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The New Habit Challenge: Can The Right Kind Of Music Fix Open Office Distraction?

Join our resident habit expert Rachel Gillett and other Fast Company staff on Friday, January 30 at 11 a.m. ET as we discuss what happened when we used noise to tune out distractions at work.

[Photo: Flickr user Ludo Rouchy] 

The open office debate has been widely chronicled here at Fast Company, and one of the major issues we have with this floor plan that we’ve yet to overcome is how distracting the whole arrangement can be. Apart from the times that you want to collaborate with those around you, this no walls atmosphere is just not conducive to focused work.

In fact, recent survey data from Cambridge Sound Management reveals that nearly 30% of office workers are distracted by coworkers's conversations. 

But noise in general isn’t to blame when it comes to lost productivity. "When we talk about distractions, what we’re primarily concerned with is intelligibility," says acoustical expert Justin Stout. In other words, what’s distracting about our neighbors’ conversations is that our focus shifts from our work to figuring out what they are saying.

Since shutting your office door is no longer an option, Stout says that the key to enhancing productivity is consistently generating an office "hum"—the unintelligible mixture of sounds. 

Stout recommends accomplishing this by listening to music without lyrics, such as classical or electronic music. "The cognitive processes that are needed to understand and interpret lyrics are very different than the processes required to simply listen to rhythms," he explains.

For this week's habit challenge, a few of us at Fast Company are putting the syndicated office hum to the test. When we want to accomplish focused work we’ll funnel some lyric-less tunes or noise into our ears.

Join us here at 11 a.m. ET on Friday, January 30 to find out how it went for us, share your thoughts, and ask us questions.

Did you tune out conversations and lyrics and break the open office curse? Tell us about your experience in the "make a comment" box below and join in the discussion on Friday.