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3 Top Tips for Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your Home Office

“Is that baby STILL screaming? I need to get this project off my desk!” If any of these sound familiar, then you’ve run into one of the unique challenges of working from home – dealing with residential noise pollution
Written Apr 21, 2011, read 2745 times since then.
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“If I do my invoicing, I’ll be able to reach my monthly cash flow goals, but I can’t concentrate with all the traffic noise!”

“I’d love to work on that proposal, but my neighbor’s dog just won’t stop barking!”

“Is that baby STILL screaming? I need to get this project off my desk!”

If any of these sound familiar, then you’ve run into one of the unique challenges of working from home – dealing with residential noise pollution.

Home office workers face a variety of challenges related to distraction, but noise is one that is typically overlooked. Most large offices and workspaces have a symphony of office chatter, the hum of copiers and other office machines, and even the low rumble of the A/C, all of which generally become a type of “white noise” – which we can usually tune out and stop hearing. At home, however, there typically isn’t any background noise – it’s usually just you and your trusty computer – and any outside noise can be especially jarring and make it challenging for us to focus.  

In order to get our work done, we home office types need to find strategies to help us manage the noise pollution that can encroach on our productivity. Here’s a few tactics that I’ve found successful with my organizing clients:

The hills are alive… Well, maybe not the hills, but your home office can be alive with the sound of music. For many people, having the right music as background noise can help to get us “into a groove” and make our tasks go faster and seem more enjoyable. I emphasize having the right music, because background music while working is not a one-genre-fits-all affair. Some people find music with lyrics can be distracting while doing verbally-related tasks such as writing, reading, and editing. For these task types, you might want to choose instrumental or electronic music, or even nature sounds. Other tasks, such as organizing your office, might be perfect for that Top 40 song you just can’t seem to get out of your head. Match the music to the task at hand, and you’ll focus less on outside-world noise distractions.

The tech. As with most things, technology is there to help us deal with noise pollution. Noise-cancelling headphones can silence all but the most piercing of outside noises, and can create a quiet zone for us to work in. Sometimes, just having “white noise” can help us ignore the more unpleasant background noises. White noise generators, which create a static-like tone, have been used in therapy offices for many years, and help to drown out or mask things we don’t want to hear. You can find both noise-cancelling headphones and white noise generators online.

Shift your space. Recognize when it might be helpful to just get out of your chair, leave your office, and go someplace else to work. A change of scenery can shift our energy and allow us to focus in a different way than when we’re at our usual workspace. This can be an especially helpful tactic when you need or want to work on a specific task. Let’s say that you need to write an article for your newsletter, but it’s simply too noisy at your home office. Try taking a trip to your local coffee shop, library or park and do your writing from there – you might just find that you write a lot better in that environment. Sometimes, tying a specific type of task to a physical location can help reduce our distraction level and help us focus on the task at hand.

As I’m writing this, two sirens went off outside my window, a dog started barking, and a plane is flying overhead. I know what I’m going to do to get my focus back – what will you do the next time you’re distracted by your noisy environment?

Professional Organizer 
San Francisco, California 
Joshua Zerkel

Joshua Zerkel is a Certified Professional Organizer® and the founder of www.CustomLivingSolutions.com. He specializes in helping entrepreneurs leverage technology so they can be more productive, organized, and get more of the right things done.

Learn more about the author, Joshua Zerkel.

Comment on this article

  • Biznik Director of Community 
Seattle, Washington 
Matt Lawrence
    Posted by Matt Lawrence, Seattle, Washington | Apr 29, 2011

    I love working in the Biznik office, but I also really enjoy working from home as well.

    If we didn't have the awesome office we have - I would definitely get myself to a coworking space - and sign up as a member or a resident. PRONTO.

    Being able to "shift your space" while in the middle of a project is so valuable, and sometimes shifting to a coffee shop is more a lateral shift, and not an improvement. As you know there are some great ones in SF, and in every creative class city for that matter.

    Thank you for sharing these tips, Joshua.

  • CEO & Founder 
Redmond, Washington 
Paul Hagen
    Posted by Paul Hagen, Redmond, Washington | May 02, 2011

    Nice Tips Joshua, Why are my Noise Canceling Head phones in my travel bag?

    Also, shifting the time helps too...

    Thanks -Paul

  • Professional Business Coach 
Casper, Wyoming 
Shari Shaw
    Posted by Shari Shaw, Casper, Wyoming | May 03, 2011

    Hi Joshua,

    You're right, this is one that is often overlooked. I am forever working with my 5 sons wrestling with one another, fighting over the puppies, and hollering for my attention. I think that I've become a pro at ignoring it all... or I did until I read your article. A little peace and quiet might be just what the doctor ordered!

    Thank you for your insight.

    Best, Shari

  • Business Productivity Expert 
Everett, Washington 
Natasha Packer
    Posted by Natasha Packer, Everett, Washington | May 03, 2011

    Exactly what I do! Thanks for confirming it for the rest in an eloquent fashion. Beware even the local Starbucks can be too loud!

    Ciao, Natasha

  • Professional Organizer 
San Francisco, California 
Joshua Zerkel
    Posted by Joshua Zerkel, San Francisco, California | May 04, 2011

    Hey everyone, thanks for the responses! In all the work I do with home office workers, this noise issue is a biggie. It's really important to find the right solution for you so you can stay on track!

  • Business coaching services 
Portland, Oregon 
Kaya Singer
    Posted by Kaya Singer, Portland, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    Joshua

    I also work from a home office and one thing that constantly happens is that as soon as I get on the phone with a client the mailman shows up. He is quiet but my little dog isn't and she loves to bark at him as it is her way of saying hello. I can only just laugh when that happens.

    One thing I do when I am not on the phone but working on my office- is put on Pandora to my favorite station. I love music I love, and it drowns out anything else. I also have a small fountain in my room and the gurgling water is lovely. Like you, I also pack up and go to my favorite Teahouse to work some days. Thanks for the conversation.

  • Copywriter and Web Marketer 
San Diego, California 
Amy Teeple
    Posted by Amy Teeple, San Diego, California | May 05, 2011

    You're right Joshua - there are plenty of distractions in my home office and although noise is one of them, I often don't think of it as a distraction that I can address. Great tips.

    I think I need to to be more willing to pack up my laptop and head to the library or a coffee shop. I also need to invest in noise-canceling headphones.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Principal  
Oregon City, Oregon 
Diane Plesset, CMKBD, C.A.P.S.
    Posted by Diane Plesset, CMKBD, C.A.P.S., Oregon City, Oregon | May 05, 2011

    These are great suggestions! Sound-absorbing surfaces can help a great deal, i.e., window treatments, floor coverings, upholstered furniture, and bound books (not just binders). Also, well-placed furniture and objects can help to redirect sound so you're not at the center of the target. If the sound problem is really serious, and the solutions you've recommended don't work, there's the ultimate solution:getting the walls soundproofed, and replacing single-glazed windows with double-glazed windows. Expensive, yes, but it depends on how serious the problem is, and whether it's impeding your bottom-line profitability.

  • Professional Organizer 
San Francisco, California 
Joshua Zerkel
    Posted by Joshua Zerkel, San Francisco, California | May 06, 2011

    Thanks so much for all of your great comments!

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