Why do programmers wear headphones? For the same reason that you can’t juggle.
Andrew Lucker

Rick Buitenman and Andrew Lucker are both correct in a few ways here; I’d say both with a few caveats.

First, the neuroscience laid out in this article is (for the most part) correct. The brain is a complicated subject, and it’s one of my favorite book subjects.

For an original project around the brain and the use of headphones, the “Mindset” Kickstarter project (though I’m not fond of Kickstarter) is a pretty brilliant. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mindset/headphones

Second, Rick Buitenman has points that I’ve also experienced to be true. Many companies have adopted open office floor plans with the goal of having easy communication between workers when needed. This openness, however, is counterproductive in my opinion, resulting in workers taking liberties to shout their questions across the room at other employees, distracting everyone else in the meantime. Unfortunately for the company, not only are these incidents not seen as a bad thing, they are even misconstrued to be a good thing, probably due to executives and non-technical management viewing them as a sign of “synergy” or [insert-buzzword-here] and not of distraction.

The best way — in my opinion — for any knowledge worker to deal with this type of distraction-rich environment is through the use of headphones, as Andrew Lucker suggests. Here’s where one of the above caveats come in, however: I’ve personally found music with lyrics to have the opposite effect from enhancing focus. I am only assuming here — hopefully correctly — that many others have found the same. I’ve discovered that applications using cafe or other ambient noise, or instrumental music are the best for focus.

The only qualms I have with Rick Buitenman’s advice that you avoid companies where everyone in the office is wearing headphones comes down to the fact that there’s more neuroscience to suggest that music not only prevents distraction from interrupting your flow state but also increases the likelihood and intensity of that flow state’s occurrence (and I’ll let you look that one up for yourself).

In short, if you must use headphones, your office management needs to take a serious look at its distraction policies, but the use of headphones can — and does — boost your “flow.”

Excellent article, Andrew Lucker, and I’d love to see it expanded upon in the future!

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