What is 'monk mode' and how can it boost productivity?

'Monk mode' can involve switching off devices to avoid distractions.

'Monk mode' can involve switching off devices to avoid distractions. Image: Unsplash/glenncarstenspeters

Britney Nguyen
junior reporter, Insider
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  • Monk mode is a productivity hack popular among CEOs and entrepreneurs that involves working solely on one task and avoiding distractions.
  • The term has been around for at least two decades and has recently gained popularity on TikTok.
  • The advice for people trying out monk mode is to start with shorter intervals of time and build up to hours or days.

In a world full of pings and endless scrolling, it's hard to tune out the noise and tune in to your work. That's where "monk mode," a productivity hack popular among CEOs and entrepreneurs, comes in.

In short, monk mode refers to the practice of solely working on one task and not giving in to distractions — including phones.

Monk mode, which went viral on TikTok last year, has been a trend among entrepreneurs and self-help gurus for at least two decades. Since 2004, searches for monk mode have spiked periodically, according to data from Google Trends, and they are back on the rise this year.

The term has inspired apps, social media communities, and a popular TikTok challenge.

The rise in the phrase on social media could possibly coincide with the 2020 publishing of Jay Shetty's book, "Think Like A Monk," according to data from social analytics firm Captiv8. In the book, Shetty, a popular podcaster and author with 12.6 million Instagram followers, wrote about his experience becoming a monk and how it helped him train his mind to focus.

"I want to show people that thinking like a monk isn't just about being still and calm, it's actually a lot more about seeing patterns and connections; seeing things in mainstream culture that remind you of wisdom," Shetty told The Guardian.

In practice, monk mode can mean different things to different people.

For Josh Wood, the CEO of the app Bloc, monk mode entails taking "it upon yourself to adopt the isolation and self-discipline practices of monks," he wrote for Insider. More practically speaking, he turns off all of his devices. He used the tactic to write a 20-page blueprint for his ticket-and-reservation website in just an hour.

For one influencer, monk mode is based on three "non-negotiables:" 10 minutes of meditation per day, 30 minutes of exercise per day, and no alcohol or drugs.

Another creator goes into monk mode by working 12-hour days for two months straight. When he's done, he parties.

Author Greg McKeown used monk mode while writing a new book in 2013.

He wrote from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., five days a week, for nine months. To let people around him know that he was tuning out, McKeown said he set an autoresponder letting people know he was working. The book, "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less," came out in 2014.

Wood's advice to people trying out monk mode is to start with shorter intervals of time and building to hours or days.

"It's not just about your phone and laptop — your whole environment needs to be set up for success," Wood said.

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