In "Area"

I recently had the pleasure of being on “The Zone!” Personally, I have to say that it was nice to be there. What is “The Zone”?

Well, you’ve heard of athletes talking about being in “The Zone”, that magical place where everything falls into place. The physical and mental processes are working in coordination, and everything is happening correctly. In any competitive athletic sport, the professional athlete trains and works hard for those special moments. With a golfer, it’s that moment when the body posture, the grip on the golf club, the position of the ball on the tee is just right. The golfer looks down the fairway and visualizes the ball’s flight path, distance, and where the ball is going to land. The golfer looks back at the ball and finds that split second of absolute peace and concentration. The golfer swings the perfect arc and arm position, then lowers the club towards the ball. The clubface hits the ball in the perfect position and the ball follows the same path that the golfer envisioned. This is what it’s like to be in “The Zone!”

The same can be applied to programming and writing. As a programmer, it’s that moment when everything starts to make sense. Here’s how it works: You’re on a tight schedule and under pressure to deliver a complete build of your software. You force yourself to stay focused on the tasks at hand. It has everything in position for productivity. Energy drink and snack next door. Your favorite code-boot music blaring on your headphones. The chair is in the perfect position for productivity and you have the appropriate books and notes on your desk. You launch all the right software tools on your computer, and if you’re lucky enough to have two monitors or computers, you’ve got a browser on one screen for doing Google searches. you dive. It takes a good hour or two to really get going. Then everything starts to click! It has several open source modules at the same time. Global and local variables are all in your head, and you know what their current values ​​are as you go through your code. You come up with a way to reduce 20 lines of code to 3, without affecting performance. And you just discovered a new algorithm to get the desired functionality into your program. The music is still playing in your headphones but you can’t hear it anymore. Instead, variables, data, and formulas dance in your mind and out through your fingers. You write like mad trying to follow the flow of ideas, fearing that the slightest interruption or pause will make the images disappear. And then it happens! You hit the wall! You find yourself looking at the screen for almost half an hour and nothing has been written. Your brain just shuts down. You think you’ve only been working for a few hours, but then you realize you’ve just spent 18 hours directly on the computer.

So, now you crash. You take something to eat and then you go to bed. But 4-6 hours later, you wake up. As soon as it is up, the ideas, variables, data and algorithms will appear again. You can’t wait to get back to your computer and start coding again. This rhythm continues, for days, until you finally reach your goal, or RL (real life) gets in the way and forces you to take a break. Or in the most severe cases, your body and mind scream “Enough!” and you crash for 20 hours straight.

I can feel all of you nodding your heads in agreement. It’s almost like a drug. You get so wrapped up in creativity and coding output that you forget about everything else. It’s a great way to forget about RL. It can actually be refreshing! But at a cost: family and friends forget who you are. You walk away from your desk for a nature break and they look at you like you’re from another planet. But then, not shaving, washing, and wearing the same clothes for several days in a row goes a long way toward getting that kind of look. Also, it’s not healthy. Sitting in the same position for so long makes you prone to blood clots and other types of medical problems. Finding the right balance is the challenge.

My recent experience has been while working on a Java application for Blackberry devices. A very tight deadline, made worse by the fact that I was adding functionality to someone else’s code, and it was my first time working for the Blackberry platform. (Non-standard API! Argh!) But once I got into “The Zone”, it was great!

I don’t recommend going there very often. As with any other addictive activity, excess can lead to personal, social, and physical problems. Find the right balance. Learn to walk away regularly. Get up for a few minutes and walk around, at least once every two hours. Have some healthy snack foods on hand: apples, carrots, celery, and nuts. (Yes, I like crunchy things during programming.) If you’re drinking energy drinks (I prefer anything Hansen’s), make sure you have plenty of water to drink as well. But don’t overdo the energy drinks! A bad case of shakes won’t help you write code! And if you’re under a lot of pressure and stress, make sure you spend at least an hour a day doing some form of exercise. You’ll be surprised how increasing blood flow in your body can help prepare your head for more programming, especially when you have a tough code problem to overcome. And for your family and close friends, be sure to let them know that you still love them and will be back shortly, and follow up on your commitments to them. My personal philosophy is faith, family, friends, finances, and then fun. (The financial part = work.) Everyone has their own.

So visiting “The Zone” is great. It’s geeky, nerdy and nowadays, even a bit trendy. Just remember not to stay there and go outside for fresh air from time to time.

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