work done.

Fatal flaw (4, Interesting)

dosun88888 (265953) | about 2 years ago | (#40161635)

As others have pointed out, music is probably a far better distraction than random noises that people around you are making with their discussions and what not.

What I do is to put a song on repeat. There are a bunch of songs that I have heard so many times that I don't even notice that they're playing anymore, and that allows me to concentrate on whatever it is I'm trying to figure out.

When I hear people talking or walking around or anything that I cannot control, I'm distracted because I'm trying to figure out what is causing that noise and am taken out of my "figure things out" shell.

no vocals, no problem (1)

dindi (78034) | about 2 years ago | (#40161643)

I almost strictly listen to electronic music when writing code. Not the tuc-tuc-tuc jumpy-jumpy techno kind, but psychedelic trance, Goa or progressive trance. Anything with singing happens (if it does) when I am writing mails or have to do some non-coding (e.g. configuring) activities.

I do find music helpful with repetitive coding tasks. When I am stuck I prefer dead silence, but when you do routine stuff you did 1000 times it really helps to get the stuff done. That is when I prefer some really progressive stuff. When it is creativity time, it is goa/psy on the menu.

I also happen to wear my Bose Quiet Comfort without music from time to time. If there is noise, they are perfect cancelling it out. It does not take out speech directed to me, but works pretty OK with regular chatter, air conditioning, fans of machines, cars outside, weather (Costa Rican rain can be LOUD) and my favourite: our monthly generator test when they open up the container sized unit and run the diesel engines for 15-30 minutes.

For showing you are busy you usually put "go away" , "coding" or "write a mail instead" as an autoresponse in our internal jabber client. If they see you in headphones only emergencies warrant bothering anything else is jabber, email or our ticketing system.

Re:no vocals, no problem (1)

dindi (78034) | about 2 years ago | (#40161863)

Oh, almost forgot: yes, headsets are antisocial, but probably I chose a profession that makes me sit with a bunch of machines because I prefer the machines over the chatter about politics, yesterday's TV show or the actual soccer game. This way I do not have to pretend caring about all this and join the time-wasting conversation.

OK, that is not the case at my current place as we carefully filled the room with people who prefer darkness, headphones and their monitors over the above.

Re:no vocals, no problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161897)

I largely agree.

Played quietly, Bach's variations (MusOpen - Open Goldberg Project) did not noticeably reduce my productivity yesterday. However, I personally believe silence is best.

Depends on the music (4, Interesting)

gman003 (1693318) | about 2 years ago | (#40161655)

I've found that any music with recognizable words is too much of a distraction. My brain gets stuck keeping along with the song instead of working on the code.

So most of my "coding music" consists of soundtracks - both film (complete Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, plus a few others) and video game (every Final Fantasy, every Zelda, and a bunch more). No words for my brain to get distracted by parsing, and no more accidentally typing in the lyrics to "Flight of Icarus" instead of actual code.

Weirdly, it only happens for words I can understand. Languages I just flat-out don't know, like German or Japanese, are fine. And any Latin mangled badly enough for me to not understand it (see: most modern songs in Latin (I'm looking at you, Uematsu - that is NOT where the emphasis goes on "interius"!)) also flies right by. I've even discovered that incomprehensibly-sung English gets ignored as well, although I simultaneously discovered that I do *not* like death metal.

headphones are useful (2)

baegucb (18706) | about 2 years ago | (#40161659)

A co-worker years ago wore a Walkman. He confided in me that they had no batteries in them. It allowed him to ignore the boss while he worked.


gatfirls (1315141) | about 2 years ago | (#40161667)

Yes, my headphones are making me less productive, at losing my shit on everyone around me.

Headphones can help productivity if... (1)

ffflala (793437) | about 2 years ago | (#40161679)

...if you're working on something that requires you to listen to what's coming through the headphones. Examples: an audio recording of the contract or document you're reviewing, learning a foreign language, learning a new song if you're lucky enough to be employed as a musician, audio feed for a virtual meeting, etc.

But yeah, "background music", either via speaker or headphone, is otherwise usually about as conducive to productivity as leaving a television on within visual range. I think the reasons that we keep answering those surveys otherwise, is really that on at least a subconscious level we want to be paid for listening to music we like. While increasing productivity is usually beneficial to the company's bottom line, often things that decrease productivity make one's office a much more enjoyable place to be.

Headphones help productivity by what they block (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 2 years ago | (#40161961)

But yeah, "background music", either via speaker or headphone, is otherwise usually about as conducive to productivity as leaving a television on within visual range. I think the reasons that we keep answering those surveys otherwise, is really that on at least a subconscious level we want to be paid for listening to music we like.

I think the reason is that, in fact, they do improve productivity in many real world work environments. Not because "listening to music" improves productivity (which, as TFA notes, it doesn't), but because it decreases productivity less than the office chatter that it often serves to mask.

Effective active noise-cancelling headphones without music would be even better, but active noise cancelling headphones that work to shut out distractions when they aren't being used to play music (etc.) are more expensive.

We have good office speakers (1)

sandytaru (1158959) | about 2 years ago | (#40161731)

Generally, the office music station is set to the eighties, but occasionally it's "ABC Lounce Music" off iTunes, or the seventies, or when one of us does some particularly outstanding feat, a station of our choice. We do have personal headphones, but that's for webinars and junk that other people probably don't want or need to hear.

Dear Scientists, (1)

broginator (1955750) | about 2 years ago | (#40161761)

Shut up, dude. Seriously, STFU, you're gonna ruin this for all of us.

I wear them... (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 2 years ago | (#40161789)

to drown out the voices. From inside my head. No I don't. Yes I do. Shut up. Make me.

As for creating privacy, nonsense I say. Just try scratching your nuts "in private" or farting and see if the women in the office don't complain to the boss.

The only true test for something creating privacy is if you can drink a beer while sitting in your underwear while doing it.

I'm sorry (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 2 years ago | (#40161799)

I can't hear this discussion..let me take out my buds. (written listening to Alice in Chains with android and some skullcandy buds)

I am a musician (3, Interesting)

JazzHarper (745403) | about 2 years ago | (#40161829) I am not a passive listener. There is no such thing as "background music" for me. I can either listen to music or concentrate on the task at hand. I supposed it could be considered a curse (like perfect pitch, which I do not have, thank gods), but I cannot imagine life any other way.

I'm not actually listening to anything (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161831)

The headphones just mean "leave me alone"

That works? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161859)

I frequently work with headphones on and my office door closed, and still people peek in and see the situation, then knock and insist on being let in just to engage in idle social chit-chat. Music playing through the headphones has little to no effect on this situation I've been able to observe.

Why ruin perfectly good music... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161885) treating it as BGM for mundane tasks?

Headphones suck, so does noise (1)

registrations_suck (1075251) | about 2 years ago | (#40161895)

I hate wearing headphones. They suck. I hate having to listen to something. However, the people in my work area are so fucking loud, it is just ridiculous. They have hour-long speaker phone conferences all fucking day. Sometimes they are so loud, I have difficulty listening to what is on the headphones, even at full, ear bleeding volume. No one, the people involved, nor the top management, including the CIO, understand the negative impacts, or if they do, they certainly don't care.

We have two offices currently going unused. I've begged top management to either move two of us "need quiet" people in there, or at least move the two loud fuckers who are on the speaker phone ALL FUCKING DAY to the offices. However, they refuse. Why? Because offices are for managers, and none of the people involved are managers. In the meantime, we have a low productivity environment and offices that are going unused. They've BEEN unused, since I got here - except for the 3 months that I was assigned to an office because I was doing "confidential" work. Once that project was over, I got put back in the noise infested shithole, for no reason other than "offices are for managers."

It's ridiculous. Headphones do not help. I can't wait to quit this fucking job - just as soon as it is convenient. In the meantime, I am working at 50% capacity (at best), because I can sit here for hours and not be able to concentrate enough to do any work.

On the upside - I've discovered the Alex Jones radio show and I can keep myself entertained all day.......except when it is too loud to hear, even with headphones.

Just close your door (3, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | about 2 years ago | (#40161943)

When you need to concentrate, just close your door. Instant privacy and silence, and it's a clear sign to others that you're working on something and shouldn't be bothered.

Oh right, people don't get offices anymore because of the vast performance improvements from the open collaborative workspace where anyone can interrupt you at any time for any inane reason. They even interrupt you inadvertently when they are talking to coworkers

music (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161965)

I use my Bluetooth headset paired with my office phone and my cell phone. I usually have music going if I am not on a call.. Takes all the surrounding distractions away and lets me concentrate on what I need to do...


Because other noise is worse (1)

Tridus (79566) | about 2 years ago | (#40161977)

Headphones became more popular in response to the "open" office BS that sprang up. Put a bunch of people together and it gets noisy. That noise is both distracting and annoying. Headphones are distracting but not annoying, so they're getting used.

I don't need them, because I'm in an old building and still have an office door. Close the door and noise goes away.

Science says we're full of it? (1)

flimflammer (956759) | about 2 years ago | (#40161991)

So, how many people in open plan offices actually get to enjoy silence? What other stimuli does everyone need to be able to recall to be productive in the workplace? And what about creative jobs? I have my doubts that pure silences is always better to sir your creative juices than listening to something that inspires you.

Hell, just for programming I feel more motivated to keep pecking at the keyboard when I have a beat to move with. I won't listen to a lot of vocal stuff, but even if I have the opportunity to sit in absolute silence, I think my mind would start wandering a bit too much. Sure happens to me a lot at home when I work on hobby projects. I often have periods of music and no music at home, and I always seem to get more done with the music.

Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40161995)

I'm usually more productive with music going, it clears the mental fog. I just use my headphones to keep from bugging others with my music (also so I don't have to filter my music to "work appropriate" songs). I usually need to hear what's going on too so I turn on the mic on my computer. If I feel like blocking out the background noise I can just mute the mic.

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40162007)

This is certainly not written for what I do.

I spend the whole day learning new languages and interpreting others. No headphones? Nothing gets done.

Headphones (1)

Jetra (2622687) | about 2 years ago | (#40162027)

I use headphones. They're bulky, but they don't itch and fall out of your ears like those earbuds. I've got a nice pair from Sony. Clear sound, just the right size, and functional. I don't see why it matters whether or not we use headphones.

However, this conversation regards to matters concerning communication. I have no idea how many people chat to each other, but I can tell you from all of my friends, my social contact is nilch. I try calling them only to get pushed aside. I send emails that are never answered. They even close the IM window whenever I try to say my greetings

In this increasingly technological world, we have removed almost all forms of verbal communication with nonverbal or written communtication. Why write thirty pages about a product when a couple pictures along with some graphs can easily convey the message and then some? Why waste energy speaking when you can simply use a power point demonstration to give a lecture?

If they do allow headphones, then people will have to be bothered by constant shoulder tapping. If they think that productivity increases, I have to agree with them. If you are happy, then you work better. However, this is quality rather than quantity, but I won't get into that. People want to dig a niche out in a way to give themselves a sense of uniqueness. Let them have headphones? Work's not getting done anyway because people will just piddle on Facebook or WoW or something.
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