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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is an author and engineer who enjoys building and automating data integration solutions.

Third-Grade Math Class

An Odd Thing Happened...

... when I was in third grade math class: I was handed a sheet of arithmetic problems to solve. There were maybe 20 problems on the page and we were given the remainder of the class to complete them. I don't remember how much time remained in the class, I remember I finished working on the problems before my classmates.

That wasn't the odd part.

The odd part was that I started working on the first problem, concentrating pretty hard. I worked the sum and moved to the next problem, and as I did the world around me faded. By "faded" I mean it was as if someone turned the volume on the world down, and then adjusted the brightness and contrast settings. It was similar to Kevin Costner's character in the movie For The Love of The Game. He would stand on the pitcher's mound and say "Clear the mechanism," and the volume of the crowd noise dropped to a whisper. For me, everything went away - not just sounds, but visuals too: It was just me and the math. As soon as I completed the sheet of problems, the rest of the world came back.


The focus and intensity of that moment was exhilirating. There must have been endorphins involved, because I felt great.

Those moments of intense mental production have continued throughout my life. Each time it feels the same, and each time I accomplish a lot of work quickly. I refer to this as "being in the zone."

The Other Side

There's a downside though. After a half-day or so of intense coding "in the zone," I cannot talk. I want to talk, but I cannot string together enough words to make a sentence. Many people have heard me present at events like Code Camps, SQL Saturdays, and the PASS Summit. They find it hard to believe I ever experience difficulty communicating.

With a few close friends, I've shared this odd thing that happens to me. Initially they look at me like I'm nuts. That is, until they've worked with me on some mentally challenging endeavor. After that, they concur - my brain works in odd ways.

But you already knew that - you read this blog!



Published Thursday, May 13, 2010 8:00 AM by andyleonard

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AGiotti said:

Hi Andy,

This is awesome, thanks for sharing. Now I need to figure out how to get into the zone.

Take care.

Al Giotti

May 13, 2010 7:43 AM

Paul Nielsen said:

Hey Andy, after a day of writing or coding, my wife will talk to me, I'll mutter something slowely and she'll say, "You've been coding again, haven't you."

also, I tend to drum my fingers in patterns when I code in my head (to be downlaoded via keyboard later). Halfway through a TV show she'll notice my fingers and say, "You're not watching this much are you? You're programming in your head. Is it billable work?"

May 13, 2010 8:48 AM

Paul S. Waters said:

Hello Andy,

Thanks for sharing that.  I am glad to know that I am not the only one out there that cannot speak right after getting out of "the Zone."  Unfortunately, it creates some uncomfortable moments in the corporate environment when someone comes into my office to ask a question and breaks me from it and I babble my first reply.  Fortunately for me not wanting people I do not know very well thinking of me as a babbler, the corporate environment is not very conducive for getting in the highly productive "Zone".

In 10 days I break free from this focus inhibiting environment and I am looking forward to many hours of bliss each day "in the Zone."

See you in November,

Paul S. Waters

May 13, 2010 8:49 AM

unclebiguns said:

There's nothing better than being in the zone.  My biggest problem is that time stands still while I'm there.  This makes it imperative that I am able to communicate with my wife when the phone rings asking when I am coming home since it is already 6pm and my workday ends at 5pm.

May 13, 2010 10:53 AM

WIDBA said:

Corporate America, as I know it, basically makes sure you never get to that place where productivity really exists.  I have a second PC setup in a secured room, where I can hide amongst boxes, etc and actually work on occasion.  Of course its hard to even get to that room without being sidetracked to a meeting or question.

Oh, the days of the office, with a door, and lots of code to write.

May 13, 2010 12:22 PM

RichB said:

Not just me then :)

I find myself looking blankly at the boss with a mild panic on that I can't speak or even think clearly about what he's talking about for a good minute or so!

May 14, 2010 6:36 AM

AGiotti said:


Your comments are dead on. I suffer the same fate. I have averaged, on a daily basis, getting interrupted every 10 minutes. Hence my earlier comment regarding how to get into the zone.

May 14, 2010 8:29 AM

Shauna Ayers said:

This makes perfect sense to me.  The hardware of the mind can accommodate a wide variety of "OS" programming.  One of the advantages of certain minds is they can effectively "dual boot" -- use different neurological programming models to manage the body's I/O and resources so as to enable other programs (analytical, processing) to function more effectively.  A disproportionately high number of people with this capability are found in the computer industry, because it gives us an advantage.

But yes, it is hard to describe to someone who's never been there.

May 14, 2010 9:54 PM

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