The Zone is something that most programmers will know about. It’s that place of quiet in our head that allows us to focus all of our attention on one problem, to the exclusion of everything else. My Dad calls it ‘hyper focus’, which is also quite apt and probably more accurate.
I’m personally of two minds whether the ‘Zone’ is a good place to be or not. I can never determine how I go into it – all I know is that if I find something interesting enough, the rest of the world falls away. All that is left is my ‘item of interest’. People have been known to shout or throw things at me to get my attention when I’m in this place. A ceiling once fell in behind me while playing Sonic the Hedgehog when younger, and I never even noticed.
I’m not sure if the quality of my code gets any better while I’m in this place. Some claim that their code is the better for it. What I do know is that coming out of it, either due to someone else forcibly distracting me, or coming out of it naturally, is horrible. It feels like waking up after only 2 hours of sleep. Confusion reigns as I try to catch up on everything that may have happened while I was in the Zone. People have to repeat themselves a few times before I get what they were saying. It’s like emerging from a dark fog into a brightly lit room – you’re temporarily overloaded by all the things that you had not been noticing whilst in your own world of productivity. And then the overwhelming urge to go to the toilet, or eat/drink something. If I’ve ever gotten stuck in the Zone, I’ll often find I have been there for hours.
Some people have different methods to get into the Zone. Some need absolute quiet. Some need music. Personally, I find I just … get there. I habitually wear ear phones and listen to upbeat music whilst at work, but that’s mainly to drown out the noises of people around me so that I can concentrate when I’m not in the Zone. When I’m in the Zone, I don’t even hear the music. Or anything. Which is one of the reasons I find it kind of a scary place to be. I’ll end up in the zone through reading a book, playing a computer game, or doing work.
I actually try to avoid getting there these days. Which is actually easier said than done, given how easily I slip away to that place. I keep my usual Spotify playlist random (feel free to check it out here. Don’t judge me!). I try to make a conscious effort to take breaks every hour or so.
So, is the Zone a good or bad place to be? Honestly, my verdict is leaning more towards ‘bad’, given how awful I feel after coming out of it.