Why Should Software Developers Live “In the Zone”?

In a previous post, we suggested that entering  “the zone” is of paramount importance for high-quality results in software development.

We all have experienced the feeling after a long work day of barely being able to move. Days when you know that you need to clear your backlog and also implement new functionalities for a system, but constant meetings, requests, interruptions and distractions diminish your productive time. Those are the days when you feel helpless.

Feeling like you are not able to finish your assignments or that you have wasted time on tasks unrelated to your main goals puts you in a frustrating cycle of stress and anxiety. In contrast, working ‘in the zone’ is associated with the days when you feel productive and efficient, less stressed and more motivated. The days when you feel like a superhero.

Getting back to the original question, it’s important to be “in the zone” because it’s the interval where you typically attain your best performance and highest concentration. Working within the flow zone, coders require less effort and time to solve even the most complex problems, and they are simultaneously rewarded by a feeling of satisfaction.

Some even talk about this state as a programmers trance, ecstasy or Zen.

Flow theory establishes three requirements to get into the zone:

  • Activities with a clear set of goals and milestones
  • Clear and immediate feedback
  • Good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and one’s own perceived skills

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi proposed the following graph to explain the conditions needed for flow:

300px-Challenge_vs_skill.svgAccording to the graph, some flow inhibitors include:

-Working on tasks outside your  area of competence

-Lack of confidence in your own ability to handle a task

-Lack of a clear direction in your work

Finally, to be productive it’s not enough to merely enter the flow zone: you have to be able to maintain that focus for sustained periods of time. In terms of the Codealike focus level metric, ou have to try to maximize the area beneath your focus curve. And that metric is one of the ones used to prepare the weekly Codealike ranking.

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi TED Talk

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