With the move to remote work in 2020, most of us found ourselves in novel work environments — be it our studies, the kitchen table, or the local cafe.
Some thrived. Others faltered.
And when it comes to doing deep focused work, it turns out our environment, particularly how noisy it is, can play a significant role — and it depends on whether we are introverted or extroverted.
A 2003 study on personality attributes and noise sensitivity found that extroverts — who demonstrate less arousability or sensitivity to external stressors than introverts — are more likely to better adapt to noise during mental performance.
Study participants were asked to play a challenging word game. It was discovered that subjective noise sensitivity was the primary factor responsible for significant differences in mental performance and short-term memory.
When participants were given the option to adjust the volume on their noise-emitting headsets, extroverts selected a noise level of 72 decibels and introverts 55 decibels. At these respective volumes, both groups were equally aroused and played equally well.
Well, a busy restaurant or cafe typically has a noise level of about 70 to 75 decibels (the WHO actually found that extensive exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels is a health hazard).
Open-plan offices, which have become all the rage in the past decade, generate about 60 to 65 decibels, whilst a quiet home office environment is likely to generate about 40 to 50 decibels of noise.
This explains why some people can get their best work done in a noisy cafe, whilst others prefer the peace and quiet of home or a quiet office.
Complete this test to see where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, test different environments, and plan your days accordingly.
Of course, there are things you can do if you find the environment too noisy — like put on a pair of BOSE noise-canceling headphones or good old-fashioned earplugs.
Similarly, if it’s too quiet, you could try cranking some Slayer — okay, that might not be a good idea for everyone.
Steve Glaveski is on a mission to unlock your potential to do your best work and live your best life. He is the founder of innovation accelerator, Collective Campus, author of several books, including Employee to Entrepreneur and Time Rich, and productivity contributor for Harvard Business Review. He’s a chronic autodidact and is into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and hold a warrior three pose.