What makes me more productive at work? Sounds.

Note: I wrote this article almost two years ago for Netzpiloten.de and now, shortened and reformulated a bit, published it on my blog in English translation.

I once had to meet a deadline for an article and planned some time on Sunday to finish this article. When I was sitting at my new desk, a very chic designer piece, nothing happened. I just couldn’t focus on my work at my own home. Almost everything here distracted me, the home office had become a productivity trap for me, where I could no longer work.

Only after I went to a café in my Friedrichshain neighborhood and sat somewhat confined between scene tourists, I was able to devote myself entirely to the article again. I don’t doubt that coffee is essential for productivity, but an equally individual aspect is quickly forgotten: Sounds can help us to be more productive.

Of course, there’s an app for that: Coffitivity.

Silence may not do that, as I noticed in 2013. It was the first day in the new office of the project I was working for. When the bells of the neighboring Sophienkirche began to ring, it suddenly became clear to me that this was the first time I had consciously noticed a church bell in Berlin and how quiet it had been so far here. From that moment on I could no longer concentrate.

My colleague Sebastian Haselbeck then recommended the App Coffitivity. This web service, which is also available as an app for Android and iOS, plays background noises from cafés all over the world. At the moment there are six soundscapes. The startup itself has been researching productivity for years now and published contributions on a blog.

I use the app regularly when I work in an environment where I don’t like the soundscape. I even use it in my home. The other day I was sitting at an important presentation for a bank executive and switched on the app. I got so intense in my flow that I didn’t even look up for the next four hours. I was so absorbed in my task that I forgot space and time.

Background noise helps to be more productive.

This may seem paradoxical at first glance, but as a coworking manager, I can best work in lively sounding cafés. Against the background that coworking spaces originated out of the coffee house culture, the surprise is somewhat put into perspective. Also, the open spaces in coworking spaces can create atmospheres similar to those in cafés.

The 2012 study “Is Noise Always Bad?” showed that background noise that is not too loud can basically have a positive effect on creative performance. For others, it’s music. With the right choice of music, the happiness hormone dopamine is released, which in turn can make you in a good mood and stimulate your willingness to perform.

The work in a coworking space has made me very aware of one thing: where, when and how people can work best is a very individual matter. For me personally, it works best in lively sounding, open environments. But that can’t be a blueprint for others. In the best case, however, a thought-provoking impulse to ask oneself this question.

Header Image: Tobias Kremkau, Frankfurt (Oder) 2018