In The Zone

  • Tim Mitchell


    Points: 15654

    Comments posted to this topic are about the item In The Zone

    Tim Mitchell, Microsoft Data Platform MVP
    Data Warehouse and ETL Consultant | @Tim_Mitchell |
    ETL Best Practices

  • John Oliver

    Old Hand

    Points: 341


    very interesting article, and rather frightening what some feel is "the zone".

    To me, the zone is the state of mind where all of my focus is put into the task at hand. It is a trance-like state where I can sit and code for hours on end without realising I've not only missed out on lunch, but I'm halfway into the afternoon. It is like a dream - an etherial thing, a wisp of form.

    I've also found that not only is the zone extremely hard to get into, it is extremely easy to fall out of. Any sort of break in concentration will render the required state of mind asunder. Although self made interruptions (getting a cup of tea for example) will generally not break the trance unless I am caught at the tea point and have a chat.

    There is a price though for such unrelenting concentration. Exhaustion. Having a good productive day tends to give me a buzz, an excitement that I have achieved what I intended to do, but coming out of the zone, I am completely drained - too tired to be excited.

    -- John Oliver
    Sometimes banging your head against a wall is the only solution.

  • Open Minded


    Points: 1842

    Wow, I thought was only one of the few. I use hard rock and roll, metallic music and 80's new wave music to get into The Zone. Once there, however, the throbbing music kind of becomes a blur even though, you know, its audio not visual, so its ah, background noise, gray noise?

    But last night, I was in a bit of hurry, I got in there anyway without music.

    How do I know I am in the zone?

    Well, last night's programming problem had been there for months which I couldn't solve because I kept being disturbed (i became management, lately).

    So last night, I was packing one problem after down; in four hours after 8pm, I was done. I wasn't really thinking too deeply, just feeling my way, going back one way or the other, checking the Internet for some tips, coming back again, going in a circle again, doing things repeatedly with minor changes, just feeling and intuition.

    I hope some people won't think this is kind of a neurotic or psychotic thing, but I have done a lot of programming things and systems (pocketpc sync - sql replication; data sync under 20 seconds over Internet) a lot of people haven't done yet - without training or certification.

    but yes, i did use some code from the Internet. and Microsoft code also, but I still had to customize and weave them in to the business requirement. at last resort I bought books also except that books kinda take one away from the zone, but good for backup once there.

  • John Magnabosco

    Ten Centuries

    Points: 1195

    On television this week there was a lot of time talking about the late Tim Russert, and deservingly so. One of the aspects of what made Tim so great professionally was his discipline of preparation.

    Through practicing such preparation the zen of "the zone" can be achieved on a regular basis... at least that is how I have found it to work for me. Procrastination often yeilds the opposite affect.

    This preparation includes continuously studying and perfecting the basics of your skill sets, exploring new approaches to common problems, discussion with your peers about their experiences, applying strategic and architectural thought to the project at hand prior to beginning the work, and simply starting as early as possible rather than procrastinate.

  • Someguy


    Points: 2207

    Like other programmers, I too have experienced the zone (why does that statement sound like it comes from a sci-fi movie?). You're working away, you're getting a lot done, and all of a sudden you realize that hours have passed. At one point in my career, I had to start setting an alarm to remind me that I needed to eat. Getting into the zone is easy. You need two things: 1) An engrossing task and 2) privacy. The second one is the hard part. If you're in a cubicle in a busy workplace with the phone ringing every 5 minutes, it never happens. If you're in a either an out-of-the-way cubicle or better yet, in a room with a door you can enter the zone quickly. Having to answer to any person in your company who has a problem with their computer at any time definitely prevents the zone.

    Maybe someone can help me out here? Supposedly, Microsoft and IBM did studies about "classic" programmers. Among the qualities noted was the ability to enter the zone (maybe not their words). While in this zone, productivity skyrocketed. It was recognized that interruptions prevent the zone, so the recommendation was to give all programmers an office with a door. The increase in productivity substantially outweighed the cost. Maybe it's an urban legend (or since we're talking computers, a virtual legend?). If it's not, has anyone else ever heard of these or similar studies? It would be great to be able to produce them for budget-conscious management.

    โ€œPoliticians are like diapers. They both need changing regularly and for the same reason.โ€

  • Tobar

    SSCarpal Tunnel

    Points: 4767

    To me getting in the Zone is not about technical training, or effort, or certain stimulus. I think the hardest thing about getting in the zone is that it is effortless. We (western society) are not a culture of "beings", we are a culture of "doings". Being in the zone is just that "being". What you do while in the zone is everything other people on this list have talked about accomplishing. I do believe that you can condition yourself to enter the zone. On the occasions when I have been in the zone I have never felt exhausted at the end. On the contrary I have usually felt like I had not expended any effort. That is assuming a sedate "zone" versus a competition zone.

    Livin' down on the cube farm. Left, left, then a right.

  • Ian Massi


    Points: 5931

    Sometimes I hear people say, "Where did the day go?", but typically that's usually because they were in meetings all day. I'd hardly call that The Zone. I agree with the idea of all distractions disappearing and focusing on the task at hand. It's what I'd imagine someone hopped up on Ritalin would be like, but without the drugs.

    I like to use music sometimes (metal) to help eliminate the distractions, but the only real time I feel like I'm in The Zone is when all my ducks are lined up and my skill is permitting me to knock them down one after another, quickly. So being well rested and organized permits me to get in The Zone more easily. If you can create a list of tasks that need to be achieved, state the next action that each one needs and review the status of the projects you are on once a week, it should be easier to get into The Zone.

    For reference, my favourite Kevin Costner movies about baseball are:

    1) Field of Dreams

    2) For Love of the Game

    3) Robin Hood Prince of Thieves

  • Scott Arendt


    Points: 7671

    I have no idea how to get into the Zone. It just seems to happen for me.

    Usually it happens when I am working on problems that are more interesting to me, especially if it is something that I want to tackle. The day flies by and you have something tangible to look at, or at least significant progress on some project. Usually, you have no idea what time it is, just that all of a sudden it's time to call it a day.

    It's a great feeling and happens too infrequently.

  • Japie Botma


    Points: 2934

    I have always quoted my best characteristic is to concentrate extremely well on one task. My worst is the same. Being able to shut off to the world and only hear the telephone after the 10th ring. The problem is that colleagues see you as a freak and your wife gets hot under the collar regularly. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Consulting DBA / Developer
    South Africa

  • Anders Pedersen


    Points: 11410

    I know I have done it multiple times playing Everquest in the past.... to the like of, "dang, it is Monday already?", type of zones ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I thinkt he main thing is not having peoepl distract you. I been working on a problem (XML AGAIN!) these past two weeks. Finally yesterday I decided to stay late after everyone left, 2 hours later and the problems where solved.

    In the past I used to use music at work, but don't have a speaker at work, which would be kind of rude in a cubicle farm with my taste for music anyhow. I could do this with music while driving too! Some days I would find myself at the next time to stop for gas ๐Ÿ™‚ And no, I was not asleep!! Just zoned out. Oh wait, maybe that was different. Although I do think the two are closer to each other than what is apparent on the surface. Just that while driving there really is nothing to focus the Zone on. (for reference, most of that driving was in ND, SD and Nebraska....)

  • Ron Kunce


    Points: 2128

    I frequent the "Zone"! However, for me it can be a problem as I am usually not fully into it until late in the afternoon and early evening (after the days distractions have leveled-out), only then it is time to quit and go home. Therefore, I wind up working late hours, even when I know I have other things that have to get done around the house after work.

    I have fallen into a habit of wasting my mornings (sort-of) by reviewing emails, running down threads on the net, and responding to blogs such as this one, before getting to the task-at-hand.

    It sure would be nice to increase my productivity by getting in the Zone earlier in the day, but not at the expense of my newsletters and blogs!

    Ron K.

    "Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand." -- Martin Fowler

  • jburkman

    Right there with Babe

    Points: 768

    I think you bring up a good point, Ron, about "when" the zone can happen. While I occasionally hit the zone during work hours (if the difficultly level of a problem is sufficiently engaging), I'm really much, much more able to "hit the zone" in the evenings. It is one reason why I don't think the 8-5 workday is as optimal as it is prevalent.

  • Stephanie Giovannini


    Points: 7422

    Steve, you got the essence of the Zone exactly! At least, what it is to me.

    I also have a time problem with it. My best productivity doesn't start until about 3 pm. If not interrupted, I could easily stay in the Zone until 9 pm. However, as the mother of a small child, this is never possible and I have to stop and go home at 5 pm. In truth, my work post-child has suffered because of this.

  • Brandon Danner

    Say Hey Kid

    Points: 702

    Coming from a support programmer role, the "Zone" is something a bit different, I believe. Often there are multiple fires - to a developer working on a single project, these are the distractions. But to a support programmer, being in the zone requires managing multiple tasks at once, filtering out the unnecessary or less urgent, and concentrating on each according to its priority. I describe that as "In the Zone" as well - a series of bang-out, knock-down fixes that come one after the other...

    That said, there are times where I have to quiet the distractions around me and concentrate on a single issue - and I also think of movies. "The Legend of Bagger Vance" comes to mind. It's a golf movie, but Will Smith narrates to Matt Damon, and while he's in "In the Field" (I think that's the term used), the specators disappear, and the green - a good 200 yards away - seemingly moves closer to Damon's character. It's the only thing in focus. In IT, I think that singlemindedness can be both an asset and a liability.

  • Eichpeel

    Ten Centuries

    Points: 1079

    Like everyone else, the most difficult part to accomplish to get into a peaceful and focused mental state of mind is related to distractions from colleagues, emails, phone calls,... and poor management. It is quite difficult in the first place to get into it but so easy to fall out of it. I am wondering what everyone else is using, in terms of practical tips, to block those distractions besides the typical "I will stay a couple of hours after work when no one is around."


    "Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write
    code that humans can understand." -Martin Fowler et al, Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code, 1999

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