Concentration & The Zone

One of my favorite stories is about the research scientist starting his work very early in the morning when the sky is still dark. He gets involved in his work – so deep in thought that he looks up to see the clock telling him it is a few minutes after 12:00. He had experienced no hunger pangs and was surprised. He puts on his coat and hat to walk to his favorite lunch spot – only to find that it was dark outside again.

Much of my analytical work involves concentration. I have a luxury that most people do not share. I have narrowed my consulting practice to just one thing: sales tax analysis work. This was deliberate. I rarely talk on the phone. Just the way I like it. I can often work in 2-4 hour blocks of time without being interrupted. Just about every day. My pauses are to stretch and read/respond to my email. Interestingly, I can communicate via email with several people throughout the day without a loss of concentration. One phone call, however, and I am ripped out of my quiet lab mindset.

My Zone.

There is another, deeper layer of concentration for me. It is My Zone. This is where the clock can really skip ahead for me. My Zone is when I have the purest moments of concentration. I am thinking the clearest at these times. There is no clutter. I make great progress when in My Zone. Also, I am the happiest. It has a feeling to it. Tranquility. Alertness. Creativity. Energy. Joy.

These moments of concentration dropping into My Zone are special. The biggest reason is that I never had these experiences when I worked in an organization or when I had my own small consulting firm. I can remember days of barely looking down before someone needed me. Well, that was my job. But I had to come in early or work late or on the weekends to even concentrate.

I Always Wondered.

What would happen if it was possible to do the unthinkable? Have three 2-hour time blocks per day when many employees could work without interruption? Twice a day, for an hour, would be designated for meetings, phone calls and email exchanges. I’m not naive, but please don’t miss my point. The six hours, or even a large fraction of those time blocks, could actually produce a full day of work as we know it now. Probably more than a full day.

I can recall spending many 8-10 hour days just trying to get one hour’s work done. That’s not very productive. I have seen groups of people working on a project spend 30-45 days trying to accomplish what could have been done in one or two solid days if the door had been locked and nobody could get involved in anything else until the task at hand was done. I once saw a one-month project “crammed” into over 18 months.

The Satisfaction of Work Being Accomplished.

There’s nothing like it – not just for me. For most of us, the satisfaction of getting work done is a remarkable sensation. To be caught up or even close to it is a foreign concept to most workers. Creativity is squeezed out when there is no time to be a free-thinker. Oh, I know, a crisis or impossible time crunch, can be the Mother of Invention. Sometimes.

But wait, many of my colleagues actually don’t know what I am talking about here. Either they have never experienced pure concentration and leaps in productivity or else it has been so long the faint memory is now completely gone. My topic is about the most productive streaks in your life – but without the tense neck. Without the caffeine-fed jitters. It’s about coming back from a conference full of ideas and not getting sucked in to the vortex of disjointed work, forgetting every good intention you had at the conference.

Give Concentration A Test Drive.

It has taken me many years to get situated so that I can concentrate and then to drop into the next level, My Zone. I doubt you could make it happen overnight. However, why not take one day a month and give it a try? Announce ahead of time. Library-quiet time for two full hours. Then twice in the same day. Four hours of silence. No meetings. Just pure uninterrupted work.

I know this idea won’t fit everybody. But if you have 200 employees who can be accommodated and could make them just 10% more productive by the environment that can be created, that’s the equivalent of 20 workers you may not have to hire in the future. You might get some of that needed extra productive just by having a happier employee. LFM

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