Now that we’re all working from home, I can safely wear my noise-cancelling headphones all day long without fearing to seem unapproachable to the team.
And that’s a good thing.
Since I’m confined alone with my cats, I could legitimately listen to music without headphones while I work. Right. No. Since the confinement has begun, I have come to realise that my lovely and quiet apartment at the weekend, was everything but. While road traffic decreased, I notice at least 1 fender-bender a week (the joys of living above a crossroad with 2 STOP signs) so you get the crash noise and then the (usually) offending party yelling at the other motorist. There are also the neighbours and their children running up and down the stairs and the hallways -bless them, it’s good that they can exercise, just stop touching the door-knobs.
For the first couple of weeks of confinement, construction work was still happening, and I happen to live across a construction site. You might think cranes and a few building site machinery. No. A giant drill that was moving across the site all day long. And early last week, new noise-makers came and started building Fort Kegs in the empty car park at the back of Guinness. While I’m wondering what the purpose is of piling kegs 5 metres high, it’s mostly a noisy affaire. Kegs are loud, the trucks that bring them go "beep beep beep beep" for minutes on end while they’re reversing in the car-park and as of this morning, they’ve started messing up with the pallet-lifter (or whatever that’s called) and dropped a couple of pallets while taking them off the truck. And that is scary loud.
That’s a lot of distractions happening in what would otherwise seem like an idyllic work from home environment (no kids, no housemates, a decent workspace, etc.) so how do I get my heavily detail-oriented work done?
I’ve tried a good few things.
First of all, I invested in a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphone that had a special slot for glasses, and believe me, you don’t realise how necessary that is until you have them.
Then I found a number of apps such as Noisli that promised me productivity through various noise blockers and natural sounds. Then came the “are you missing the open space noise” (spoiler alert, no, I don’t miss the sound of the printer), but I did give Sound of colleagues a go anyway.
The office ran a song competition, so I had a song a day to listen to and rate, but that wasn’t helping either. So I went back to tried and approved music.These apps just weren’t doing it for me. Seriously, all these sounds were making me anxious. Rains, rivers or waterfalls made me want to go to the bathroom, I don’t believe ANYONE could ever miss the sound of a printer, I didn’t find the sound of a fireplace conducive to productivity, and overall, this was doing nothing to cancel the outside noise, improve my productivity or my mental health in a WFH confinement environment.
A few months back, I was imaging the company’s laptop and for that highly repetitive work (accessing the bios during booting, typing command lines and the IP address multiple times in a row), Jean-Jacques Goldman’s 30+ years of career was my jam. Works perfectly for repetitive actions that require attention to details, but not too many brain cells. That’s not the core of my job though.
I went back in time to when I was in university studying law, now there’s an activity that requires more than 2 brain cells, and I remembered the 20 odds hours a week of reading and the other 15 odds hours a week spent on writing essays – on top of the 35+ hours of lectures a week. How did I get through all the work to complete my masters? Well, fairly simply, at a time where mp3 players, Youtube, iTunes and Spotify didn’t exist, I did all my work with 4 CDs: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. My energiser’s songs, the not-working one, but the music I listened to while taking a break or when I needed to recharge were all from Disney, with Under the sea or I just can’t wait to be king, followed by the underappreciated Hercules’ Zero to hero, and apparently, science is backing up my choice of tunes.
Now, obviously, I’ve modernised it a bit for the confinement. While I still have the CDs, I no longer have a CD player.
I start my day with a song that is scientifically proven to make you happy: Queen’s don’t stop me now while checking my emails and, apologies to my neighbours, I usually sing along. Then I switch to Lord of the Rings, most likely my all-time favourite The Two Towers. I beat the after-lunch slump with highly questionable music choices, but they do the trick: AD Carry Maokai or Backstreet Boys’ I want it that way. My preferred choice is to sing them at the top of my lungs, but it’s up to you how you get energised.
My key takeaway is that the music that enables me to be really productive has no lyrics. But as I was writing this article, I saw Hung Lee’s Recruiting brainfood newsletter (here: recruitingbrainfood.com), and he reckons “epic” music is what makes you productive. Since my go-to productive music definitely qualifies as “epic”, I can’t disagree.
What do you listen to in order to stay productive and “sort of happy” during your WFH confinement?