For anyone who’s been programming long enough, I’d venture to say that some of the most productive times of the day come when you’re in the zone.

You know what I mean, too: When you’re minimizing distractions, when you’re listening to whatever music helps you get into the groove, and whatever you’re working on feels almost effortless (not that it doesn’t come with it’s share frustration, but you’re just there and totally focused on the task at hand).

We know this feel.

We know this feel.

At the same time, I think that it’s incredible that we get as much work done as we do. Granted, we all have different ways in which we work, but at any given time I could have the following applications open:

  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Slack (for chat)
  • Google Hangouts
  • Feedly
  • Downcast
  • Notifications from my phone (or tablet)
  • …and so on

And that’s in addition to my IDE. I’m sure the same can be said about you and your environment, too. But here’s the thing: Each of the above contributes to making sure we’re aware as many demands that we have being placed on us, but can you argue that they all make us more productive?

How I’m Minimizing Distractions

It’s impossible to write a prescriptive post about this because we all have different ways of working. That is to say, I can’t tell you what to do because I don’t know how you work best.

I can, however, tell you what I normally do when I need to focus on working on a project, working through my inbox, working through a blog post, or something similar.

So here’s the deal: Given that all of the above are applications that I usually have open at any given time, I think it’s fair to say that each of those have the ability to demand my attention. Anytime I start to focus on something, another thing popups that begs for my attention.

Email Answered, Email Closed

Email Answered, Email Closed

It’s easy to fix that, though, right? Just close the application. But this yields an entire differently problem:

What if I miss out something?

So we’ve created this vicious cycle for ourselves where we know the things that distract us the most, but we’re so afraid on missing out on something that we leave everything (or most everything) open so that we don’t miss out on anything while still working on something.

You’ve Got To Find Your Zone

Eventually, something has to give – either you get too busy, you get too tired of “trying to catch up,” or you realize that not everything has to be managed this minute.

So how do you find the zone that best suits your mood, minimizes distractions, and gets you into the zone? Perhaps it varies from person to person, but I think we all intrinsically know what our ideal work environment should be. Speaking for myself:

  • IDE (and related tools) are open
  • Music is playing (usually soundtracks or ambient radio)
  • Nothing else is open (no email, no Twitter, no RSS, no Slack, no Messages, no notifications)
  • My phone is flipped face down on my desk so I only get vibrations (because I hate ringtones)  if someone calls me

Basically, it’s the bare minimum that I need to get into doing whatever I’m doing. Case in point: Right now, drafting up several blog posts is my primary focus. As such, WordPress and music are the only things that have my attention.

And just as it with writing code, so it is with writing words.

It’ll Be There Later

Lastly, the best thing about all of the above distractions is that as fun and useful as they are, they will always be there later. There’s nothing that’s fleeting in those mediums because the data is requested on demand, right?

But we do have a time limit – at least usually – on the work that qw need to get done and that’s something that requires the most focus.

So although all of the other things are as much fun as they are, and as much as it pains us to feel like we’re missing out on something, it really doesn’t matter if we have them turned off because we can always get back to that stuff later. Work, on the other hand, is not as easy.