Getting Real: The alone time zone 14 Jun 2005
47 comments Latest by Joshua Volz
To Get Real, get alone.
37signals is spread out over 4 cities and 8 time zones. From Provo Utah to Copenhagen Denmark, the five of us are 8 hours apart. We embrace this constraint. We’re always looking to embrace constraints. The presence of constraints make you creative. The more constraints you lift, the less creative you become.
What’s the side effect of being 8 time zones apart? Alone time. There are about 4-5 hours during the day that we’re all up and working together. The other times we’re sleeping while David is working. And during the other times we’re working while David is sleeping. This gives us about half of the day together. And half alone.
Guess which part of day we get the most work done? The alone part. This is why many people prefer to work either in the early morning or the late nights — they’re not being bothered. And when you have a long stretch when you aren’t being bothered you can get in the zone. The zone is when you are most productive. It’s when you don’t have to mindshift between various tasks. It’s when you aren’t interrupted to answer a question or look up something or send an email or answer an IM. The alone zone is where real progress is made.
Getting in the zone takes time which is why interruption is your enemy. It’s like REM sleep — you don’t just go to REM sleep, you go to sleep first and you make you way towards REM. Any interruptions force you to start over. REM is where the real sleep magic happens. The alone time zone is where the real productivity happens.
So, what do you do if you aren’t 8 time zones apart and forced into alone time? You require it. Set up a rule at work: make half of the day alone time. From 10am-2pm, no one can talk to one another (except during lunch). Or make the first half of the day alone. Or the last half. But make sure to make the alone time zone contiguous — interruptions kill productivity.
A good formula may be 2 hours in the morning where you can communicate, then the next 4 hours alone, and then the last 2 where you can communicate again. No communication means no IMs, phone calls, no meetings. Emails can work as long as they aren’t expected to be answered during the alone time.
Don’t overdose on communication. Shut up sometimes. Try it. I bet a lot more work gets done.