Music and Background Noise: Motivation or Distraction?

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Growing up I was convinced that having the TV on in the background helped me focus. I could whip up a paper with Maury Povich blaring in the background.

“I am 2000% sure he is the baby’s father.”

“You are NOT the father.”

It was almost as if I used the chaos to compartmentalize the task at hand. I used this tactic for ten years outside of school while I worked at home. Maybe it was a replacement for co-workers or boredom. I thought it was an effective strategy until I stepped back and observed my energy.

While I got the work done, I felt drained and tired. What used to be my catalyst was now my energy leach. The battle between stimulation took its toll by 2pm and made me want to take a siesta or eat crappy food.

Now as a self-employed business owner, I need all of the energy and motivation I can get, so I’ve been working on new methods to maintain my productivity and reduce distractions.

My first step was getting rid of the cable box. This was traumatic. I was a reality tv addict especially with Bravo. I couldn’t tell you how many days I’ve wasted being sucked into Real Housewives of (insert any city). I still had Netflix, but that soon became the addiction replacement.

Second step, no Netflix until after 8pm. I started to feel like I was a strict parent to myself, but just like Bravo, Netflix series became the same brain power suck that I was trying to avoid.

Third step, no music while writing or researching. Can I listen to anything anymore and still maintain my focus? Pop music was definitely out. Each song would spark a past memory and lead me down a rabbit hole. But I could do podcasts, but only to get inspired, when it came to writing, I needed full silence.

As I started to write this blog post, I actually tried all of these (with the exception of the cable box, because that doesn’t exist). Here’s what I learned.

TV – I have an HD antenna so I get local channels and some amazingly crappy shows including Judge Judy and Family Feud. Don’t expect to get anything done with this on. Data entry becomes littered with mistakes and my energy is around 10-15%.

Netflix – With each episode leading to the next, I can zone out of the show and get some basic work done. Anything requiring research or comprehensive problem-solving is out the door. Productivity around 20-30%

Music – This stalls me out completely. I like to listen to 2000s Hip Hop on Slacker radio. It’s amazing that I even bother opening up my laptop. As soon as I hear a song, I start Googling random stuff or scrolling through Facebook. Productivity around 5-10% if anything.

Podcasts – I love being inspired by Podcasts especially while doing the 100-Day Blog Challenge, but at some point I need to pause the episode and write in silence. Productivity around 40-60%.

Silence – I can’t believe I’m admitting this. I LOVE SILENCE! No distractions, no music, only the white noise of my AC. Even my dog’s steps are distracting right now. I love to be in the zone with my brain connecting directly the letters on my keypad. It’s like a stream of consciousness.


After making my observations, I’ve adjusted my view on work space. I used to think I needed to be around people, so I signed up for a co-work space or went downstairs to the Game Room or to a coffee shop. I found myself extremely distracted and annoyed I even made the trek. Now that I’ve reworked my apartment to face the natural light and water views, I feel free to write all day long. The key is keeping my space organized and clean.

I’m curious to hear your take on sound and productivity. I know one person, in particular, that needs to have CNBC on in the background to get any work done. I’ll be digging into this topic in later posts with more scientific backing, but wanted to get the conversation started.