Slipping outside of the zone

Friday, January 7, 2022

If you have ever dived into a project that really interests you, you are well aware of the feeling of being in the zone. Every movement of your body seems executed to a rhythm. The thoughts flow freely, not bothered by that annoying pain in your neck, that glare from the sun, or the noise from the construction outside. You are one hundred percent concentrated on the task at hand. You are at the peak of your brilliance and productivity. You can do everything. Solve every problem. Talk to anybody. You are in the zone.

Described above, is the most inner center of the zone. It’s great, but that’s not always where you are. Chances are though, in my experience, that if you work a job you enjoy, you are almost always somewhere inside the zone. This is where you are paid to be. Your employer depends on it. To stay inside the zone, you need to be stimulated. That means you have to keep busy. Not the heart-pounding, breathing troubles, word swallowing, busy. That’s called stress. Just being drip-fed stimuli in the form of relevant tasks that are just the right amount of challenging. That’s the key to staying inside the zone and maintaining your confidence and productivity.

But, as in everything, there are ups and downs. The clients are all on vacation, and the backlog is pretty empty. The floor seems a bit wet. Wait, is that a banana peel? Slipping outside of the zone for a while can certainly feel nice. You relax a bit more, have some more fun. Making finger pistols at your coworkers on your way to the toilet. It’s like a small vacation. But, after a couple of days of doing nothing of importance, you find yourself in a kind of “meh” state. You have now slipped completely outside of the zone.

Your productivity has gone through the floor. One client is still at work, they have a small task for you. Just call them up, and hear what they want. Simple. But what was once simple, suddenly seems like an insurmountable task. We, humans, love repetition and habits, and now, you have become accustomed to doing nothing but scrolling dank memes and wondering why your neck hurts. You don’t feel so confident anymore. What if the client wants something complicated? What if they are in a bad mood? What if they ask a question I can’t answer. You usually don’t think about that, just picking up the phone, chatting up the client. But that was when you were inside the zone. Now, your brain is bored, and it hates that. So, the brain begins to wonder about the future. What if this, what if that. You have to fight it. You have to try and remember the good old days inside the zone. You can do this. Dial tone.

Eventually, the work will begin to pile up, and you will naturally begin to enter the zone again. But prolonged exposure to the outside of the zone can really take a mental toll on you. It can affect your productivity on the job, but also how you feel outside of the job. I think it’s important to be aware of when you have slipped outside the zone. Both for you and your employer. By doing so, you can pick yourself up, and drag yourself inside the zone, begin building that confidence, and heighten that productivity level.

This is based on an experience I had earlier this year. I am sure I am not the only person to have an experience like this, but I wanted to put some words to that experience. Its a reflection of a time period at work, around the summer months, where there was very little to do.