If I had my way, I would not work in an office, but spend most of my day working from a coffee shop or cafe of some sort. I find the ambient noise to be just enough to keep me focused. The bustle of the staff, people entering and leaving, gentle murmuring as people work on their own projects: I feel a sense of belonging without feeling the pressure to socialize, put on a face and feign interest in co-workers’ chatter when all I want is to be left alone so I can work.
This isn’t all that surprising as studies show that ambient noise can be beneficial to productivity and creativity, and it is this research which drives the idea behind Coffitivity.com. Coffitivity is a website and app that plays ambient noise. You can select a variety of backdrops from the Cafe Library, including more generic ones like Morning Murmur, “a gentle hum” for starting your day or the Lunchtime Lounge, which includes “bustling chatter of the lunchtime rush.” Or you can upgrade to premium for $9.00 a year and listen to Paris Paradise, Brazil Bistro, and Texas Teahouse.
I usually play Coffitivity via the company’s website while I am working. The website has a clean, minimal design that reflects Coffitivity’s purpose of promoting focus and creativity. The website includes exactly what you may need to know about the product and no more, but this isn’t quite the case for the iOS app.
Coffitivity is available as an app on Android, but is currently in beta. In the same open and friendly tone used on their website, the Coffitivity team encourages feedback to help them improve the tool, and with a rating of 4.2, folks seem fairly pleased with the Android version.
As for the iOS app, it has a few more bells and whistles. For one, the iOS app connects to other audio player apps, such as iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora, which allows you to combine background music with the Coffitivity tracks. Think sitting at a cafe with your earbuds in while you work. You can set your background music to a specific volume and tweak the volume of Coffitivity accordingly to find the perfect balance between the two. Further, the iOS app has the same clean, minimal design of the website, but the social media add-ons, which allow you to tweet, Instagram, and send Facebook update via the app, are incongruous with the goals of Coffitivity. As many studies indicate that social media and multitasking can impede productivity and creativity, these additions to the iOS app perpetuate the assumption that everything must connect to social media in order to appeal to people. That being said, you can easily ignore these add-ons and just appreciate the simplicity of the product, and as an added bonus, both apps allow you to listen to Coffitivity without an internet connection.
Another tool I like to use for similar purposes is Spotify’s Deep Focus playlist. I have a premium account with Spotify, as I hate listening to ads, because they really throw off my mojo, so I don’t mind paying less than $10 a month for a tool that improves my productivity and exposes me to all kinds of new music.
While both tools serve their purposes well, what is even cooler is the research on cognition that inspired the creators of Coffitivity to create an ambient noise app in the first place. The Coffitivity website specifically links to this study, conducted by Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, and Amar Cheema, in The Journal of Consumer Research. In this study, the researchers conducted five experiments to test their theory that moderate levels (about 70 decibels) of ambient noise contributed to creative thinking. The study is about as fun to read as most research out there, but what it shows is more specifically how a little distraction can be a good thing when it comes to creativity:
“…our findings imply that instead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one’s comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment (such as a café) may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.”
The mild noise of a cafe allows for disfluency in cognition, which sounds like a bad thing, but really isn’t in creative thinking. Disfluency is an interruption essentially, and a certain level of disfluency in cognition allows for greater levels of abstract thinking which leads to creativity. It’s kind of like when you get that great idea when you are in the midst of washing dishes or performing a similar chore that is more habitual than thought intensive. In sum, it is a touch of distraction that allows creativity to flourish.
Though one important thing the study notes is that moderate ambient noise also impacts the types of products we buy, particularly ones that support our creative endeavors, so try to avoid Amazon or a craft store while you listen to Coffitivity.