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Monk Mode The Power of Focused Intensity

This article was selected for you by Brian Stallcop, CFP®

Key Takeaways

  • Monk mode involves taking steps to focus with extreme intensity on a path we want to be on—while shutting out self-defeating distractions.
  • Engage in sustained bursts of high-value effort—followed by short restorative breaks.
  • Stop multitasking—it simply doesn’t work.
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Pursuing key goals and achieving big breakthroughs—professional, personal or both—are challenging tasks in the best of times. But when you’re being pulled in multiple directions or forced to navigate an abnormal or even chaotic environment, reaching that finish line you’ve set for yourself (or your team or entire company) can start to feel like an impossible dream.

Often, we find the biggest culprit in these moments is a lack of the time and space—physical and mental—that are necessary to really dig in and work diligently toward excellence. Distractions coming at us from all angles eat away at our attention, our motivation and our levels of focused effort.

One way we see highly successful people and teams combat this problem is through an approach to working known as monk mode. It takes practice and probably somevfine-tuning for each person—but once you’ve got monk mode dialed in, you may find yourself reaching key goals faster and with less anxiety than you expected.

Monk Mode The Power of Focused Intensity

Intense focus


As the name suggests, monk mode essentially involves taking steps to focus—with extreme intensity—on a path we want to be on while shutting out self-defeating distractions and habits that can push us off that path. Monk mode is often used for short bursts such as one week, although it can be practiced for longer-term goals that take many months to achieve.

It’s an approach to tackling goals or motivating oneself to attempt new plans that is significantly different from more traditional methods, such as making resolutions. Example: Say you want to jump-start an exercise and fitness plan. Typically, a resolution to “be healthier this year” or “stop eating garbage” carries little with it except the strong emotion you feel at the moment—and, as a result, often fails. In contrast, a monk mode approach might involve committing to ten consecutive days with no added sugar and seven 30-minute gym visits. This time-defined stretch of clear actions can generate stronger initial momentum to build on.

Clearly, monk mode also has value in work environments—where finding uninterrupted time and space to concentrate, strategize and, um, do your work can be surprisingly difficult. Consistently shutting out the rest of the world for one or more blocks of time every day for a week (or a month) can potentially enable you to generate better results in less time. Although it’s not specifically related to monk mode, it’s telling that 97% of workers who tested a four-day workweek reported better performance and less fatigue, according to researchers at Boston College and Cambridge University. The businesses themselves reported a nearly 40% boost in revenue under the more focused arrangement.


Ten ways to do monk mode well


There are several ways to adopt a monk mode approach to your pursuit of key goals. Some key steps that will help you build your foundation include:

1. Commit to the challenge.

The first step is to commit to a way of working that is likely very different—and much more immersive—than your usual methods. You need to be on board with the ideas of being deeply focused on tasks at hand and ignoring and removing distractions that are probably part of your typical day. Be prepared mentally to stay on the path—whether it’s for a week or several months.

2. Set the “right” goals.

Choose no more than three goals you want to achieve, as part of monk mode is homing in like a laser on your initiatives. Too many objectives will dilute your focus and lead to inefficient multitasking. Another reason to keep it small: Your goal or goals should be meaningful and important—they should “move the needle” significantly. Of course, in a business scenario, it may be extremely clear which single goal needs your attention at any moment.

3. Block off time for the highest-value work.

Build a nonnegotiable wall around yourself when dealing with the steps that will most accelerate your forward momentum. No calls, no meetings, no questions, no distractions. Your terms will depend on the goal, of course—but chances are, this will mean at least 30 minutes per day of dedicated attention on an essential task.

4. Align time blocks with your most productive hours.

You’ve probably noticed there are certain times each day when you naturally are more focused and motivated to get things done—as well as blocks of time when your energy flags and your attention wanes. Don’t fight those trends. Instead, consistently tackle your highest-value work that demands the most effort during the times when you’re naturally productive. Don’t deal with the small stuff at those moments—wait until the low-energy part of your day to do the “brainless” tasks.

5. Prep your space for monk mode effectiveness.

Periods of intense focus demand a distraction-free environment. Clear off your desk. Hide your phone—or better yet, leave it with a co-worker. Set up your computer to block access to social media and other sites during prescribed hours, and block email and IM notifications. If you need to work in an entirely different space, do it. The more you can shut out the world around you, the better. You know your distraction triggers better than anyone, so think about what pulls you off track—and get it out of your way during monk mode time.

6. Do one thing at a time.

Multitasking is a myth. Research out of the University of Wisconsin- Madison has documented a “bottleneck” at a central area of information processing that allows only one thought through at a time. Other research has shown that it takes 30 to 60 seconds to refocus on one task after transferring attention to a second one. The more complex the task, the longer it takes to refocus.

Monk Mode The Power of Focused Intensity

7. Apply interval training to your work

When you’re in a high-productivity time block, work in short bursts. The Pomodoro Technique is a well-known strategy that calls for working in 25-minute intervals with five-minute breaks. During those 25 minutes, challenge yourself to get a great deal accomplished.

8. Track your progress.

Management expert Peter Drucker noted that “what gets measured gets managed.” Choose a system to measure and track your efforts. A basic but typically effective approach is the SMART goals method: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

9. Make breaks restorative.

Breaks are necessary, of course, but too often we take breaks that leave us tired and unmotivated to return to focused activity. Breaks should include physical movement of some kind—a brief walk, jumping jacks—and hydration. A conversation with a friend, family member or team member can also feel restorative. The key, however, is to talk about nonwork topics to make your down time feel like a real break and energize you when it’s time to reengage with intensity.

10. Celebrate wins along the way.

Remember that your focused work is meant to achieve clear outcomes. Be sure that you define such moments in the short, medium and long terms. Ask yourself what success will look like at each stage and what those results ultimately mean. Then take the time to acknowledge and celebrate milestone moments. Doing so will both feel good and help further motivate you to stay on course.


Making monk mode a habit


Notice anything about these ten tips? They’re all pieces of advice you can incorporate into your goals-based efforts even if you don’t opt to go full-on monk mode. For example, removing distractions from your work area can boost your productivity at any time—as can focusing on the most demanding work when you’re feeling most energetic. And of course, it’s always smart to track your progress toward goals and acknowledge wins that happen along the way.

But ultimately, by bringing a monk mode level of intensity and focus into the equation, your efforts can potentially be supercharged—helping you pursue your goals at a faster rate than you could otherwise, and maybe even generating more success than you ever imagined.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: This report was published by the VFO Inner Circle, a global financial concierge group working with affluent individuals and families, and is distributed with its permission. Copyright 2024 by AES Nation, LLC.


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