Being in the zone or sometimes referred as the subset of “developer productivity flow” is a very common term what each knowledge worker wants to improve on. Sometimes when we decide something to be done but because of some other stuff or because of any random reason the flow gets interrupted, then it becomes hard to return back to the zone from where we left the process.
Let’s take an example to understand it more closely. Suppose you are going to sleep and someone wakes you up for some reason, now again you want to sleep. What happens next? Is it easy to sleep again? For me, it’s mostly no. Just like falling asleep, it takes me a while to sink into focus mode, and it takes me a while to get back to it once I’m interrupted, except that I also forget half of what I was doing.
This is the common pattern what I find in each and every activity which involve mental attention, when you leave something in middle then it becomes harder to get started from the same point. Because it’s not easy to come in the zone, but it’s easy to get distracted. While explaining about quiet working condition for programmers, Joel Spolsky wrote about being in the zone.
Here are a few select quotes from the post that I found notable:-
We all know that knowledge workers work best by getting into "flow", also known as being "in the zone", where they are fully concentrated on their work and fully tuned out of their environment. They lose track of time and produce great stuff through absolute concentration. This is when they get all of their productive work done. Writers, programmers, scientists, and even basketball players will tell you about being in the zone.
The trouble is, getting into "the zone" is not easy. When you try to measure it, it looks like **it takes an average of 15 minutes to start working at maximum productivity**. Sometimes, if you're tired or have already done a lot of creative work that day, you just can't get into the zone and you spend the rest of your work day fiddling around, reading the web, playing Tetris.
The other trouble is that **it's so easy to get knocked out of the zone.** Noise, phone calls, going out for lunch, having to drive 5 minutes to Starbucks for coffee, and interruptions by coworkers -- especially interruptions by coworkers -- all knock you out of the zone. If a coworker asks you a question, causing a 1 minute interruption, but this knocks you out of the zone badly enough that it takes you half an hour to get productive again, your overall productivity is in serious trouble. If you're in a noisy bullpen environment like the type that caffeinated dotcoms love to create, with marketing guys screaming on the phone next to programmers, your productivity will plunge as knowledge workers get interrupted time after time and never get into the zone.