If you've ever Googled for "relaxing background music" or "study music" then you've probably come across examples of white noise tracks. White noise tracks typically feature some mix of sounds played at a constant volume level for extended lengths of time - sometimes up to 12 hours and longer! The purpose of these tracks is to help block out distracting ambient noises, chatter, and other sounds that can cause you to lose focus. They aren't noise-cancelling, like some fancy headphones, but they instead provide a constant level of sound which helps to reduce the severity of other noises, thus helping you keep focus.
Note to our audio engineer and enthusiast readers: We know these aren't technically real acoustic white noise, so roll with us as we use this term metaphorically :)
Think of these white noise tracks like a crowded restaurant filled with people talking at normal levels. It becomes very difficult to focus on any one conversation - everything just sort of turns into, well, background white-noise. It's easy to carry on your own conversation because everyone else's is just an audio blur.
In a crowded restaurant, conversations become background noise
Photo Credit: Dallas News
Now, imagine that same restaurant, but it's completely empty except for just you and one other table. You will hear every single thing they talk about, and it'll probably be difficult, if not impossible, for you to fully tune them out and have your own conversation.
Even at this distance, you'll hear a normal conversation rather clearly
Photo Credit: Midwest Wanderer
The office workplace is much the same way. It has peaks and valleys of sound, bursts of laughter, phones ringing, people coughing - all of these sounds stand out against the relatively quiet backdrop of the office and can interrupt your focus. By playing one of these white noise tracks, you effectively "fill the restaurant" - or, in this case, you fill the office.
Try out these five great tracks below and find the one that works best for you. Start each track with the volume turned low, and then slowly increase it to a comfortable level. Remember, it should feel like just 'background noise' - you don't want it to be so loud that you feel like you're listening to the white noise (like regular music); however, it should be loud enough to dampen a lot of office chatter and noise - if not cancel it out entirely.
This track provides a stellar (pun!) mix of muted wind and an almost underwater-like hum. That may not sound appealing, but definitely give this one a try. Start off at low volume until your ears adjust to what is, at first, a strange sound. Then slowly bring up the volume in stages until it just about drowns out all the ambient noise in your office.
If you're like me and a fan of flying, this might bring back memories of taking evening flights cross-country - the hum of the jet turbines, the muffled wind outside the airplane, the way other sounds become instantly muted and less sudden. I find that at the right volume level, conversations in the office sound just like a distant conversation in the back of an airplane. You can hear talking, even laughter, but it's not abrasive or distracting. It all just blends together as uninteresting background noise.
This track might take a little getting used to, but it's one of my favorite go-to's for pure, simple, "I need to focus and knock out these 55 emails this afternoon."
"Hey, want to leap across a few galaxies?"
"No thanks, I'd rather just listen to the engine purr while I knock out a few spreadsheets."
Yeah, that's right - this is 12 full hours of the quiet hum of a warp drive. This one requires a little higher volume than the others, but once you find a comfortable level, it's oddly relaxing. The periodic engine noises help to make the real noises around you less distracting. And when you want to take a break from emails, you can lean back, close your eyes, and imagine you're flying through space... okay, maybe I'm the only one that does that.
Here's another surprisingly effective track for helping you focus. Certainly, you wouldn't expect to hear someone say, "you know what helps ME focus and relax? Being on a ship in rough seas sailing right through a storm!" But, somehow, this one just works. Then again, I'm not actually on the ship.
It's almost like blending together a not-too-angry thunderstorm, an old pirate ship, and a few seagulls here and there. Oh, and a periodic nautical bell. I use that one to remind me that it's time to refill my coffee.
For those of us who work without any windows to the outside world, this River in the Shire track is perfect for overcoming the gloom that creeps in when your world is only fiber walls and fluorescent lighting. It provides a soft mix of rivers burbling, songbirds singing, and insects buzzing. Not only does this help block out some obnoxious office sounds and increase your focus, it also elevates your mood and relaxes your mind. You can almost feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Almost.
Note: The bird chirping, being a higher frequency, might be audible farther than you think. You might want to play it through your headphones and see how loud it sounds from outside your cubicle before you settle down for a multi-hour session. Otherwise, you might end up like me, with half a dozen coworkers wandering around trying to find the bird that got trapped in the office.
It wouldn't be a real list of ambient and white noise tracks without some waves on the beach. And in this case, we mean 11 hours of gentle waves washing up on the shore of Ceredigion, Wales.
There's a lot of waves-on-the-beach samples out there, but I like this one for its gentle simplicity. Sometimes I don't want a random loud, rushing wave crashing against the shoreline, spiking my adrenaline and bringing back youthful memories of being tumbled over like a wet sock in a washing machine, water up the nose and everything. Just give me hours of gentle, soothing waves to wash away the loud antics of my coworkers.
Oh, and this one has beautiful HD video to boot.
If you've got a favorite "I can't focus without this on endless loop" of your own, send it our way so we can check it out. And be sure to share it with the rest of the Cubicle Life community as well!
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