A year ago I sat in bed late at night, wide awake. I was tired but unable to sleep. I sighed out loud, "I am never going to get this done in time!" I was hyperventilating. The good news? A publisher had just agreed to publish my first solo book. The bad news? Now I needed to write it. As Dorothy Parker is credited with having said, "I hate to write. I love having written." I can relate.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
Even without a book to write I had a full life. To add possible irony to the situation, the book was about the pursuit of less. So the idea of being stressed out for a year while I wrote it simply was not an option.
While not everyone has a year-long writing project, I don't think I am alone in wishing for a bit more uninterrupted time to think, breathe, and create. Do you ever get frustrated with being interrupted? Do you wish you had a place to retreat at work to do serious thinking? Do you find open-planned office spaces a bit suffocating at times because, ironically, they don't provide you with the space you need? Do you believe the quality of your work would go up and your stress go down if you had more time and space to really concentrate?
I talked it over with my wife (the wisest person I know). Together we came up with a plan: I would go into monk mode.
What Exactly Is Monk Mode?
It means shutting out the world for a time. It is a relatively extreme approach to take, but we decided I would write from 5am to 1pm every day. I did that for five days a week for about nine months. I worked from a small office — tiny really — but in it I found space. And in that space I found creative freedom.
How Did I Let People Know I Was Going into Monk Mode?
I set my autoresponder as follows:
I am currently working on a new book which has put enormous burdens on my time. Unfortunately, I am unable to respond in the manner I would like. For this, I apologise.
p.s. If this is a continuing conversation, please ignore and expect my response in the near future.
To my great surprise there has been not a single negative reaction as a result of the bounce back. People adjusted just fine.
Does Monk Mode Work?
On a personal level it meant I was done with the hardest work of the day by lunch time and it meant that by 4pm I was done for the day and able to be with my family. What could have been a family-compromising undertaking turned into a family-investment period.
On a professional level writing the book was neither stressful nor forced: it flowed. Exaggerating the point in order to make it, it was an almost effortless process. With a routine that acknowledged the difficulty of the task, what would have been painful became a relatively frictionless — even joyful — experience. Of course, great credit goes to my editor Talia Krohn for this and to my wife Anna for taking on the morning routine with the children!
I have been in mourning since monk mode came to an end. So much so that after a few weeks I have been moving back to a version of it. I am writing this in my 5AM window.
Is It for Everyone?
To be anything like this extreme seems totally unrealistic for most people today. But, really, that seems like an evidence of the problem.
Is what I did extreme? Yes. Do we live in an extreme era? Yes. The work world is infected with the disease of busyness. People often experience motion sickness rather than momentum. They become tricked by the trivial. So I would argue that an extreme routine is only reasonable in such an extreme environment.
As knowledge workers we need to advocate for space so we can find the signal in the sound. As managers we need to protect our people's space to think, concentrate and get things done. There is a time to collaborate together; there is a time to be in monk mode. As Pablo Picasso is credited with saying, "Without great solitude, no serious work is possible."
The Magic of Being in Monk Mode [LinkedIn]
Greg McKeown is the author of the upcoming Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Get a free excerpt from Greg's by subscribing here. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryMcKeown.