Is It Better to Work in Silence or With Background Noise?

There was a time that I would say it is better to work with some background noise. Hands-down. I thought I got more done and it felt kind of more like an office-with-coworkers environment. I typically had the TV on Food Network. It wasn’t ever up loud, but enough that I knew there was something going on.

Sometimes I would work with music and often found myself singing along. Obviously that wasn’t very conducive to getting anything done.

Then the cable company made some changes and we could no longer get cable through just the TV connection and had to have a box. When we moved here, I misplaced my box, so I was basically forced to work in silence. (I have since found the cable box but still have not yet hooked it up.)

I was surprised at how much more I got done. I was surprised to notice that my creativity had apparently been dulled by the background noise. I had effectively made it where I couldn’t hear myself.

That’s not a good position to be in.

I’m torn. I don’t know if I want to connect the cable box or not. I’m afraid it would mean reverting back to bad habits. (At the same time, though, I miss Food Network.) Now, the lack of TV does not mean I always work in silence. I’ve found Evan Carmichael on YouTube and his productivity music playlists. They’re mostly dance music with little-to-no lyrics. When I have a lot of stuff to do and I really don’t want to do it or I have a short time to work, I turn on one of those videos. (They’re about an hour and a half each.) One day, I got more done than I thought possible.

I don’t listen to the music a lot, but I have discovered it can be an effective tool for getting me in the mood/mindset to get things done.

What do you think? Do you work better in silence or with background noise?

Author: jencnipps

I am a writer/speaker/fiber artist based in south-central Oklahoma.

20 thoughts on “Is It Better to Work in Silence or With Background Noise?”

  1. I’m kind of torn, too! Once I have an idea about what I need to do and have inner direction, noise can be a problem, even if it should be good, like soft background music. But if I am doing things that don’t require a lot of concentration and I don’t want to do them or feel tired, music or background TV noise can help me keep going. So maybe my answer is, “it depends?” 🙂

  2. Sometimes I need silence and sometimes I like soft music. I like the calm meditation station on Pandora for when I’m reading. I often like silence for writing. But if I’m doing something that doesn’t need concentration like cooking or crafting, anything goes.

  3. For me, with auditory processing disorder and sensory processing disorder, there is no such thing as silence. I hear everything, including the buzz of electricity. Listening to instrumental music makes it easier for me to concentrate on the task at hand.

    1. With my eyesight (I am legally blind), I hear more than most people, so I hear the buzz of electricity too. Sometimes I can work through it, but sometimes I do have to have something to diffuse it.

  4. just like Sue, for me, it depends on what I am working on.. somethings need silence (though not really total silence!) while for others i can work with multiple sounds in the background (the tv, kids practicing for band, and more!)

    1. I’m not sure I would be able to work through kids practicing for band, but I’m also remembering how my sister sounded when she first started playing the trumpet.

    1. I once found an old Gaelic saying about how it is beneficial to work in silence. I don’t remember what it was. I actually found it in a book by Twyla Tharp called *The Creative Habit.*

  5. I need silence to concentrate on writing. If I’m really tired, sometimes I do better with Mozart in the background. Anything with words makes it hard to concentrate. I listen to vocal music if I’m doing housework or creating on Zazzle where I don’t have to use many words myself. Most of the time, though, I prefer quiet when I’m on the computer.

    1. It depends on the kind of writing, for me. When I work on fiction, for example, I have a playlist for the project. (My current one involves a lot of heavy metal, which is NOT usually my cup of tea.)

    1. All of this is not to say that I prefer absolute quiet. No. I can’t handle that. lol. Normal household sounds and activity downstairs are my typical background if I don’t have music on.

  6. It depends on my mood and what I’m working on. Sewing and writing are mood related. When listening I prefer instrumentals, it helps me avoid the singing along catastrophe. Sometimes I’ll put a show I’ve already watched on, just so I have people “in” the house with me, I don’t really have to watch, I know what happens. 🙂 Housework is almost always inspirational/motivational videos and listen to them. Great question.

  7. For me it totally depends on what I am working on. If I am writing a report or something that takes a bit of “creative thinking” silence is a must. If I am doing spreadsheet work or any type of analysis background noise keeps me focused. If I am cleaning or doing a very routine task I use this as time to listen to an audiobook or take some type of training. I have been doing these same patterns for so long now, this article has inspired me to try to do it a bit differently. We will see how it goes!

    1. I am a firm believer in if it works for you, keep it going. Maybe there’s something you can add to your current patterns, but since they work for you, I wouldn’t change too much of them.

  8. I get so much more accomplished with music most of the time. When I’m creating or cleaning I like the Malt Shop Oldies channel on Direct TV (Channel 802). When I’m working on a novel, then I create a playlist that matches my story. I listened mostly to Garth Brooks while writing A Christmas To Remember and James & Michael Younger were my inspiration and playlist for Somewhere Down the Line. Then there’s the CD review/ musician interviews when I always have their music playing in the background.

    I can’t think in silence.
    Creative Blessings!

    1. About a year ago, I would have totally agreed with you about not being able to think in silence. It makes total sense to me that you would have the music you’re reviewing play in the background as you work on those reviews.

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