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Are there studies or evidence that suggest that continuously listening to sounds helps prevent the mind from wandering or increase focus and productivity during activities such as studying or programming?

If yes, what types of sounds are recommended (e.g. white noise, music with or without lyrics, etc.)

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@Jeanne Boyarsky In which way is this off topic? "Mind wanderings" isn't a problem of personal productivity? – TheIndependentAquarius Dec 28 '11 at 4:29
IMO it's not necessarily that it's off-topic, although that's probably the best matching reason for closing it. I think this question has a future but simply needs to be re-worded some. I think this site can value from more answers that are based on research (in the skeptics.SE model) and literature rather than personal opinion, especially on questions like this. Perhaps a re-word that emphasizes the desire for studies, data, etc. that suggest various types of music/sounds can enhance the ability to concentrate, focus, etc. I bet if you do that the community will vote to re-open very quickly. – Adam Wuerl Dec 30 '11 at 23:16
@AdamWuerl Have done it. Thanks. – TheIndependentAquarius Jan 4 '12 at 11:47
This was a topic on the a recent episode of the Build & Analyze podcast. One host suggested white noise (there are links to a white noise app at the link above), and the other said they prefer music. I put this as a comment because it's anecdotal, but may have advice others would find useful. – Adam Wuerl Jan 7 '12 at 0:37
up vote 3 down vote accepted

For normal tasks, listening to music just works fine. I wrote this complete post while listening to Birdy, and while I'm writing this post I'm listening to yet another song. It really doesn't distract me in any way that I start of mind wandering about something else.

However, for more focused tasks, like studying I can't stand any distracting sounds. As a Tinnitus sufferer I actually need something that gets rid of the distracting sound that I'm hearing the whole time the moment my mind gets distracted. Talking people or music aren't solutions to this.

This is where SimplyNoise comes into play, it draws attention away from my hearing as it's a completely flat sound to listen to and doesn't irritate me in any way. As I have in-ear phones I can keep the volume lower such that it doesn't damage my ears in any way; and as another result I don't hear talking people, music, laptop fan or any other sound that's around.

You can read through a lot of reviews, or try to find studies. But I doubt if you'll find these in a reasonable time. I would suggest you to just try it and see whether it fits you, it might be required to try the different presets as well as the different volumes but you will eventually get somewhere. It probably doesn't work for everyone though, because some people might react different to these sounds.

Human voice is known to draw your attention, music usually includes frequencies in the vocal range (whether instrumental or not); pure noise on the other hand doesn't make any frequencies stand out.

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It makes sense if it works for you, although consider the following:

  • If you're focusing on the sound, you're not doing the task at hand.
  • A constant noise is just something else to wander off from.
  • Effective reminders/"returners" will be noticeable (unique, not constant) and spaced at intervals, constant or random.

I use a modified Pomodoro technique for this--in addition to chimes at the beginning and end of each session, I have subtle wood blocks every 5-10 minutes or so when I know I'm likely to be distractable.

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I personally only find music helps if there are no lyrics, and that it helps more for trivial tasks than major ones. An important point I think is that music effects mood and mood is important for productivity. If all the music does it put you in a mood to get things done then it's done it's job already...

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Music is great for me. It both helps me focus and it also blocks out surrounding noises (necessary when working in an open office). I either listen to music I already know - so I am not distracted by new interesting songs or a genre that sounds pretty much the same all the time. Classical example would be Bach violin concertos. For electronic music I often use - an awesome internet radio station. They have several stations with different kinds of music and also some stations that are more like sound walls. Mission control, for example, plays sounds from space station operations mixed with really calm music.

But maybe music is not for you - I have heard people experiencing the same as me but also the opposite sometimes.

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