Achieving a state of zero interruption might seem like an unattainable luxury, until one realizes that a lot of the barriers to this are self-created.

One of the most fateful dreams in the history of literature occurred to the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge on an evening in the year 1797. The entire course of the poem ‘Kubla Khan’ came to him in a dream. He woke up, excited, put pen to paper, and jotted down fifty-four lines of the poem from his vivid memory. That was when he was interrupted by a knock on the door. The visitor, the ‘man from Porlock’, had come on business. But by the time he left, the memory of the dream was gone from Coleridge’s consciousness. The poem, Kubla Khan, was a classic that remained incomplete for eternity. We all have our ‘man from Porlock’, intrusions that disrupt our flow. I spent the first decade of my career with global investment banks in the fast-paced world of the equity markets. While the job was stimulating, an abiding feeling during those days was that of being constantly interrupted just when I would begin to dig and get deeper insights on a topic, there would be an urgent investor call, a market-moving announcement, or a stock price went haywire, and my original pursuit would be lost in the pandemonium. In later years, as I tried to balance my creative pursuits with corporate responsibilities, the flow of ideas for my book was often punctured by deadlines, client emergencies, or work crises. Most of us would be familiar with this feeling. Managing work, family responsibilities, and social commitments are not easy in an ‘always-on’ world. We often end up wishing that the day would be more than twenty-four hours. How do we address this? The practice of immersion can provide a solution. Immersion is the process of completely involving ourselves with the task at hand, to the exclusion of everything else, till we become one with the task. Bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, who broke records with his US$ 41 million crowd funding for his next book series, has been among the most prolific writers. His secret is that he splits his writing into four-hour blocks. The first hour is a ‘warm-up’, the next two hours are the most productive, and the last hour is for winding down. The key is to be completely immersed during this time; the momentum might be lost even with a small interruption, much like having to reset a machine. Bill Ackman, billionaire activist investor, and hedge fund manager, is wary of activities that end up conflicting with his productive time. He says that “even a five-minute” interruption “in the middle of the workday can materially disrupt the ‘flow’ essential to the research and investment process”. Being able to immerse oneself, after paying the necessary ‘entry charges’ in the form of the ‘warm-up’ time is the key to deep work that involves creativity or innovation.

Achieving a state of zero interruption might seem like an unattainable luxury, until one realizes that a lot of the barriers to this are self-created. We are either unaware of the draining effect of too many activities, or unclear about what we want to achieve, or hesitant to commit to the goals that are important to us.

Do we really need to check whatsapp messages or social media so often? Do we need to say ‘yes’ to every party or social meeting? Can we have an ‘off-limits’ time of the day when we don’t schedule meetings or conference calls? Do we really need to be ‘plugged in’ all the time or can we ‘switch off’, much like we do during a flight or a concert? Can we start our day an hour or two earlier?

Once we start prioritizing this state of uninterrupted immersion, a whole new world starts to emerge.

Work begins to energize us rather than drain us. Our subconscious mind starts to chip in and help us join the dots. Ideas spontaneously burgeon on their own, words suggest themselves. Deeper patterns and trends become obvious. It feels easier to drown out the noise and get to the crux of issues. We develop the ability to persist with problems, a lost skill in the era of short attention spans.

This is a state when we become one with our creative pursuit; when to use an illustration from the ancient Indian Advaita Vedanta philosophy, the distinction between the subjects and object disappears. The musician becomes one with the music, the batsman becomes one with the ball, the investor becomes one with the market, and the entrepreneur becomes one with the customer.

This is the coveted ‘zone’, of creativity, innovation, excellence, mastery, and ultimately, happiness.

The author is the bestselling author of AgniBaan and KaalKoot, a leadership coach and an investor who has held key positions with JP Morgan, Credit Suisse and Macquarie. He writes about mindfulness and its link to creativity, business and wealth.