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At my last job, as a Project Manager, I argued (unsuccessfully) for the Developers to be able to use MP3 players while they were working. Unfortunately, the culture in that company was such that many of the so-called business people could not cope with the concept that some people would be able to use their music players, whilst others (e.g. Call Centre staff) could not.

The company I worked at before that (as a Software Development Manager) were open to Developers using their iPods, and I found them more productive because of it - albeit they weren't allowed to plug in their iPods to their PCs for security and copyright reasons.

So to help me in my next job, if I come across this situation again, how would you successfully put the rationale behind allowing MP3 players?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Kilian Foth, GlenH7, Dan Pichelman, MichaelT Oct 22 '14 at 19:24

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I'm amazed at the number of people who can type, but can't answer the question you asked. –  MIA Oct 2 '10 at 3:53
This is a weird thing to have to prepare for. I haven't worked a single place that has a problem with programmers putting on headphones and listening to music. I usually prefer not to do it unless the environment is really distracting. But I've worked in over a dozen places in the last few years, and not one would have told me I couldn't do this. –  Kyralessa Oct 2 '10 at 4:14
@Jim Leonardo - That's potentially a whole new thread you're dragging up there. There are so many people who can type a response to a question, but they don't answer it because they either can't read the question or cannot interpret meaning properly - and that doesn't bode well for their programming day-job, when they code blindly without reference to the specification or design documents (assuming they exist), but rather code what they think is the requirement. –  misterjaytee Oct 2 '10 at 7:18
@misterjaytee - i wasn't trying to drag up another thread... I was just dropping a "please answer the question, not tell us whether you like to listen to music" on this one. But yes, I agree with the rest of your points. –  MIA Oct 2 '10 at 18:26
@Jim Leonardo - I know you were not trying to drag up another thread. Sorry, British sense of humour failed to get through there (and maybe I should have added a smilie) :) –  misterjaytee Oct 2 '10 at 21:14

9 Answers 9

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Helps me to think, certain types of music I find lend themselves to this :-)

Working in an smallish office of 20+ helps me to concentrate by not hearing, the conversations, telephone calls, radio, etc, etc, etc. Especially important if l want concentrate on something l working on.

One colleague l once worked with said in a data entry company it was almost mandatory to use a radio or MP3. As it encourage workers to concentrate and reduced data entry errors.

As selling it to management? Less downtime with idle chit chat, more time concentrating and focused on the task. The question is maybe do the management team trust their employees to do the work they are tasked with or micro manage each part of their day.

Speaking to managers "listening to music = greater productivity = profit" look at this Music whilst you work. Does cite a couple studies but no links :-( Might worth following up. I really with working to Baroque music :-)

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As part of the "management team", I trust the workers to get on with the work at hand. Hopefully my last negative experience was not indicative. +1 for "Less downtime with idle chit chat". –  misterjaytee Oct 1 '10 at 9:14
Looks like as a manager you have learned a golden rule of management IMHO. The last experience was probably the exception rather than the rule. –  BobF Oct 1 '10 at 9:32
I for one put music in my ears when reading on the train. I don't really listen to the music, but it helps me filter out the conversations going on. And that helps me concentrate on reading. The same argument could be applied to programming in the office. –  gablin Oct 1 '10 at 10:01
+1, music has magic powers –  user2567 Oct 1 '10 at 10:40
I know I've been frustrated when I wanted to idly chit-chat with my co-workers, and they've all had headphones on; so, "less downtime with idle chit chat" sounds like a good argument to me! –  Carson63000 Oct 5 '10 at 5:13
  • Shut out distracting noises
  • Some developers like coding while listening to music

The company you are referring to does not seem to be developer friendly at all. In fact, I would take a guess that senior management there is totally made up of non-technical people.

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Shut out distracting noises - That has to be the No. 1 reason why people listen to music while coding in the office :) –  Bhargav Bhat Feb 28 '12 at 13:22

Perhaps because people think that music is distracting, or that you can't listen to music while being productive. Sometimes it helps focus, sometimes it hurts it. For example, I find it to be distracting, but just barely enough that it keeps my attention on my work so that I don't drift away doing other things.

Ultimately it should be unquestionably down to the developer how to manage his work environment. No one but him can say whether or not it's a good idea. Anyone who is in favor of prohibiting it is trying to micromanage. Make the point that people should be worried if developers are delivering good results, not how they do it.

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It's less to do with listening to music, and more to do with NOT listening to everything else.

I'm lucky enough to work somewhere very relaxed about this sort of thing.

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Putting on headphones and listening to whatever is the cubicle equivalent of shutting your office door. For me, it helps me focus.

The corporate culture may frown upon this because people may feel intimidated to interrupt you while listening. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on how important the interruption is.

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+1 cubicle equivalent of shutting your office door Even someone with an "open door" policy will need to shut that door to get some work done. (Depending, of course, on what that work is. However, even HR needs to shut the doors sometimes.) –  George Marian Oct 2 '10 at 18:36

Micromanagement drives morale down. Unless there is a compelling reason related to specified duties to ban mp3 players (e.g., call center workers), there is no reason to do this.

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How about this for a rationale:

Can we have an exception for programmers who bring a note in from their parents that says they are allowed to listen to music? That way you could delegate treating your employees like children and have more time to micromanage the amount of toilet tissue people are using when they use the restroom.

Or how about:

The music helps them drown out micromanagement and remain focused on things that actually have any impact on the success of the company.

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Management: "Give me a good reason why we should let them use their mp3 players?"

You: "Because they want to."

Management: "Uhhh?"

You: "If you're going to be assessing them on anything other than what they're getting done: you're doing it wrong."

It's a little forward but it's true.

Personally, it's a distraction to me, but my wife can't get anything done without background noise.

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"If you're going to be assessing them on anything other than what they're getting done: you're doing it wrong." - perfectly put. –  jmo21 Feb 28 '12 at 12:13
  • A really boring task seems less boring, when i listen to music.
  • I also use an app to help me keep a relaxed breathing rhythm.

In general i find music too distracting.

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which app is that? –  Thomas Stock Oct 1 '10 at 9:23
I use the lite version of "Pranayama" (itunes.apple.com/de/app/health-through-breath-pranayama/…) on my iPhone. Similar mp3s would do as well, but i don't have any. –  LennyProgrammers Oct 1 '10 at 9:26

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