Working in the Zone

As you might have noticed, my posts haven’t been as regular as usual in the last time. The reason for that is a new project that needs a lot of caretaking. My first weeks in that project needed some special mental work mode that I will describe in this article.

In a nutshell, I’ve been working “in the zone”. That is working on a task that is not too difficult but nevertheless challenging because the skills needed to work on that task lie at the upper bound of your skill level. Because of that, you have to focus on accomplishing something but at the same time don’t experience much negative drawbacks. This state can be very addicting because much stuff can be crunched down while time flies by quick.

Normally, I always want to learn something new at work. However, in the last weeks I worked on tasks that were at least familiar and that didn’t offer much new stuff to learn. I was doing busy work with a very slight learning curve. The definition of “the zone” includes slight knowledge gain, but normally I want to learn more in less time. Because that was not possible in the last weeks, I set another goal: To work as fast and on the same hand as clean as possible. I documented every important thought, learned the new business processes and tried to be as friendly and effective as possible in the communication with coworkers. I also talked to other developers about their view on the processes and learned about their issues. I wanted to completely understand the underlying concepts and processes that caused current problems in my new project.

This mindset had an interesting effect on me. Despite the fact that I had quite some stress, I was mentally balanced and well-focused. I think this is the result of having a deep understanding of the tasks and knowing the reasons for problems. This also made me more resistant to strange decisions that have been made earlier by others. I understood why the software looked as it did because I knew the history of it. Also, I was quite pleased with my own work results and was getting good feedback because of being thorough.

In conclusion I noticed that I don’t have to widen my knowledge every day. It‘s also very rewarding to do good solid and high quality work without learning much new. At least for some time.

What is your experience with working “in the zone”? Did you ever work in a situation in which you couldn’t learn something new for a long period of time?