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How airplane white noise helps me work better — on the ground

Feb. 06, 2022
5 min read
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How airplane white noise helps me work better — on the ground
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I've always been a fan of quiet. In fact, I generally need it to be pretty quiet to get things done, especially in my line of work as a writer and editor.

Back in college, a lot of friends could study in groups together or while listening to music, but I'd often venture to the stillness of the basement in a back corner where nobody cared to go to get my work done.

Over the years, I started listening to ambient music or acoustic guitar tracks to help me focus, particularly when I entered the workforce and realized that I was mostly confined to my desk and whatever voices or conversations were happening around me. I soon realized, though, that listening to even the most subtle music would make me sleepy or distract me, as I'd find myself getting lost in the melodies coming through my headphones instead of the words I was trying to type on my screen.

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Struggling to find the right way to stay focused, I tried to think of the places where I felt the most relaxed and the least distracted. Then it hit me: airplanes.

In my mind, I went to my absolute favorite time to fly, early in the morning when people are either sleeping or lightly sipping their morning coffee while reading a book or newspaper like I tend to do, and realized that was the environment I needed to recreate.

I don't know why, but for me, the low, vibrating hum of an airplane is the perfect constant sound that lets me concentrate. It's like the sounds echo throughout my mind, gently shaking loose my thoughts and giving me the momentum I need to get done the things I usually put off while being confined to one seat for a few hours.

I quickly found that was easier to do than I expected. After grabbing my noise-canceling headphones, I went to YouTube and searched "airplane white noise," which led to tons of videos of airplane interiors or window views with hourslong audio tracks of the sound I love most.

From that moment on, my productivity level (in work and other everyday tasks) went through the roof. Instead of listening to rainy day acoustic tracks that left me sullen and sleepy, I'd sit myself down, pretend I was heading to Rome or Hawaii and get my work done under the guise that I was actually setting off on the trips I was writing about.

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At home after work, I would slip on my headphones to read a book without hearing the blaring horns and street noise of New York City. On the subway, I could easily drown out the cacophony of commuters to focus on a magazine article I was reading or to just give myself a clear mind to think about the day ahead of me.

Related: Those ‘ding’ sounds on airplanes actually mean something

Later, I realized that these same sounds were available on different streaming platforms like Spotify, where entire playlists of airplane, train and other ambient white noises could keep my ears and mind filled all day long.

I also learned the hard way that listening to hundreds of hours of these sounds made for a very sad day when Spotify's year in review told me that my top song was "Plane Cabin White Noise" instead of anything by Shania Twain or Taylor Swift like it should have been. That's why I mostly stick to YouTube videos now.

One day, I decided I wanted to try something different, so I looked to see if I could find a video featuring the sound of a private plane. Lo and behold, I found one! Mind you, the sound was exactly the same, but we're talking about going to a particular place in your mind ... and from that point forward, I was only flying private.

Everyone works differently, and I wish I could write and listen to my favorite musicians at the same time. But if I was trying to write this article while listening to my current favorite album, "Evermore" by Taylor Swift, I'd accidentally type out some sad, wispy lines about hurt and heartbreak in between the points I'm actually trying to make.

They say half the fun of a trip is getting there, and now I know how to use the "getting there" part that I love so much to my advantage. I hope it works for you, too.

Now, if we could just figure out a way to earn points and miles for all these fictional "work" trips I'm taking, then I'd really be motivated to get it all done — and then some.

Featured image by Getty Images/500px
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.