Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.
I’ve spent years perfecting systems and tweaking my workflows to be as productive as possible. But I’ve never made such significant changes in my life like the times I went into monk mode. Monk mode is the latest method for making massive progress in your life. It’s not a hack, a trick, or a new piece of software; it’s just intense hard work.
What Is Monk Mode?
If you’ve ever wished to have a month to yourself without any distractions to concentrate on starting a business or just to focus on developing a particular skill, you know what monk mode is.
Monks spend most of their lives in quiet contemplation, away from society, often taking vows of chastity and poverty to remove distractions that would derail them from their spiritual goals.
We can gain something from the monk lifestyle without having to spend the rest of our lives in a monastery somewhere. The monk lifestyle has these features that you can implement
- Focus on one thing (or a small number of items)
- Remove distractions
- Stop socializing
And as we don’t actually want to become monks, we’ll add one extra point
- For a predetermined amount of time
Originally created in the early 2000s with early adopters like David Cain, monk mode is an intense period of retreat. Retreating from the world to focus on one or two meaningful things and make massive progress.
How Monk Mode is Different
It’s easy to see the attraction of monk mode. Who wouldn’t want a few weeks away from their lives? But monk mode isn’t like going on vacation where you leave your troubles behind. Instead, you use the time to work through your challenges and problems.
Monk mode isn’t another time management or productivity hack designed to force you to work more. Making massive progress using monk mode isn’t a result of becoming more productive. It’s a result of having more focus. By removing almost all of your life for those few weeks, you’ll have nothing to do but make progress.
Isn’t monk mode like a new year’s resolution?
There are lots of theories of why most people fail to fulfill their new year’s resolutions, and different people fail for different reasons. Trying to add something extra into your life without making space for it will always be a struggle, though.
For example, you make a new year’s resolution to study Spanish. It will require an hour per day, but your day is already full of other commitments. You have kids, work, household responsibilities, etc. If you had an extra hour of free time in the middle of the day, wouldn’t you already be doing something with it already?
No, the only way to add an extra hour of work into your day is by removing something to make space.
This is why monk mode is different. By removing everything from your day, you have all your time and energy to concentrate on your one goal.
Chose a Period of Time
Committing to a predetermined number of days, weeks, or months is critical to entering monk mode and successfully coming out the other end. You don’t want to go into it unprepared, thinking, “I’ll start today and see how long I can stick to it.” Of course, we all know how long that will last.
Usually, you won’t have to think too hard about how long to go into monk mode; life will probably dictate it. For example, if you’re wife and kids go to your in-laws for a week, you know how long you can maintain monk mode. On the other hand, if you’re single, have no job, and live with your parents, you have as long as you want. If that is you, monk mode will help to turn your life around.
Focus on One Thing
You’re missing the point if you try to do everything during your monk mode. You do everything every day, and monk mode is supposed to be different.
Just like a monk who wakes up with only one thing to do for the day, prayer, you should wake up in monk mode knowing the one thing you need to focus on. There are no decisions to be made, no emails to be answered, just you and your one task.
The only way you’ll have the time, and mental energy to focus and make massive progress on your goal is to remove all the other distractions from your life.
- Social Media
- Friends and Family
- Work or Study
Have you heard of a vow of silence? It’s an extreme oath that some monks take when they want an intense period of self-reflection. It’s incredible how much extra time and energy you spend dealing with other people.
I wouldn’t advise a vow of silence for your monk mode period, but you should stop socializing as much as possible to give more time to your goal. So let your friends and family know ahead of time that you have some serious study to do and won’t see them for a couple of weeks (or however long you decide.)
Why Do Monk Mode?
Before you take such a drastic decision to shun your life and concentrate on only improving yourself for a period, you’ll want to know what you can achieve, right?
- Become fluent in a new language
- Learn a new job skill
- Lose weight
- Prepare for an exam
- Start a business
- Write a book
Change Your Life
You can shift your reality in different ways, but people in a rut often stay there because turning your life around requires so much time and effort. That’s why it’s the perfect candidate for monk mode.
If you hate your job, don’t like where you live, or feel like you’re not doing things that make life feel meaningful, dedicate your monk mode to turning your life around.
- Spend time in reflection and figure out precisely what you want in life
- Create a strategy to get a promotion and start working on it
- Become a digital nomad and see the world
- Go back to school and start over
- Go into therapy and deal with your psychological issues
Start a Business
Starting a business is rough. If you’ve ever tried it, you’ll know. Those first few months when you’re trying to get started, feel like you’re pushing an 18-wheeler. If you’re trying to do that alongside your job and other family commitments, forget about it.
Spending all your waking time dedicated to getting your business on its feet will give you a much better chance of surviving that first year.
Learn a Skill
Before the pandemic hit, I spent about six weeks in India doing my own monk mode. My purpose wasn’t to build a company or get a new job. Instead, it was to learn Tibetan. I had taken online classes for years but never felt confident in my conversational ability in the language. So I went to Dharamshala alone to spend a few weeks doing nothing except improving my Tibetan language.
As you can imagine, the results were staggering. I went from someone who could bearly string a sentence together to having real conversations with Tibetan-speaking people.
So if you want to make massive progress on a skill or hobby, this is the best way to do it.
Training for a New Job
Online professional courses are a great way to get qualified for a new job or to give you a head start in your job search. But any training worth taking takes time.
Why not use your monk mode to make quick progress and become qualified faster so you can change careers or get an offer from your dream company?
Do Something You Always Wanted to Do
Another good use of a period of monk mode is to check something off your bucket list. For example, in 2015, I had some time off to dedicate to personal development. This was before I’d even heard of monk mode. Rather than learning something or trying to be ultra productive, I wanted to trek to Everest Base Camp. It had been on my bucket list, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it off.
How to Do It
It’s a good idea to write down the parameters of your monk mode ahead of time. Not only will this make it easier to stick to, but you will also avoid needing to make decisions later on. For example, if you’ve written down “No Netflix,” there’s nothing to think about.
Step 1 Decide how long you have
This first step is simple if you only have three weeks till classes restart, then make it three weeks. If you somehow find yourself with two months of free time, you have your answer.
On the other hand, if you don’t have any crucial commitments and can pick any duration, I’d start with three months.
- Jot down the date of your final day of monk mode
Step 2 Make a Goal
You probably already know what you will work on during your monk mode, but if you don’t, decide before you start. Otherwise, you will waste a few days trying to decide while making no progress.
You can pick more than one thing, but ideally, one should be your primary goal, and the others should help support it.
If you decide you want to write a book during your monk mode, for example, you could also choose to do a daily workout and focus on your diet. Working out and healthy eating will help you focus and spend more time writing.
Step 3 List Your Distractions
What are the things you want to avoid doing during your monk mode? Make a list of things you will avoid.
Step 4 Make a Plan
Now the rubber meets the road. What are you going to do each day?
Every good plan starts with a brain dump. Don’t try to plan every task and schedule every day, it’s a waste of time, and there’s no way things will go exactly to plan anyway.
Instead, Block out your time each day. For example, if you wake up at 6. am, your first block might start at 7.00 am. I like to work in 2-hour blocks, but you should block your time in whatever works best for you. Aim for at least 6 hours working on your most important goal each day.
If your goal includes a task you repeat daily, such as writing, practicing an instrument, or following a course or textbook, just pick up where you left off in the last block.
If your goal involves much more varied tasks like starting a business, you’ll need a more detailed plan with a running task list.
This post on project planning will help you make your plan. Use the question “What’s the next action?” to push you forward when you get stuck.
Tips to Make Your Monk Mode a Success
Go to Bed Early
“Early to sleep, early to rise.”
Swapping two hours at night for two in the morning is a fantastic deal! Get to sleep a little earlier and you will naturally wake up earlier and feel more awake for the whole morning.
If you slept for those two hours late at night when you feel tired and sleepy, you’d wake up two hours earlier to start your daily routine.
Prayer and meditation come easier to some than others, but practicing meditation is a great way to become more mentally strong and stick with your monk mode.
Other benefits of meditation include:
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Increasing willpower
Learning to meditate doesn’t take much to get started either, just a few minutes of time. Sit down, breathe, and let go of any thoughts that arise.
Follow a Simple Morning Routine
Do you do the same thing every morning? If so, you already have a morning routine, so ask yourself if it’s the one you want. If it isn’t, change it with a few morning routine ideas.
A morning routine should set you up for success. Avoid activities that cause you unnecessary stress or negativity first thing in the morning, such as social media, email, and the news.
Doing some form of exercise every day is a must whether you’re doing monk mode or not. Exercise has been shown to increase mental capacity, creativity, energy levels, productivity, the list goes on. There’s no question if you want to be better than you are, you need to work out.
It doesn’t have to be horrible either; pick something you like to do!
- Lift weights
- Martial arts
- Your favorite sport
Questions About Monk Mode
How Long Should I Do Monk Mode for?
The ideal amount of time to practice monk mode is 1-3 months. In that amount of time, you will be able to make huge progress on any goal you set. However, if you don’t have that long, just use whatever time you have. Aim for at least a week, though.
Can I still YXZ During Monk Mode?
Ultimately what you allow yourself to do and what you say is off-limits during monk mode is up to you. As a general rule, however, if you have to ask, you should stop doing it.
What time should I Wake Up During Monk Mode?
It’s undeniable that waking up earlier leads to higher productivity, so you should strive to wake up early to get the most out of your monk mode. However, if waking up early doesn’t come naturally to you, it will end up being an extra habit you’re trying to start.
Your main goal or the purpose for your monk mode should be your priority. If trying to wake up early is adding unneeded stress to your life, don’t do it. Likewise, trying to start multiple new habits at the same time is more than challenging. It’s inviting failure.
Should I Fast During Monk Mode?
Occasional fasting is an excellent practice for both body and mind. It encourages the body to go into ketosis and autophagy. It can also help increase mental toughness as your mind shows your body who’s boss.
However, if you want to spend your monk mode starting a new business and want to get lots of work done each day, I wouldn’t recommend adding a fast to that. Fasting will reduce your output considerably. Instead, you want to fuel your body with healthy foods, so you have the energy you need.
If you start a prolonged monk mode of 3 months or more, a few days of fasting could be beneficial.