“In The Zone” Expression used to describe a state of consciousness where actual skills match the percieved performance requirements perfectly. Being in the zone implies increased focus and attention which allow for higher levels of performance. Athletes, musicians, and anybody that totally owns a challenge of physical and mental performance can be in the zone. – Urban Dictionary
As someone who is building a startup from scratch while attending business school at the University of Chicago, I have to spend a lot of time in the zone daily. The demands of both require an optimal state of mind to get anything done and there is always too much to do. To survive, I have been tweaking different aspects of my daily habits and listening to my body to find what works best for consistent long productivity, day in and day out. Here are the five dials that seem to work when tweaked properly:
1. Protein has proven to be the best brain food so far. When taking a test, solving a tough problem, or doing an interview I get milk, some form of healthier meat or cheese, or ideally Greek yogurt (whatever I can get that has the most grams of protein per serving). Caffeine and sugar make you alert (but end in a sugar crash or a headache). Fried foods and chips make you tired. Protein, gets your brain the fuel it needs to think best in a sustainable way (your focus lasts much longer) and it is a snack food of choice if you are trying to really get things done. (I hope employers with vending machines read this.)
2. Naps are the absolute fastest way to recharge and recover. Between school and hacking (used in a be benign way to describe the act of building a web product) I have to fit two equally productive days in each 24 hour period. All school related work happens during the day, so I take a 1-2hr nap at 5pm be able to hack through the night. Then I sleep from 5am till 8 or 9am to recover for classes in the morning. I feel alert and sharp without consuming any caffeine and if productivity goes down, I sneak in a 20-60 minute nap if possible.
3. Exercise can come in handy to boost dopamine and get your energy and mood up when all else fails, though I don’t do enough of it.
4. The size of the problems we can tackle depends on amount of time we get to spend on the problem in the zone with minimal interruptions. Your brain needs to ingest and process a lot of information to put together the pieces of something big. I have to code at night, because I get many hours to manipulate the higher complexity of the problems we are solving in order to design the best solution I can make. As a business-schooling hacker, you can say that makes me an extrovert by day and an introvert at night.
5. Quietness or music? It is a matter of personal choice, because it depends on your past habits. I need peace and quiet to write text or study, but certain music definitely helps with coding and doing more mechanical tasks. Music can take your brain to a happy place and give you a good, productive pace when you have to tackle mundane, repetitive work.
That’s it. What works for you?
Posted by: Diana Zink on Friday, 22nd Mar, 2013
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