Sounds, particularly those made by other humans, rank as the No. 1 distraction in the workplace. According to workplace design expert Alan Hedge at Cornell, 74 percent of workers say they face "many" instances of disturbances and distractions from noise.
"In general, if it's coming from another person, it's much more disturbing than when it's coming from a machine," he says, because, as social beings, humans are attuned to man-made sounds. He says overheard conversations, as well as high-pitched and intermittent noises, also draw attention away from tasks at hand.