The Programmer's Nemesis

Greg writes on the perennial problem at the workplace named “interruptions.” According to our friendly usability expert, it is a programmer’s nemesis: one millisecond of interruption could disturb one’s “flow,” or nudge one out of his “zone.”

Programmers produce their best code when they are in a â??zoneâ?? (others call it the â??flowâ??). During this stage, developers are fully concentrated in their work as if they are in their own universe. They lose track of time and forget that their last meal was 8 hours ago.

Don’t forget to include non-programmers also! ;)

I would think this same principle applies to other creative types, as well. And this includes writers, artists, and other people who rely on concentration and inspiration to work effectively and efficiently.

True, programmers need time to think up workflows and other logical stuff in their heads, and then finally put this into a coherent, cohesive code that would hopefully also mesh well with other programmers’ own sets of code. But the same goes with words, sentences, strokes of a brush or pencil, and even photo compositions, and other such multimedia.

In short, in every occupation or undertaking that you would like to do effectively and efficiently, there’s this certain “zone” you’d like to maintain, or “flow” you’d like to keep.

I’d say it even applies to how a pointguard arcs the basketball ever so perfectly to get that nothing-but-basket shot (my point being that concentration is essential, but let’s not digress).

In many cases, it’s all about the environment. Say, in my case as a writer, it would be difficult as hell to work where I could not concentrate on coming up with interesting pieces. But it would also be as difficult if I were in a place where it’s too quiet that ideas don’t flow freely. So my “zone” would be somewhere in between total seclusion and being in a crowd. But still, interruptions distract!

So where’s my ideal work space? Well, my usual workplace is either at home in the living room (mostly) or a cafe with WiFi (sometimes), and in very unlikely cases in the backseat of cabs (when rushing to a meeting unprepared). Honestly, my ideal place would be anywhere cool enough (it’s a sweltering 35-degrees Celsius plus in the shade where I come from), and of course with an Internet connection (okay, not the cab). Never mind if it’s a bit noisy, as long as I’m undisturbed for a couple of hours. Then I take quite a long break, usually to play with the kids, take a nap or watch TV, then I work another couple of hours or so, this time in the middle of the night, when everyone’s taking their ZZZ’s.

My ideal work space is actually in my head. Sometimes I think I’m too busy thinking things up (what a thought!). I guess I do tend to have a cluttered mind. And this is a primary source of interruption/distraction for me. But once I come up with something interesting to write on or study about, I usually try to concentrate, and I even get to spend hours on end working on developing that idea. And then I put it into words. Or images. Or some other form of multimedia.

And then I hit the “publish” button.

Which I’m just about to do.

And then I’m off to a new idea …

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