Focus: What Are We Talkin’ About?

Focus, flow or “being in the zone” are terms used to describe the particular state of mind when you are so concentrated on a specific task that you become unaware of your surroundings.

Specifically, the term “flow” was coined by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975, in an attempt to explain the state of optimal experience. He defines flow as:

the opposite state from the condition of psychic entropy, when the information that keeps coming into awareness is congruent with the goals, and psychic energy flows effortlessly. There is no need to worry, no reason to question one’s adequacy. But whenever one does stop to think about oneself, the evidence is encouraging: ‘You are doing all right’. The positive feedback strengthens the self, and more attention is freed to deal with the outer and inner environment.

Nevertheless, the focus state can be lost rapidly. Several studies like this one or a more recent one show that it takes an average of 15 minutes to recover the flow state after an interruption.
A clear metaphor for the effect of interruptions on focus is provided in a forum on this topic: think about the time it takes you to fall asleep. Now suppose that when you are close to falling asleep, someone jolts you awake. Now how long will it take you to fall asleep? Usually you have to start over. Like falling asleep, it takes time to get focused, and it also takes a while to recover focus after an interruption.


Get to know your flow zone using Codealike

The Codealike Focus level is a metric which shows developers the evolution of their estimated concentration levels while coding. It estimates focus or concentration from the activity patterns over time, taking into account the initial length of continuous activity required to reach the flow zone; the effects of flow interruptions; and the recovery time needed after an interruption. The idea of the focus curve is to help users develop a self-awareness that improves their productivity, as explained in this interesting post.

The following figure  shows a focus curve and the corresponding productivity dispersion map. The peaks of the focus curve can be interpreted as the time when a local maximum concentration level was reached, while the valleys can be thought of as the effects of focus level interruptions.


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  1. Pingback: Stop Distractions Before they Happen with Codealike’s New Interruption Metric | Codealike Blog

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