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How to Flow Into the Zone

_patrickgod profile image Patrick God Originally published at programmergoals.com on ・4 min read

One of the most beautiful moments when writing code is when you are totally focused and flow in the zone.

When you have a clearly defined task and know exactly how to solve it, you are able to get sucked into your code and forget everything else in the world.

You may experience moments of greatest peace. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience even describes this state as absolute happiness. And he’s right. When you’re wired in you think about nothing but your code. There exists no past and future, you don’t worry about any unimportant stuff and just totally live in the moment. That’s where happiness can evolve.

But how do you achieve such a state?

Apart from clearly defined tasks and the right distraction-free environment, there are simple techniques that help you to get into the zone.

Headphones

Obviously, many of us coders wear headphones when they are at work. I always have to smile when new interns ask if they are allowed to listen to music or when I remember asking this question myself in the past.  

For me, putting headphones on and starting up my favorite playlist or latest mix on YouTube is the best way to start getting concentrated and achieve the state of total flow.

But it doesn’t have to be music at all. Another great way to stop distractions by your surroundings is nature sounds. Often seen at screens of my coworkers and also used by myself. You can look up sounds for thunder, rain, forest, sea etc. on YouTube or use apps like calm.com.

Find the tunes that suit you best and start coding. Every person is different. After a few minutes, you may feel how your code teleports you into another world.

I had the best experience with electronic sounds without any vocals, like deadmau5 for instance.

And then I pray for you that no coworker comes around the corner and asks you if you have received his latest email.

By the way, if you’re just starting out with this technique, don’t care too much about what kind of headphones to use. You don’t need those fancy high-end noise-canceling headphones when you’re also getting pretty sweet sound from a pair for 15 bucks. Or you simply use the ones provided with your smartphone.

Pomodoro

Alright, when your gear is set up and you know what to do, don’t do it for eight hours straight without any breaks.

A better way to organize your work might be the so-called Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato and is called that way because Francesco Cirillo – the creator of this technique – used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer.

But why do you need a kitchen timer?

In essence, the idea of the Pomodoro Technique is that you chunk your tasks down in small packs that take 25 minutes each. When the 25 minutes are up, you have a 5-minute break and then move on to your next 25-minute pack.

In my experience, that’s easier said than done. But with the right adjustments, it’s totally worth a try.

The biggest problem for me are those 25 minutes. It’s not always possible to chunk tasks down and finish them in almost half an hour. Sometimes I’m faster, sometimes it just takes longer. Sometimes you get distracted by anything or your boss comes around and you have to stop, no matter what.

So, even when the theory sounds great, the Pomodoro Technique really is not that easy to implement in the office. Still, I just try to work for 25 minutes on my next task (no matter how big or small it seems to be) and only focus on that single task.

If there are any external interruptions, well, I can’t always avoid these. But I can try to be disciplined and at least stop any interruptions done by myself. You know, things like reading posts on dev.to for instance.

A great tool to try the Pomodoro Technique and that I use is kanbanflow.com. There you can add your tasks, start the timer and even track the complete time you used to finish your tasks. Makes things easier and also pretty interesting.

Fresh mind

Okay, so we have the music, we have our 25-minute task packages, what’s next?

Quite simple actually: Keep your mind and body fresh. No music and no productivity technique helps when your body is crying for sleep or something to eat.

As mentioned in the article “3 Healthy Habits for Programmers”, a healthy body and mind is the perfect foundation to conquer your everyday tasks as a software developer.

Keep your body hydrated, do some exercise and never underestimated the power of sleep.

If you take these little things into account, you’re ready for any project ahead of you.

The post How to Flow Into the Zone appeared first on Programmer Goals.


But wait, there’s more!

Posted on by:

_patrickgod profile

Patrick God

@_patrickgod

Into code as long as I can remember. First games, then web, now both. Located in the sweet Taunus-region in Germany. Always eager to learn, create and teach something new.

Discussion

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Good ideas, but, then again, you have this scene from corporate cubicle hell...

Your boss' boss (non-programmer, of course) walks around the corner to ask if you have received his (yes, it's almost always a he) latest email. He gets upset that you don't immediately acknowledge him because you have on your noise canceling headphones. He then complains about you to your boss so you get a sternly worded HR approved memo scolding you and this incident gets mentioned as a negative on your next performance review. Plus, uber-boss decrees that headphones cannot be worn in the office because they are a "distraction from the conduct of our business".

 

This sounds terrible! I really hope these kinds of environments disappear and all those supervisors of that kind will learn that headphones are the opposite of a distraction.

 

The problem is that many non-tech corporations want the benefits of better technology, especially in areas like web/cloud services, but have little idea on how to achieve it. They tend to stick with what they know, usually something like a blend of autocracy and seagull management. They'll tend to treat outside consultants like gods and their tech employees like garbage.

That, unfortunately, is what it's like for many of us who work in "old school" corporations. Sometimes you can get little pockets where people understand but, sooner or later, a seagull is going to fly in and poop all over everything.

 

Very nice article.

I've tried to use the Pomodoro technique but I had a lot of problems with self-discipline so I abandon the idea at least for now. Maybe in the future, I'll try it again.

Respecting headphones I liked the idea. In my opinion, this technique has a big disadvantage. When you work in a team communication and interactions between team members are very important. Headphones ruin this because you are closed in your own world with music and computer and you aren't able to feel any external stimulus.

I've realized some time ago that eavesdropping other team members talks could be beneficial for the project. Sometimes your colleague is looking for a help but he or she doesn't know who can help him or her. I'm pretty sure that during the search he or she won't disturb someone being in the flow zone. It's very polite but it could be adverse in general because lack of the knowledge is a curse for a project.

On the other side if you're in the flow zone you don't want to exit it. It's often good for productivity because you can make more work. But the question is if the work is right? Maybe if you exit your zone and ask for someone's opinion you will realize that you're on wrong track and you will save a lot of time? Who knows?

To sum up. I use headphones when I need to concentrate but I can't because in the room is noise. But I'm trying to avoid working whole day with headphones because I don't want to stick with a bad idea and I want to help other team members.

 

Hi Rafal,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I know exactly what you mean regarding the headphones. Indeed, it happens that people want to talk to me and I don't hear them. But they know what's going on. So they are waving their hands, send a short message via Slack or just call me several times. So the collaboration still works.

Apart from that, when I want to stay in the zone, I just keep my headphones on when someone from other departments is entering our office. You just do that a several times and they eventually learn what this means.

But, you are absolutely right, you don't have to listen to music all day long. So there's enough time to work together and help out each other.

It's just for the hours when you really want to get to work and try to not get distracted.

Take care,
Patrick

 
 
 

Thanks Patrick,
this is exactly my setup too.

Kanbanflow for Pomodoros and a clear agenda, Headphones with nice music, some fresh air and water.

 
 

Great stuff. I rely on pomodoro like blocks too.

I also wrote an article on flow for programmers, check it out!

codingmindfully.com/keep-code-flow...