Great Work Doesn’t Happen at Work

Research suggests that we need to switch off to be switched on.

Alexandra Sutton
Feb 21, 2019 · 4 min read
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Working in a bubble (illustration by Nadie van Wijk)

How many times have you come to the end of a busy workday only to realise you’d accomplished nothing? You could have been coming up with ideas, solving problems and advancing your business — but you weren’t.

Instead, you were having ‘catch up’ meetings, sending emails and running errands. You were likely too busy with that to actually do any meaningful work.

And you’re not alone. Workplaces everywhere are full of distractions. This is especially problematic for creative people. Anybody who needs to think outside the box needs quiet and solitude to do it — whether they’re project managers or designers.

But innovative work ends up taking a backseat to those small tasks. And as a result, we berate ourselves which only increases our stress and narrows our focus.

Not only is this wasting our time, but it’s costing businesses money. A recent Gallup survey showed that only 13% of employees at organisations worldwide actually feel engaged at work. And with burnout rates on the rise, working longer, earlier, later, and on weekends isn’t the solution.

What is? What do we need to do to finally get meaningful work done?

If you want to accomplish something and have more ‘eureka’ moments, you need to remove distractions. Stop reacting to small problems as they happen and instead, start acting. Prioritise behaviour that fosters big insights.


Research suggests letting your mind wander will allow you to have the best ideas.

In one study published by Psychological Science, participants had two chances to come up with lots of uses for everyday items. After giving it a go once, they took a 12-minute break (specific, we know). During this time, some participants took on a demanding memory task, and others did easy projects with the goal of making their minds wander. On their second try, the people who were meandering mentally performed 40% better than those working on the hard task.

Another study linked meditation to better decision making. After just 15 minutes of undisturbed meditation, subjects made smarter decisions.

But let’s be real, meditation isn’t for everyone. We’d likely be reported to HR if we started sitting cross-legged in the middle of the office.

Luckily, taking a walk will do, according to the American Psychological Association. Or your idea might happen in the shower, at the gym, or on your morning commute.

Yep, research suggests that to really get work done, we need to redefine the workplace.

It’s already helping countless leaders accomplish more. New York Times bestselling author Neil Pasricha, for instance, has ‘untouchable days’ during which he switches off WiFi and speaks to nobody.

And he’s not the only one. Nicolas Verellen founded this very blog on the power of ‘Monk Mode’ — a process that helps you achieve more by removing distractions and using rituals to clear your thoughts.

No matter what you call it, the crucial ingredient is removing distractions and allowing your mind to wander. That’s when those excellent ideas are going to stop eluding you and suddenly come into focus.

Of course, for many of us, it’s not that simple. We have bosses and meetings scheduled by people who haven’t read this article — yet.

What’s the solution?

Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp, has a few suggestions for the office-bound. Along with cancelling meetings (he argues you’ll get just as much done), you should swap face-to-face chats for email and instant messaging (so you can reply when you’re ready).

And his top tip? Silent Thursdays — half-days in the office once a month where nobody can ask you questions. “That’s something that you’ll find will really, really work,” explains Fried. And once you see the benefits of distraction-free time, you can host it more often.

So, no, the secret to better work isn’t more hours — it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. We need to stop doing our real work at night or on weekends because that just leads to fatigue and lower quality output.

Obviously, our work environments aren’t conducive to good, research-backed habits.

This huge, expensive, unhealthy problem won’t solve itself, but you can take the first step. Whether that’s talking to your team about smarter co-working tactics, or by allowing staff to work from home (remotely) one or two days a week.

You might just see yourself, your employees and your bottom line thrive.

Perhaps that’s when those excellent ideas will suddenly come into focus — at the right time. And finally, great work will happen at work.

Our goal with Monk Mode is to help you do great work. We created this platform because we believe society’s always-on, always-connected attitude is wreaking havoc on our health, creativity, focus and potential. This needs to change. By giving you research-backed tactics and inspiration, we want Monk Mode to help you do your best work yet.

At the same time, we don’t think all of the tools we need exist. So, our goal is to create them. We’re working on a few projects right now, one of which is a way to connect people to — and provide — distraction-free, monastery-style dwellings for deep work.

If you’d like to know more about these projects or you want to receive exclusive tips and insights from us, sign up to our newsletter. If not, that’s cool. We’re just glad you checked out Monk Mode. See you next week.

Monk Mode

| Monk Mode is all about bringing deep focus and creativity…

Alexandra Sutton

Written by

Copywriter | Journalist | Content Marketer

Monk Mode

Monk Mode

| Monk Mode is all about bringing deep focus and creativity to your workflow | Our aim is to give you the research-backed rituals and tools you need to do truly great work |

Alexandra Sutton

Written by

Copywriter | Journalist | Content Marketer

Monk Mode

Monk Mode

| Monk Mode is all about bringing deep focus and creativity to your workflow | Our aim is to give you the research-backed rituals and tools you need to do truly great work |

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