Knowing The Zone: Why You Need to Hire People Who Know How to Get There

Nowadays, teams are scattered across the globe with more intense distractions than ever. It takes more and more effort to get in that nirvana of productivity known as the ZONE. Tech Titans consistently make this happen.

If you haven’t heard of The Zone before, you must live under a rock. “Getting into flow” or “Getting into the zone” litters our productivity media. There are all sorts of tips and tricks and ways to hold your head just right to help one get into this massively productive area. But for software developers, The Zone is the massive difference between those that are just “meh” and mega-super rockstar ninjas, those also known as TECH TITANS.

So What is this “Zone” You Speak Of?

When you see real-life rockstars (not techie ones), mega-star athletes, and high performance executives talking about how they get in the zone, it’s important to take a look at what that means. Two of the greatest professional basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both talk about the zone and how they get there to improve their performance on the court. Ultimately, the zone is the place where you are at your maximum productivity. 

It’s the thing that makes stuff look easy to people on the outside. And while you’re in it, you kind of just shrug and think, “hey, it’s what I do because I’m the greatest of all time”; or maybe you don’t <say> that, but that’s what you feel – because you’re knocking out stuff like crazy. Don’t confuse The Zone with hyperactivity. Many people have hyperactivity and don’t get a dang thing done. People in The Zone yield actual real-life knock-your-socks-off RESULTS. 

Well, Sometimes I Just Don’t FEEL Like It

So what does this mean for software development resources? Listen, the world is a crazy place. People have all kinds of crap going on their lives that you have no freakin’ clue about and yet you expect them to show up, day-in and day-out and deliver on your ever-growing a$$ pile of requirements and changing deadlines and deal with the fact that you’re in the auto repo industry, and “OMG that QA person is a major toolbag, why can’t they just figure it out?”, and “why the hell is HR on my case again, I left the liquor IN the car”, and “I better respond to this ChapSnat, could be my dream girl”, and “Jesus can it just be 5 o’clock already?” Hey people, this is real life and people have real issues.

But none of this changes what you <expect> of resources. Heck, sometimes none of us want to even get out of bed when things suck so bad. It’s a wonder that any work gets done anymore, at least not without the help of prescription medication. But this is where The Zone comes in. There are 4 ways that Tech Titans work to get in The Zone: discipline, respect of their craft, brutal honesty with themselves, and integrity at their core that makes it all come together.

1. Put Down the Cheetos and Get to Work

A supremely honest US President once said, “Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.” And we know – right now you want to jump into a giant bag of Cheetos and Netflix binge for a month. But the key to getting into The Zone irrespective of your surroundings is having the discipline to recognize this scenario and push through it. Tech Titans are able to consistently convert those times of “holy sh*t, they’ve changed the design <again>?” to “alright, let’s get this sucker done!” It’s discipline that enables an individual to get in The Zone in the first place. Heck, we’re all saddled with the lizard brain, constantly trying to suck the fun and life and productivity from us – but to be good, to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. And the lizard brain has been doing this for eons. 

2. Respect Your Craft… Respect IT!

In addition to applying discipline, the frequent visitors to The Zone recognize and respect their craft. They put in the time and effort to make quality work a part of their daily life. They follow the principle of “do nothing which is of no use”. The point is this: some days, people are going to feel like producing sh*t work. It’s simply just going to happen. But those that get in The Zone with discipline pull their practice and preparation into it and focus – realizing that sh*t work, in their minds, just doesn’t cut it. This is the kind of respect that makes developers unit test <and> test different scenarios. It makes the Tech Titans ask that extra question that brings understanding to the requirement and enables value to be put into the software and into the business.

3. Brutal Honesty and the Power of Being Able to Kick Your Own A$$

The one crazy thing about the world we live in is that some people (especially complacent a$$holes) are able to lie to themselves about things, about what they are doing and if they are <actually> being productive. That’s a scary place when your own internal self is lying to you about what is going on. Yikes. But what happens for people who practice getting into The Zone is that they are just brutally honest with themselves. The internal conversation happens, they quickly realize that they are wetting the bed and they kick their own a$$ into gear. This is different than just raw discipline which pushes through your laziness. This is that feeling of “Oh sh*t, I’m not doing a good job. It’s important that I do a good job. What do I need to do to myself to do a good job?” and then getting those things done to get there. Sometimes you have to know when to take a walk to clear your head – to take that 5 minute respite so that you can jump back into a task full of power and possibility. This comes from being honest with yourself. 

4. There is One Word, and it’s Integrity

The word “integrity” has been brutalized by a crap-ton of businesses over the years. I mean, everything is integrity-this and integrity-that, my landscaper and plumber both have integrity, and so do the dry cleaners. But getting back to the basics of the word and what it means for Tech Titans is this: at the end of the day, we have to sleep at night. We like to sleep well. We don’t like to think about having dicked over our client by not doing our best work. In our heart of hearts, we simply cannot handle it and ultimately will refuse to do so. We are humble enough to admit that it does happen sometimes and when it does, we communicate about it. Lack of integrity is a true software villain that leads to all kinds of crap, like the “manana syndrome” and underestimating tasks. At the end of the day, you want a resource with integrity that believes in the work that they do, a person who feels that it is important to a good job and will work to give that value to you, their customer.

BONUS TIP – Put the #$%&*# Phone Down: Impacts of Social Media on Workplace Productivity

Today’s social media disruptions, at least in this writer’s opinion (among other actual studies), are singlehandedly destroying productivity among information workers. The sheer abundance of, basically, what amounts to total crap is astounding. BookFace, ChapSnat, TweetDiddle, FlappyOstrich, Words with Fiends – they are all setup by default to interrupt you, to take you off your game. Unless you are the person or entity writing those apps (or creating content for those platforms), they will completely flush your productive work life down the toilet.

So what do you do about it, outlaw device and/or social media usage during company time? What do you want your culture to be like, a police state? No, you can’t just ban usage. Plus, for some platforms at least, there are legitimate events and activities that you’d want your team to participate in, such as emergency situations, product feedback, learning, etc. In the end, you have to build a team around people you can trust; people who are motivated to get in The Zone – that place of undistracted productive bliss that will accelerate your team forward. You have to make a conscious effort to understand these motivations in vendors, contractors, and employees that you choose to put on your team.

But At the End of the Day, THEY GOTTA WANT TO

What we’ve found with developers and vendors, employees and contractors, people from the States and all over the world is this: some people want to do a great job, some people don’t give a poop. You can train people, but you can’t train them to care. The best are the people that can elevate over their particular project and client scenario to find some driver outside of money, above the fray of politics and requirements changes, something inside them that says, “hey, these people are all a bunch of jacked up punks, but at the end of the day, this is my hill and these are my beans”.

Regardless of skill level and location, the best developers are the ones that are able to elevate above negative scenarios to find personal ownership of their work effort.

And Now for the Physical Challenge

I challenge you – in your next vendor, contractor, or prospective employee interview – ask if they know what the zone is and how they get into it. Ask them how they deal with distractions to stay focused on the task at hand, ask them if they have the “want to” to take your project across the finish line. And you take good note of the answer to see if you’re dealing with a lightweight or a real-life TECH TITAN.