I love this piece of advice from novelist Raymond Chandler:
“Write or nothing. Two very simple rules, a. you don’t have to write, b. you can’t do anything else.”
As I’m writing my new book, The Self-Discipline Blueprint, I’ve applied that strategy with great results using what author Cal Newport calls The Monk Mode Morning:
“The execution of the monk mode morning is straightforward. Between when you wake up and noon: no meetings, no calls, no texts, no email, no Slack, no Internet. You instead work deeply on something (or some things) that matter.”
Now, I realize not everyone can spend their entire morning in monk mode. If that’s the case for you, I warmly encourage you to try it for just an hour a day.
You’ll probably find that it will have a huge effect on your productivity. And then you’ll naturally be motivated to find ways to extend your time in monk mode.
Here are some practical advice for getting started:
1. Find your space
The first thing you need to do is locate a spot where you’ll put yourself in monk mode every day. That could be a room in your house, your office at work, a space at the library, or someplace else.
The important thing is that you can lock out interruptions. If that means hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob or letting your cube mates know that your headphones mean you’re unavailable is up to you and your circumstances.
In short — find a space where you’re not tempted by distractions, and distractions have a hard time reaching you.
2. Prepare your stuff
Once you’ve decided where you’ll be spending your time in monk mode, the next step is to prepare everything you might need while you’re there.
That might mean textbooks, other study material, your laptop, snacks, and drinks. By having everything close at hand, you prevent yourself from coming up with excuses for leaving monk mode.
You have everything you need, so there’s no valid reason to get up and do something else.
3. Remove all distractions
Next, you need to search your space for anything that could potentially distract you, and remove it.
If you’re working on a computer, turn off all notifications and close your email program. Use an app like Freedom to restrict Internet access while in monk mode.
If you have your phone with you, set it for “Do Not Disturb” mode or turn it to silent until you’re done.
Remember, you don’t have to work. But you can’t do anything else, either.
4. Let everyone know
Before you launch into monk mode for the first time, make sure to tell the people around you about it.
Explain why it’s important to you, and why you hope to accomplish by doing it.
By setting very clear expectations about when people will have access to you, you’ll most likely find that you won’t be bothered.
5. Celebrate your progress
Finally, I highly recommend you keep track of, and celebrate, your accomplishments in monk mode.
I keep a wall calendar in my space where I put a big X over each day I stick to my monk mode habit.
That small reward at the end of each monk mode morning is enough to keep showing up and doing it. Why? Because at this point I got a long streak going, and I don’t want to break it.
How to Overcome Procrastination, In Summary
Here’s how to put yourself in monk mode:
- Find your space. Lock out all interruptions.
- Prepare your stuff. Work material, snacks, and drinks.
- Remove all distractions. You don’t have to work, but you can’t do anything else, either.
- Let everyone know. Tell the people around you about your monk mode times.
- Celebrate your progress. Record your successes on a wall calendar — then don’t break the chain!
Image by Dustin Lee.