This Simple Initiative Made Us Better Problem-Solvers
and changed the way we work—for-e-ver-er-er
It’s 4:57pm on a Monday. Your brain is now producing a slow sludge, far from the brilliance it was spewing all over your morning meeting. Your head droops toward your to-do list. It smirks back, taunting you with its pristine lack of checkmarks. What happened? You walked in this morning with a sure-fire determination for prime productivity. The day was a blur. And you wore your best go-getter pants for nothing.
That’s the cold, lonely, bleakness of an unproductive day. It’s energy-zapping. On a mildly dramatic day, it’s soul-crushing.
That’s why we spent hours that turned into weeks honing in on the art of highly productive days.
We found that one small (but significant) problem was keeping us from seizing them: Interruption. Humans operate under a constant inundation of notifications, unexpected meetings, and emergency requests. Even when our devices are quiet, we fight an involuntary urge to check for notifications.
With a little help from Paul Graham’s Maker’s Schedule, we landed on a simple solution. In fact, we evolved our whole company rhythm to implement this one change that combats every lost day: Zoning.
A zone is an intentional block of time dedicated to uninterrupted, focused work. During a zone, you omit visual and auditory distractions—leaving you, the problem at hand, and the distraction-free environment necessary to do your best work. Every calendar across the company has two blocks of protected time for zoning each week. And during those blocks you can feel the electric energy of productivity in the air.
For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work. — Paul Graham
We’ve woven zones into our weeks for 2.5 years. We take them very seriously here. So seriously, in fact, that we ran an internal campaign to reinforce the invaluable power of proper zones. Because when we zone well, our work gets better, and, in turn, our clients are happier.
Here’s a taste of “Deeper Thinking Reached”, our internal campaign that promotes zoning.
Visually, it makes light of the slightly disheveled appearance one sports when walking out of a solid, undisturbed zone.
Along with visual reminders hung around the office, we ran a month-long challenge, encouraging teams to use different zoning best practices each week for points and prizes, resulting in a total of 614 zones across the office.
“Zoning lets us go deeper into our problem solving. The obvious solutions are the ones you turn to when you’re in a time crunch. Zones allow you the luxury of exhausting the obvious solutions so you’re free to explore more novel solutions.” — Matt Reed, zoning advocate
Wherever you are, or whatever you’re working on, set aside 45 minutes today and try a zone. And pay attention to how you feel when you walk out of it (with better hair than ours, probably). There’s nothing quite so satisfying as packing your bags at the end of the day knowing you accomplished peak productivity.