“But you can work from anywhere, right? With the web and email and Skype.”

Well.

I could work from the middle of the Gobi desert. There’s nothing preventing me, that’s true, but it doesn’t mean that I can. Most of us just don’t function like that. Most of us need to get in the zone, which is a mental state that allows us to focus on the job and do it well, with accuracy and passion.

While I can check social media and read news pretty much in any situation, I can’t do much else outside of a controlled environment. To read a book, for example, I need to be in my bed. I can write stuff on the train, but only sometimes. I need quiet, silence, a comfortable place, the right light. If it’s too hot or too cold, I can’t focus. Most of us can’t.

The reason for this is simple. Our brain is the collector of the hundreds of stimuli that bombard us all the time. That guy laughing on the phone. Someone asking if the seat is free (when it obviously is). Your head itching. The woman attracting your attention two rows down. Birds chirping outside. Emails arriving. The more stimuli we get, the less free “CPU time” our brain has to take care of other things. The threshold is different for each of us, but it’s always there.

So, yes, while it is possible to do information work from anywhere and at any time, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

And how do I get in the zone? It depends, but I mostly need:

  • quiet environment, without distinct sounds (white noise or background music is fine)
  • comfortable chair + desk combination (quite hard to find)
  • reasonable temperature: 19C – 24C is optimal (yes, I’m that specific. I’d need an “Operating Temperature” sticker)
  • in many cases, not many people around me (people distract me; they tend to be interesting to look at, although I know I sometimes give them the creeps).

But having the right conditions isn’t nearly enough. I also need a certain level of will, varying from time to time. I have to want to get in the zone. It’s not something that simply happens.

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