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Getting Things Done: The Zone

Cross-Posted from A Goal-Keeping DBA blog:

I'm reading Getting Things Done because of Brent Ozar's excellent blog post, How I Use GTD 50,000 Foot Goals. I'll post a review of the book later, once I've finished, but as I'm working through it, I have seen some things that have made me stop and think. One is what David Allen refers to as "the zone," something athletes sometimes enter into. It's a moment of total clarity where you can focus on the job at hand. Given I've talked from time-to-time about being a goalkeeper, let me talk about a time when I found myself in "the zone."

One of the hardest part of a goalkeeper's job is to take penalty shots. Especially when those penalty shots are at the end of regulation and any overtime periods and those penalty shots will decide the game. It becomes a one-on-one game with whoever is taking the shot. Truth is, the odds are against the goalkeeper. While the margin of error for the shooter can be rather small, the fact of the matter is there are a couple of places a shooter can place the ball, and if there's any kind of pace on it, the goalkeeper is beat. There's simply nothing the goalkeeper can do about it. Here are four places:

  • top right corner
  • top left corner
  • right side netting
  • left side netting

It doesn't even have to be a hard shot. It just has to be a good, solid shot. And what makes matters worse is goalkeepers will typically cheat to one side or the other and jump at first contact. When they do that, a good shot with a bit of height right up the middle will score easily, too. But given all that, a goalkeeper is passionate about making that save. After all, one clutch save can mean a win. One botched save will usually mean a loss.

So it's all about getting into "the zone." Here's what it's like for me. My knees are slightly bent. My arms are loose and a bit in front of me. I'm on my toes. I'm leaning slightly forward. I'm watching every single step of the approach that the shooter makes. I watch the plant foot. Is he heavy on it? Where is it pointing? What are his hips doing? Do they give anything away? And then, the foot that's going to make the shot. How is the foot angled? Where on the ball is it going to strike? Is it going to hit dead center or off to one side? Is he going to strike low (giving it lift) or is he going to strike just under middle (meaning a low shot)? Is he hitting with the laces (harder shot, but less accurate) or with the side of the foot (not as hard, but some shooters can have deadly aim). What about his forward arm? Where is it pointed?

All of that gets looked at in just a couple of seconds, including the approach. Any little thing that can give me an edge, a guess as to where he is going, I try to use. There are two school of thought to goalkeeping. Pick a side and dive or try to read and dive. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The first will get to more balls than the second. The second may pick up a tendency which will lead to a sure dive (or no dive, if the ball is coming back up the middle). I was taught and trained on the second method. And if I want to have a real chance of picking up and processing all that information, I have to be in "the zone." Everything else fades away. I don't hear any noise. I don't see anything else but the shooter and the ball. I don't even have a sense of where the posts are on the goal. None of that matters. I'm solely focused on that ball and how it is being struck. And then I reach for the save.

But when it comes to other aspects, outside of sports, getting into that zone is hard. Sometimes it seems downright impossible. There are so many things going on in my head, that it means I am not as efficient as in tune as I could be. So I understand what David Allen is talking about. And I see that is one area where I definitely need to work on with regards to life, work, and ministry. I've been in that zone before, especially when I was primarily a developer and could go heads down. It's harder as an architect or a senior DBA. So many things and people are competing for your time. I've just got to do a better job of being organized and making choices on the front end, something I'll look at in my next post on this book.


K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by Steve Jones on 8 December 2009

The zone is great. I've found it at work, but often it's been athletic events in my life where I find it. Times when I've been running, or even swimming, and I've lost time, I've been so focused on moving along and my technique that I haven't noticed anything else around me, including the route I've been taking!

I find this in baseball as well. The noise, the stands, while not that loud, disappear when I really concentrate on the pitcher. Nothing else is in my view but his hand and the ball coming out. It's a great feeling, and I enjoy it, but as you said, it's hard.

At work it is hard, unless you have a great, single problem you're focusing on. Then I get it. I do find it in writing as well, but rarely. When I do, I just write a lot.

Posted by Matt Cherwin on 15 December 2009

"The Zone" in the workplace, to me, is a victim of the ever-present job requirement "ability to multitask." Especially as a DBA, there are always a multitude of demands on your time, from a multitude of sources - some of which are schedulable, and some of which simply aren't.

One of the few times I can reliably get into that mindset is during a crisis - mostly because for once, everyone acknowledges that *this* is the most important thing right now, and it's OK for me to say "that will have to wait" to other requests that come in. But during the day-to-day routine, there's always another email, another phone call, another drive-by clamoring for attention. I occasionally wonder how much more I could get done if I had a gatekeeper - or perhaps goalkeeper, to stick with the theme - who filtered and prioritized incoming requests.

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