Many coders wear headphones when coding in the workplace, and with the work environment for many individuals and companies, especially in IT, having changed, maybe it is a necessity. Gone are individual offices, cubicle block farms, and the new thing is open-plan concepts where everyone can get distracted easily. Is this the reason for coders wearing headphones, and are there other factors involved? Let’s see.
Coders wear headphones to concentrate better, get into the “flow” of work and thinking easier, and to help them block out any external distractions that the new modern workspace environment brings with it. Furthermore, wearing headphones can increase overall productivity up to four times for a coder if they implement the use of them.
We’ll look at why coders wear headphones in the workplace and what factors contribute to them doing so. Can they concentrate better? If so, then why do they help? We’ll also take a look at the brain, considering what is known as working memory and how it correlates to coders finishing off with why some coders prefer music rather than silence.
Why do coders wear headphones?
The main reason coders wear headphones is to concentrate and get work done. This is because when coders code, their brain functions in a similar way to how an artist works. They need to get into a “flow” of thinking so they can be more productive.
Think about it like this. Have you ever read a good book, done your homework, gone for a run, and time just seems to slip by almost instantaneously. This is what flow is. This is the same for coders.
They need to focus with great efficiency to comprehend, fix, build, and maintain their work (code), which requires analytical, mathematical, and critical thinking. Being able to focus (getting into the flow without any distractions) on a problem deep enough, making leaps and connections is how some of the best and most productive work for a coder comes from.
Considering memory and concentration with headphones
Working memory is an aspect of the brain’s physiology and will typically be associated with the brain’s prefrontal cortex. We can explain working memory as you trying to memorize a list of random words or numbers. When you try to learn them, you will use your working memory. Note that your working memory has minimal space, and information stored in it is easily forgotten.
Individuals who claim to have a good memory can bypass this limitation of working memory by placing information into their spatial memory, and these people would seem like geniuses to the average person.
Programmers use a physiological memory technique that is similar to working memory, but it is affected by external factors. These include visual distractions (objects moving in your peripheral vision) and audible distractions (noises such as people speaking, birds chirping, etc.). All these external factors fill up your working memory, and as a result, you concentrate less. Moreover, if you are in the “flow” state and you are distracted, your working memory resets, and you have to begin again on your thought process.
Science has told us that it takes approximately 20 minutes for a person to get into the flow and concentrate after the “flow clock” has reset itself.
Headphones allow coders to concentrate without getting distracted, and thus they can achieve and maintain their flow state more easily and effectively.
Considering productivity with headphones
We now know that flow is essential for coders because they need to focus without distractions. If not, they will lose their train of thought, which will hinder their performance and, hence, their overall productivity. We also know that headphones allow them to block out unwanted external factors which can affect their working memory.
In terms of productivity, a coder thus needs to maximize their flow output (productivity output), and we can break this down into blocks because the brain can only focus for a sustained period of time. This is typically 2 to 4 hours.
Therefore, if we relate these flow blocks to a typical 8-hour working day, we can see that a coder could have anything from between 2 to 4 blocks of productive work per day. That is if their flow is not interrupted and their “flow clock” is not reset. However, due to the environment of modern-day office workspaces (which we will discuss next) and having their “flow clock” reset, a coder typically is only able to produce one productive flow block per day.
Hence, wearing headphones eliminates distractions and allows a coder to be more productive in the workplace.
Office workspace environment
In today’s world, companies are going for the open space minimal look. This is great in terms of saving money in having to build individual offices, it saves space, and management can see everything that is going on.
Typically modern offices will have no walls and long rows of desks, with individuals seated next to each other at their workstations. This environment is (unknowingly) designed to ruin coder productivity. We spoke about how coders need to concentrate, hoping to get into the flow and not be distracted so they can be more productive.
These open workspaces offer distractions that, for the most part, can not be avoided. They include everything from people talking on their phones to each other, asking for help, reverberations, and the echo of voices throughout the office, and much more.
Thus coders opt to purchase noise-canceling headphones, and some companies even buy these types of headphones for their coders because they know that this is now a critical aspect of maintaining good overall productivity from their coders.
Want to know what to wear to your first programming job or even interview? I have an article about typical programmers’ work outfits depending on the occasion.
Is it rude to wear headphones at work?
The work environment has changed over the years, and nowadays, wearing headphones at work specifically for productivity purposes is not considered to be rude. When you see someone in front of their terminal, and they are wearing headphones, you automatically think that they are busy and you should not disturb them.
Can you write code when wearing headphones and listening to music?
This will depend on the coder. We discussed that coders wear headphones for a distraction-free environment, so adding music to the mix would somewhat go against our argument.
However, some coders find that if they listen to music, it distracts them from the chaotic world around them, and they fall into a trance and can focus much more easily.
This will vary from coder to coder, and some even prefer not to wear any headphones at all because they find that it does not eliminate any outside distractions and they hamper teamwork.
We discovered that coders (programmers) wear headphones, and typically noise-canceling ones use them to concentrate better. A coder’s mind when working uses working memory, which can easily be distracted by external factors, and these factors will impede them in their productivity.
This has to do with how a coder’s mind works when on the job. They are almost like an artist of sorts having to fall into a flow and a mindset that allows them to work and think very efficiently. This requires a lot of concentration, and in today’s modern workplace that is wide and open, offering many distractions, wearing headphones is considered by some to be a necessity.
When wearing headphones, a coder can be as much as four times more productive in theory than if they do not wear them. This will also depend on and vary from coder to coder. Some need absolute quiet to work while others can have music playing because it helps from the distracting factors of the work environment.
Headphones are a standard tool that is now regarded as the norm in the workplace. In fact, some companies consider them to even be essential for their staff.