How Noise Cancelling Headphones Help Me With Writing

I bought a pair of new headphones to listen to music. Little did I know that they would turn out to be a great productivity tool.

Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with writing. I write every day since it's part of my work as a teacher and a blogger, but frequency doesn't make it any less challenging, and it certainly doesn't stop procrastination!

On a basic level, writing is the process of organizing the free flow of thoughts and ideas that populate the mind into coherent logic. It's a process that requires following rules (grammar), avoiding pitfalls (logic), and delivering value (content and style).

A couple of years ago, I remember listening to a talk by the Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, in which he mentioned his own dislike for writing. He remarked that the only way he could sustain his writing practice was to “trick” his mind into believing that he was just “putting down ideas” – albeit relatively elaborate ideas – but what he was doing wasn't “writing.” After after a certain point he would tell himself that he just had to “edit” these ideas. By doing this writing would disappear.

I've since discovered a YouTube video clip in which Zizek repeats the same points that he brought up in his talk. You can watch that below.

Writing not only demands logic, but it requires time and focus too – two qualities that seem to be in increasingly short supply in today's 24/7 social web. Why? Because our attention is the main currency of the web and people are vying for it every second through tweet, Facebook updates, Vines, YouTube videos, Instagram photos, Snapchats, and other types of media.

We consume micro content like a whale consumes plankton; constantly searching for nourishment in a sea of “noise.” We call it “noise” but it's not necessarily audible and can take the form of images or text. To me, noise is anything that disrupts focus and productivity – anything that keeps you locked inside a loop.

Now this is where my headphones come in.

A few months ago, I was browsing Amazon for some computer gear when I noticed some sexy silver and white headphones. I clicked the photo and started reading about the Bose QuietComfort 25 noise cancelling headphones.

One line in their blurb really stood out:

Bose noise cancelling technology monitors the noise around you and cancels it out, helping you focus on what you want to hear–whether it’s your music, your calls or simply peace and quiet.

So you put these headphones on, flick a switch, and the noise – auditory or otherwise – is gone. Too good to be true right?

Somewhat sceptical, I thought I'd bite the bullet so I ordered a pair and what I got after flicking the switch was indeed quietness. Simple quietness. Not only that, after using these headphones for the best part of 3 months, I found that whenever I wear them, I get straight into work mode. I find myself able to focus for much longer periods. I don't even use the headphones for music, even though the audio quality is decent.

Of course the headphones don't create a total vacuum. Loud outside noise still filters through. But on the whole, I find most background noise in my office is cancelled. Refrigerator hum, computer fan buzz, outside road traffic and so on.

So all this has left me with a couple of open questions:

1. Is our reception of “noise” in the social media sense in some way connected to the part of the brain that deals with the reception of auditory stimuli?
2. Is my attachment to these headphones and my sense of increased focus and productivity a placebo effect? A way of tricking myself into believing that what I'm doing is not writing?

Whatever the case may be, I haven't been in love with a gadget as much as I am as with these noise cancelling headphones in a long time. I don't know if they will work for you like they do for me, but for what it's worth, I thought I'd share my experience. More information and tech specs see here.

noise cancelling headphones

Written by Will Ellington

Originally from the UK, I currently live in Osaka, Japan, where I work in higher education. I’ve been a WordPress user since 2004 and have developed numerous projects with it over the years. Wpliving is a place to share things i've learnt along the way, and to explore innovations in WordPress too.

4 Comments

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  1. I have been doing the same thing…protecting myself from noise while writing. It really works for me and keeps me in the zone. I use earplugs as opposed to headphones…but whatever blocks noise and is comfortable for ears is fine I guess.

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