Joe Mabel [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Caffe Reggio, photo by Joe Mabel

In April, I blogged on finding a possible link between just the right amount of background noise and getting creative work done.  The restaurant I experimented with worked great (you can read about my experience here) but there are a few problems with this type of setting:  1.  I don’t want to spend the money to hang out in food and drink emporia, 2.  I can’t always get to a coffee shop or some such place, and 3. the sound is great, but the people and the busyness can be very distracting.  I’ve got a place to work; I just need the ambience.  (If you choose to go the coffee shop route, LifeHacker has a handy etiquette guide for working in one.)

As I considered the problem, I stumbled across an article by Alan Henry at LifeHacker on ambient noise and creativity.  He briefly reviews a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research (University of Chicago Press) entitled “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition“.   The study results suggest that moderate noise levels (70 dB) are more conducive to creativity, at least among creative people, than low (50 dB) or high (85 dB) levels.  Turns out there’s some scientific justification for my need for noise.

Perhaps there was something more than sunshine and solitude at work on Walden Pond or amid the green hills of Grasmere.  Nature is a great producer of ambient sound, and that presents me with an alternative to the crowds, travel, and expense.  When the weather is nice, I can open a window or door and enjoy the same type of creativity-enhancing “soundtrack.  But what do I do when the great outdoors are as unavailable as the coffee shop?  Here are some options I”ve discovered:

  • Coffitivity: “Enough noise to work.”  I think there’s more to this site than I’ve discovered.  For now I’m simply enjoying the moderate level of coffee shop noise.  It’s just right.  And it’s free.
  • Chatterblocker: A more expansive product, combining nature, music, and chatter tracks.  It also offers meditation and mindfulness tracks.  The website talks about other potential uses for the product.  I haven’t tried this yet, but it looks interesting.  Cost: $9.99.
  • Ambient-mixer: offers a variety of ambient sound, from the typical nature and human to technical and unreal ambience.  This site also allows you to create your own sound mix “online and for free.”
  • Pandora: Not an ambient sound producer like the others I’ve mentioned, Pandora offers channels such as “Ambient Generation” and “Classical for Studying” that might be useful for background noise.

And when all else fails, hit the shower!  Those flashes of inspiration we get when we’re lathering up may be related to the fact that a shower produces sound at about 70 dB, right in the optimal range.

  1. Cathy Steiner says:

    I too find some noise to be helpful. My favorite pandora station is jane austen book club station. My huge distraction with it is waiting to know the titles or yo mark it with a thumbs up. But just enjoying whole I am working on a project is very satisfying. I’m really enjoying your blog. Hope you are feeling better.

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