Doesn't seem to be a good solution available. I've heard of mirrors, but those have certain limitations. Wondering what methods people have found for avoiding surprises in the office.

  • 1
    This sounds counter-productive to me. You listen to music to block interruptions. It has nothing to do with what you use for that. It's natural to be startled when you're interrupted while you are fully engrossed. The alternative is to not concentrate on what you're doing or trying to do.
    – Stan
    Jul 1, 2016 at 19:28
  • Cubicles or open floor plan?
    – Stephie
    Jul 2, 2016 at 5:39
  • 1
    Not a dupe, but related since both deal -in a way- with being aware of your surroundings at work. Some answers might be useful for you OP
    – Just Do It
    Jul 2, 2016 at 14:43
  • Cubicles or offices. Can't really do work anyway in an open floor office.
    – rommel
    Jul 2, 2016 at 21:51
  • This question may have been better posted in The Workplace community ... but provided an answer below. Hope it helps.
    – Ceylon_17
    Jul 4, 2016 at 19:00

4 Answers 4


You could try bone conduction headphones instead of usual ones. Those conduct the sound not by air but through the bones of your skull, thus leaving your ears free to hear your surroundings. I personally don't have any experience with them but the technology seems to already be quite mature based on the Amazon ratings.


I'm assuming you are using earbuds or earphones, so listening to music quietly without those might help you hear footsteps or lessen the alarm.

Turning your desk to face the entrance might let you see the incoming.

And the most complicated, make an "alarm system." Attach a little bell by the door or request for them to cough as they come or something like that. Or perhaps block the door with a plastic bag so it would rustle when they opened the door.

  • Yes, headphones. Let's assume it's a noisy office environment (like mine, lots of loudmouths) so the headphones need to be quality with the music turned up loud to actually focus. Then let's also assume the desk cannot be re-arranged due to cabinetry, walls, etc.
    – rommel
    Jul 1, 2016 at 22:16
  • +1 on this answer, having your music a little more quiet can really help, both in hearing outside interruptions, but as well to not disturb other people. If I can take off my headphones and still hear my music, then other people can too, and at that point it's too loud. Jul 5, 2016 at 14:19

I am a die-hard listen-to-music-at-work kind of person! In fact, I find I am more distracted when I don't have music playing in background! I have experienced working in open-floor cubicles, and office cubicles; private office (sole occupant), office with close neighbors and thin walls, as well as office-mate situations. Here is what I have found to be the most useful and effective:

Wearing headphones/earbuds for pleasure (e.g., listening to music, videos, etc.) Wear one ear on and one ear off. You can still listen - and concentrate - to what is playing in your headphones/earbud, but hear anyone approaching or trying to get your attention.

You may have to give a little and lose some quality of sound (some sounds play in left but not right speaker, and vice versa) ... that may be the price you have to pay for being able to enjoy a little of home while at work.

Wearing headphones/earbuds for professional purposes (e.g., webinar, training video, Skype interview, etc.) Hang a DO NOT DISTURB sign outside your office door/cubicle entrance indicating "Conference call/Skype Session/Webinar in progress".

  • Helpful to make a sign including images of all scenarios, have it laminated or put in a sheet protector, and hang it whenever you need to indicate you are not to be disturbed because of sensitive work taking place.
  • Co-workers will become accustomed to avoiding your office/workstation when they see "the sign" posted.
  • It is also a good idea to fore-warn your boss, co-workers (as appropriate), and any staff that report to you with at least a day's notice that you will be unavailable for a specific period of time, for your Skype interview/webinar session. This way, when they come looking for you and come across "the sign" it is viewed more with an "Oh, yeah ... that's right" recollection, rather than a "What the ...?!" reaction.
  • If your office utilizes any type of shared calendar, it would be good to mark this as time you are unavailable. So, again, if anyone goes around the office asking after you, anyone checking the shared calendar they can see you'd already marked this as time you'd planned as not available.

That should cover you. Hope this is helpful!


Keep your environmental "white noise" volume as low as possible compatible with what you need to work. Lower volume will allow your sub-conscious to keep track of the office activity while you continue to work.

Place something near the office/cubicle entrance that can be used as a "door bell" to give you some prior warning that your attention is wanted. Such a thing could be a chair, wastebasket, or paper-tent "please knock" that could be easily moved and not be a hazard in the office place. A tiny wind-chime could do the trick. A bowl of candy just inside the entrance would make a sound that might not be jarring.

  • Interesting idea - barricade the cube entrance with physical obstacle.
    – rommel
    Jul 1, 2016 at 22:14
  • @rommel Have you tried noisli.com?
    – Stan
    Jul 8, 2016 at 19:48

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