Friday, August 24, 2007

In The Zone

You know what I'm talking about.  Geeks have it.  Authors have it.  Athletes have it.  Psychologists have names for it.  "Flow".  "The Zone."  That time when it's like your entire existence is dedicated to nothing but that one thing, you discover focus like you never knew you had, and time just sort of dissolves around you.  One of the best ways I ever heard it described was, "When you're doing it, time stops."  If you've ever had the feeling, you know what I'm talking about.  It's awesome.

As a geek, what's yours?  How do you know when you're in it, and what do you do about it?

Part of the fun is having two machines going at once. I love it when I realize that I'm typing on two different computers, near simultaneously.

I bring my laptop with me, constantly.  While in meetings, I hack. I listen, and I contribute, but I hack.  Yesterday I did it for an hour and a half while sitting across from the president of the company.  He knows there's a launch coming up.  Between my desk and that meeting, I found myself typing as I walked.  I was curious if you could do that.  It's not easy.  (A coworker who read this said "It's easier to just run back and forth between your meeting," to which I say, "Running with the laptop implies closing it, which means on Windows it has to suspend / restart, which takes too long for me." :))

A good way to tell I'm in the zone is when people come to ask me a question, I can see it in their eyes that they can see it in mine, they'd best ask their question quick and leave.

You ever have that thing where you realize that you're no longer consciously sending signals to your fingers to type certain words, but they're just sort of doing the right thing on their own?  Love that.  As soon as you realize you're doing it, you normally cramp up.  But at periods it's great.  I love doing that to people who come into my office, I turn from the monitor and look at them, without ever stopping the typing.  They pause politely like they're waiting and I say, "Yes?  What's up?" and keep typing as long as I can.

During launch weeks I've been known to dream in code.  That's quite a treat.

And then, back at my desk, there's the music.  I have my playlist up.  I call it "Heavy."  Right now it's play "Dragula" by Rob Zombie, but it could just as easily be playing anything from Evanescence, Nirvana, Saliva, Drowning get the idea. The real pounding stuff.  Headphones on, volume up just enough where it drowns out everything around me but not so loud I'm blowing my ear drums.

And then there's the rocking.  I can always tell when I'm in my own personal zone because I sort of rock back and forth while I think/work.  It goes back a long time ago to a college professor, Lee Becker, who made a passing comment in class when he'd asked us to work out some code in our heads.  He said, "I found it helps if you rock back and forth a bit."  He's right.

Well, put on the "heavy" playlist and that rocking back and forth becomes full-force, full-body, how-can-I-even-read-the-screen, keep-your-hands-on-the-keyboard-and-stop-playing-air-drums, oh-my-god-he's-going-to-break-something spasms, for lack of a more descriptive phrase :).  This is something I only do in my corner cube (I wonder what the guy across from me thinks?) and you can tell directly how involved I am in the code I'm writing by how wildly the rest of my body is moving. 

I actually quite enjoy it. It's like taking that infinite source of energy we all discover in that zone, distilling down into two parts -- the mental stuff goes into the code, and the rest turns kinetic and pours out through the rest of your body. 

I also realize what it is, for me, all of those things.  It's all ways to rule out everything between myself and my code.  The headphones rule out sound distractions.  The body rocking is an outlet for energy but it's also "I've turned off that part of my brain that cares what I look like".  Taking the laptop to meetings sayings "This is still my time.  You can only have the minimum amount of my attention you need, and I decide how much that is.  I have no obligations to you people, only to myself and to my project."  Even typing while walking says "Get out of my way, I'm not looking at you."

It's like a new universe comes into existence, and that universe consists of my brain, and my software.  I climb inside, and I'll come out when I'm done, thank you very much.   I may remember to eat.

This post brought to you during a pause when one of my coworkers confirms that he can build up the first phase of my project, and before I begin the second.  Back into the depths I go.

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