Noisy Neighbors: How to Deal With Them When You Work From Home

One of the downsides of web working is that you’re prone to distractions at home, whether it’s the snacks calling to you from the fridge or a toddler throwing tantrums.  I experience these distractions everyday and have found ways around most of them.  My most important “weapon against mass distractions”, so to speak, was to wake up at 2:00am and work while the rest of the neighborhood sleeps.

Except for my new neighbors, of course.  They moved in last week and, since then, it’s been one loud evening after another.

The first thing I attempted was to talk to them.  When they opened their door, it became evident that there were no serious adults to talk to.  The people spread out in the living room looked at most 20 years old, and there were a few beer bottles lying around.  The karaoke machine was on at full blast, blaring out “Close to You” by The Carpenters.  I asked for the owner of the house and a young woman, I’m guessing she was 17, came up to me.  I said the little speech that I’ve been practicing in my head:

1064039_gas_horn“Listen, I don’t want to cramp on your fun, but I usually work at around this time and the rest of the neighbors are asleep.  I know parties are fun and everything, but this has been going on all week.  Do you mind toning it down a little so I can get some work done and everyone else can sleep peacefully?”

She gave me a blank look and said “Why don’t you just work in the morning?”

“I would, but it’s noisier in the morning because the neighborhood kids are running around, all my pets are awake…Uhm, where are your parents?”

At around this time their little party starts quieting down a bit and the others start looking at me.  Then she agreed to lessen the noise.   As I walked away, I overheard one of her guests making a quip about how I was overreacting.

The following night, it became evident that our little conversation didn’t work.  In the Philippines, calling the police because of neighborhood noise won’t be taken seriously, so that option is out.  This time, I resort to headphones and Puccini.

It works out well – at first.  Then I realized that the music was too powerful for the piece I was writing, so I played some acoustic jazz.  But as the hours wore on, I realized that I was spending too much time rearranging my MP3 files to complement whatever it was I was working on.

Here’s what didn’t work: my first solution was to try and get my neighbor to change.  This left my peace of mind in their hands. The trouble with this approach was that I still had no control over how to fix the problem, and they don’t care about my problem even if they are the ones causing it.  After all, I’m not giving them any inconvenience.

My second attempt was to fight fire with fire.  I was hoping that by playing my own music directly into my ears, I would cancel out the neighbor’s karaoke machine and loud voices. What I actually ended up doing was creating more distractions for myself, giving myself more stimuli to fight.

Today I’m trying something new.  I remembered that on a recent trip, I got a pair of complimentary earplugs from an airline.  I took those out of the drawer and placed them on my ears.  While I can still hear a slight murmur from the neighbor’s karaoke machine, it’s not too distracting.

This solution is the simplest, since all it involves is the earplugs, which I can take out of my drawer anytime I want.  I’m letting the neighbors go on with their lives, while I go on with my work.  I basically found a solution that is within my control, no matter what the outside world does.

In “The Art of Learning”, Josh Waitzkin introduced a chapter with this quote: “To walk a thorny road, we may cover its every inch with leather or we can make sandals.”  I guess that’s what I’m doing by wearing earplugs.  I’m making sandals.

How do you cope with noisy neighbors as a web worker?  Are they understanding of the fact that you work from home?  Do you have any suggestions for other web workers with noisy neighbors?

Image by Peter Suneson from Sxc.hu

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