February 4, 2023

How to Use the ‘Monk Mode’ Productivity and Life Hack

  • Josh Wood, the CEO of Bloc, tried the ‘monk-mode’ productivity hack popular on TikTok.
  • He said it really works in helping him get big projects and small tasks like checking email done.
  • He said the best way to start using monk mode is to begin with small time frames.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Josh Wood, the 32-year-old CEO and founder of the tech hospitality company Bloc, who’s based in London, about his experience trying the productivity hack known as “monk mode.” The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I recently had a big deadline coming up for a new feature within my company, Bloc, and I felt like I was behind and constantly distracted. As the CEO of a startup, you play many different roles, so focus and productivity is incredibly important. 

I found out about the productivity hack known as “monk mode” on TikTok in July 2022, from a video by Iman Gadzhi, who’s a young, successful entrepreneur, so I decided to give it a try. As a business owner myself, my TikTok feed is filled with business-related posts, self-help advice, and productivity tips. So I see these kinds of posts all the time from people I respect.

Monk mode is where you commit yourself to completing a goal without any distractions

In monk mode, you take it upon yourself to adopt the isolation and self-discipline practices of monks. There’s a reason monks choose to live in seclusion and silence: It’s the best way to focus on your inner thoughts and achieve a state of mindfulness.

The idea is that you shut out every possible distraction and focus on the task at hand. This means turning off everything — phones, apps, notifications, and email — so nothing can distract you. There’s also an app called Monk Mode that can do this for you.

I’ve tried the Pomodoro technique as well, which involves working in bursts of 25 minutes, followed by a short break, then repeated, but I found 25 minutes of work to be too short. I also found it difficult to motivate myself after the break. You can easily find yourself doing tasks that take longer than five minutes or procrastinating and scrolling on TikTok. 

For me, monk mode is better because I can go into this “mode” for a lot longer and not be distracted. Because there are no breaks, there’s less temptation to do something unproductive. For me, the distractions, notifications, and everything else is the problem when it comes to my productivity, so by reducing those as much as possible during the day, I get a lot more done.

Essentially, monk mode means that you’re completely in the present moment. 

I use monk mode for many tasks 

This hack has worked really well for me when I’m doing important tasks. 

For example, it helped me complete a blueprint for a new feature coming out for Bloc, which is a ticket-and-reservation website and app that I had to completely create from scratch. I started with a blank Google doc, went into monk mode (I did it manually this time, although sometimes I prefer the app), and one hour later, I’d jotted down more than 20 pages of content.

I now use monk mode to reply to emails in the morning and for more complicated tasks like software-development planning. I tend to use monk mode earlier in the day when I feel most productive and awake, and save calls and emails for later in the afternoon, as they usually require less brain power. 

I also use monk mode for menial tasks like approving listings on part of my website. It works across everything you work on — at the end of the day, it’s a focus tool. 

I use monk mode only when I know I don’t need to be available 

Most messages sent these days are either via email, Slack, or social media, so they’re waiting there when I’m ready. I’ve also made it clear to people that calling me is not the best way to get ahold of me. 

I tend to plan my days quite well, and I communicate to my employees, stakeholders, and family members the best times to reach me, and when not to disturb me. I even tell my partner that I’m going into monk mode if I’m working from home so she knows not to distract and she respects that.

I tend to only go in monk mode during working hours, and it’s incredibly rare there’s ever an “emergency” that can’t wait. If I’m in monk mode for two hours, whoever needs to get ahold of me for something is usually fine with that time frame. I’ve never had a situation where I’ve missed something important because I’ve been in monk mode. I think if there ever was, my partner would ignore their respect for the hack and disrupt me anyway. 

But most things in life can wait. 

The hardest part of monk mode is not getting distracted by your own thoughts

My mind definitely got distracted at the beginning, but now that I’ve got a bit of experience practicing monk mode, I can stay pretty focused for more than two hours. I’d say it took around a month to get used to it, and I tried every day. After 20 to 30 tries, I felt I was really getting used to it and getting the full benefits. 

The trick is to set a goal for what you want to achieve in the session. When I have a goal, I become competitive with myself and want to achieve it, so my mind stays on track.

Another challenge is switching monk mode on and off. I prefer to go into monk mode and stay there for as long as possible — usually two hours — just once or twice a day. 

Monk mode is useful for achieving a state of heightened productivity

I would say my productivity in monk mode is five times better than when I’m working normally. I complete more tasks throughout the day and complete them at a much higher level of quality. 

But the most important aspect of monk mode for me is that I don’t have to work insane 80-hour weeks anymore. I can get the same amount of work done in less time, which frees up time for other important things like a social life and family. 

I now try to do 30- to 40-hour workweeks. I basically get twice as much done in the same time frame. This obviously depends largely on what’s going on and whether there are any new projects, since those take more time at the beginning. 

Here are my tips for how to get started using monk mode

Start with just 30 minutes and build up to an hour or several hours. Depending on the task at hand, you can do shorter bursts of, say, 10 minutes and take a break. 

Also, tell your assistant, colleagues, or family if you’re working from home that you’re going into monk mode. It’s not just about your phone and laptop — your whole environment needs to be set up for success. 

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