11 Ways To Organize Your Focus With Ambient Noise

Posted on: November 24th, 2014 by Julie Bestry | 1 Comment

Are you a shush-er, or a shush-ee?

When you drive down the street, searching for a house number, do you turn your radio down? You’re probably a shush-er — you need quiet to focus.

When you sit down at your desk to work, create, or do homework, does silence make you jittery? You may be a shush-ee. You need sound to help you maintain your concentration.

11 Ways To Organize Your Focus


College students are dealing with the end of the semester, writing papers and studying for exams. Worker bees have the usual deadlines, but with the added stress of end-of-year projects and quotas, as well as two major challenges to productivity and focus:

Time is at a premium. In addition to work, you’ve got holiday shopping, and travel, and school concerts and recitals, and a plethora of tasks crowding you out of your carefully crafted time management system. (OK, some of you are laughing at that last part.)

Distractions are high. Everyone’s playing holiday music. Kids (and grownups) are sugared-up and noisier than usual, the weather is unpredictable, forcing you to carve more time out of your work to leave early enough to get where you’re going, and there’s mounting pressure to finish things before the new year, as if there’s a moral failing in carrying projects over.


Blast those distractions out of the water with big audio dynamite. (OK, not this Big Audio Dynamite.) Or, if not blast, lull you into the right cognitive mood for learning and/or creating.

According to Is Noise Always Bad?: Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition, in the Journal of Consumer Research,

“A moderate level of noise enhances creativity compared to both low and high levels of noise. Moderate background noise induces distraction which encourages individuals to think at a higher, abstract level, and consequently exhibit higher creativity.”

Not all sound/noise is created equally, and it’s not all experienced in the same way by everyone. We can generally agree that we won’t be focusing if someone runs their fingernails on a … OK, I won’t say it. You know. But while one person might be able to do geometry homework to heavy metal, another might be easily distracted by the sound of a steady radiator hiss.

So what can you listen to if you want to maintain focus?

This isn’t a science blog, but it helps to know a bit about what colors of noise can do.

  • White noise uses sound across all frequencies from high to low, with a “flat” spectrum. It’s considered helpful for deep focus on tasks such as studying, reading or writing.
  • Pink noise combines both low and high frequency sounds, creating an effect akin to a waterfall or shower, creating a soothing, spa-like auditory environment. So, if you’re stressed and want to relax before giving a presentation, leading a meeting, or even coping with holiday carpool schedules, go pink.
  • Brown noise sticks with the lower frequencies, creating a rumble-y, tumble-y, riding-on-a-train auditory sensation. While it’s said to be useful for aiding sleep, it also works well to mask external noises like when your co-worker snaps her gum or your ice maker clunks loudly.



Do you get your best ideas in the shower? Showertime’s Virtual Shower can help you create that environment without drenching your computer.


It’s browser-based — just click on the link and pick the settings you prefer:

  • How Long — Select options from 1 to 10 minutes.
  • Size of Room — The volume and echo changes as you enlarge or reduce the size of your shower spa.
  • Pressure — The intensity of pressure generally correlates with volume and robustness of the audio
  • Radio — Pick from a handful of shower-themed musical choices (Splish, Splash, Singing in the Rain, Rubber Duckie, Raindrops (Keep Falling On My Head), or soft jazz).
  • Water Temperature — Choosing Hot, Neutral or Cold lets you change the screen’s color scheme.

Click Start to get going. If you’re feeling a bit like Janet Leigh and think you hear a knife-wielding psycho (or just need to move on to another task), click Stop.

Virtual Shower is free.


Coffitivity appeals to our omnipresent coffeehouse culture. If you’re a Silent Sam or Sally, you may wonder how anyone could want to do work in a coffeehouse, let alone feel like they are while at home or the office. But Coffitivity’s take on that same Journal of Consumer Research study is:

“According to a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago, “A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition.” In a nutshell, this means that being a tiny bit distracted helps you be more creative. This is why those AHA moments come when we’re brushing our teeth, taking a shower or mowing the lawn!”

When you go directly to the web site, the first thing you hear is the busy humming of a coffeehouse: people talking, the occasional click of a keyboard, cups and silverware clinking against tables. The Cafe Library includes different types of background sounds: Morning Murmur is a more gentle hum, while Lunchtime Lounge is a little more energetic, and University Undertones has more collegiate chatter. There’s a premium level subscription ranging from $3-9, which offers Paris Paradise, Brazil Bistro or Texas Teahouse, though the site says the premium level is currently unavailable.

Use Coffitivity in your browser, get the app for iOS or Android, or if you’re on a Mac using Mavericks or Yosemite, use it online or offline directly from your menu bar.


Cafe Restaurant from MyNoise.net, though less well-known, offers a similar, though more customizable, service. It’s available for the browser and in an iOS app. (An Android version is in the works.)

Use the sliders to adjust audio element styles that include the levels of Rumble, Restaurant, Chatter, two separate levels for Babble, Mess, Cafeteria, Cafe, Table and Kitchen.


Perhaps you’d like a less caffeinated approach?


Calm makes you feel like you’re meditating…while getting a massage…at a yoga retreat. It’s got a very Zen with a capital Zzzzzzzzz approach. The settings are not entirely intuitive, but you get to select from among a variety of background visuals: a summer field, rays of sun on the ocean, waves along the beach, flowing water. The musical selections appear to be pre-set and all by musician Kip Mazuy, though you can cycle through the nature audios (waves, flowing water, etc.) to choose your preferred sounds.

Select guided calm for 2, 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes for a hypnotic guided meditation, or use the timer to listen to the environmental options.

For more features than are offered in the browser, the Calm app is free, with in-app upgrades, for iOS and Android.


Focus@Will describes itself as “a new neuroscience based web tool that uses specially sequenced instrumental music to increase your attention span up to 400% when working and studying. Our tool helps extend your productivity cycle and effortlessly zones out distraction.”

Music options include low-, medium- and high intensity choices, and a variety of music channels, including Classical, Focus Spa, Up Tempo, Alpha Chill, Acoustical, Cinematic, Ambient, Water, Baroque Piano, ADHD Type 1, and others.

Other features included a productivity tracker and the ability to set timed sessions to fit with your planned work schedule. For example, if you use the Pomodoro Technique and work in 25-minute increments, you can set the music to end when your alarm goes off.

Focus@Will offers a 30-day free trial with limited access to the proprietary music, after which subscriptions are $4.9/month or $44.99/year for full access to the music library. Use it in your browser or via the iOS and Android apps.



Noisli isn’t just a white noise generator; in fact, the quirky service isn’t just any one thing.

It can be used solely as an audio system. In this regard, you can click on any number and combination of the icons to select sound options: rain, thunderstorm, wind, forest (mainly birds), leaves (rustling in wind and rain), stream, seaside, water (as from a faucet), bonfire, summer night (crickets), coffeehouse, train, and fan shop. Use sliders to increase or decrease the intensity of each sound chosen.

Noisli is also a color generator. After you bring it up on the screen, options morph through different color palettes. In full disclosure, Noisli is my favorite of all of the options, not just for the sound alternatives, but because all of the colors are so comforting.

Noisli - background noise and color generator for working and relaxing - gerador sons - aplicativo - ideia quente (1)

But here’s where it gets interesting. Noisli is also a distraction-free, markdown-based text editor. (Markdown is a simplified formatting language, a kind of text-to-HTML converter for people who don’t want to have to learn HTML.) The colors in the window continue to change, but otherwise, it’s just a big, blank screen. You type plain text (or with markdown syntax) and whatever you type will be saved locally, even if you close your browser (though there is a button to save and download whatever you write).

Noisli is free in your browser; the iOS app is $1.99.

A Soft Murmur has no text editor and the browser background (which may be waves or a very up-close-and-personal view of coffee) is static, but it’s stylistically similar to Noisli. Select from icons depicting rain, thunder, waves, wind, fire, birds, crickets, a coffee shop, a Tibetan singing bowl (uh…OK) and pure white noise.


The Meander function causes the volumes of any selected sounds to randomly increase or decrease. The timer allows you to set increments ranging from 1 to 999,999 minutes (whoa!) and to determine whether you want the audio to start and stop or fade in and out.

A Soft Murmur works in the browser; an Android app is free, with in-app upgrades of $1.49.


Fire, wind, water, rain…and singing bowls? If you prefer fewer input options, there are a variety of services.

Rain, Rain, available only as a free iOS app, gives you lots of alternatives, but you just one pick: rain, rain or rain (unless you choose to upgrade to a premium version). Adjust the audio, set the timer, and sit back.


One of the nicest features is that you can lock your device and Rain, Rain will continue to play. Pause, adjust the volume, or change the tracks from the lock screen.

Rainy Cafe offers a fairly minimalist browser interface. Turn the cafe sounds on or off. Turn the rain sounds on or off. Adjust the volume for either or both. That’s it. Easy choices for a rough day.


Rainy Mood is both more and less minimalistic than Rainy Cafe. On the browser, there’s nothing adjustable. Just listen to rain. (OK, and occasional thunder.)

If you get either the iOS app or the Android app (both $3.99), you can adjust the volume of the rain and the thunder (including “100 unique thunderclaps”). You can also simultaneously play anything from the music library on your device or in your Spotify account.


Snowy Mood is a browser-only experience that appeals to my roots as a native of Buffalo.

I focus best on long-term strategic thinking when taking walks. I sometimes miss the sounds of walking across the Cornell University campus during the quiet nights of Study Week. Snowy Mood provides exactly that experience. The audio soundtrack is simply the plodding of heavy boots crunching through thick snow, with an occasional howl of wind. It becomes almost hypnotic after a while. For those who need the extra inspiration, the screen shots cycle through a handful of unpeopled snowy scenes.

These options only skim the surface. Search your favorite app store or search engine for terms like “sound generator” and “white noise” to find hundreds of options for your preferred device and format. But if you’re playing the audio loudly and without headphones, don’t be surprised if someone shushes you.

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