I was recently reading Victor Pride’s excellent article on Monk Mode, and it got me thinking about my own experience with this even though that’s not what I called initially.
As an entrepreneur, productivity was something that I always struggled with. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the times when I was productive or even incredibly productive. Since you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck and telling you what to do, you must become your own boss which isn’t particularly easy.
One of those times of extreme productivity occurred when I spent six months in New York City last year. For me, New York City is mostly a place to relax, see family and just catch up with some old friends.
It’s not a place where I have fun and particularly live life to the fullest.
Last year, the five or six months that I spent in NYC were probably one of the most productive months of my life. I focused 100% on the goal and removed all the distractions.
This was my version of the deep monk mode.
During that period of time, I didn’t go out. I didn’t drink any alcohol. I didn’t chase women. I didn’t even have sex. I didn’t do anything that generated short term gratification.
Instead, I worked. Feverishly. Hard. I built new sites. I perfected my SEO skills. I learned and mastered Facebook Ads. I built a couple of ecommerce stores.
And within several months of starting this intense work mode, I was making several thousand dollars of profit per month.
Interesting things happen when you become obsessed with something to the point where nothing else in the world matters (or even exists). During the entire six months, the only thing I was focused on was cracking the business: making that sale and then scaling everything to make even more sales.
I developed tunnel vision where nothing else mattered.
Come to think of it, looking back on the experience, it’s impossible to even fathom anyway I could’ve failed. I couldn’t fail. Given the dedication and effort that I put forth, there’s just no way I could’ve failed.
I’ve gone through such periods many times in my life, of varying intensity, but this one was definitely one of the most productive periods of my life.
The anatomy of monk mode
There were several factors that all but guaranteed my success. First, NYC is relatively expensive. Going out to even regular, mid-level restaurant is a ripoff. Enjoying $8 cocktails in some hipster bar is a ripoff. Drinking a $5 Starbucks cappuccino is a ripoff. Riding the subway back and forth is also a ripoff.
While it may not seem a ripoff to you, for someone like me who’s lived in much cheaper locations such as South America or Eastern Europe, NYC definitely feels like a ripoff because I know I can get access to a much better value for money elsewhere.
As a result, instead of spending $50 a day on various crap, locking yourself in Starbucks and focusing on your business just makes sense.
Second, NYC is one of the only cities in the world where seemingly everyone is hustling. It seems like almost every coffee shop that I stepped my foot in was packed with people working on their laptops and phones, making deals, pitching their services, designing websites and running various marketing campaigns.
Unlike Eastern Europe or Latin America, I didn’t see many people just sitting around, walking around and “pondering the meaning of life.” If NYC has a religion, it’s making money.
This was an incredible motivator because, unlike when I lived in other cities (e.g., Rio de Janeiro or Kiev) I never felt like I was missing out on something else when all I was doing was hustling and building a business; everyone else was also doing the same thing.
Last but not least—and this directly applies to monk mode—while I have friends in NYC, most of them are too busy working and building their own businesses to hang out with me and pontificate the meaning of life.
As for dating and meeting women, NYC is probably the last place where I’d want to do that for reasons that I’ve already covered before.
This meant that I was never burdened by bored friends or feminine women who wanted to hang out.
Combined all of the above and you have the perfect recipe for a very productive environment with which you can all but conquer the world.
I learned several things during the six months of monk mode. First, regardless of what you’re working on or what you’re trying to accomplish, you will be able to build something successful during this period of the time.
Not only will you have razor-sharp focus, but you will also have time on your side since six months is plenty of time to get something profitable out the door.
This gave me an immense amount of confidence, confidence that I sometimes lacked during my less productive periods in my life when I wasn’t as focused not as determined to get something done.
Now, that I was able to build a new business from scratch, I’m absolutely certain that I can do it again.
The other thing I learned is that focus begets focus, obsession begets obsession. In the beginning, I wasn’t focused on anything, and I wasn’t really obsessed with anything.
That’s a big problem. When you don’t have focus, your attention is diffused and scattered everywhere.
Why monk mode is so hard
Monk mode is extremely hard. There’s no doubt about that. While my productivity was sky high, it came at the expense of pretty much everything else in my life.
I limited myself to three things: eating, sleeping, and working.
That’s why as soon as I left NYC and landed in Kiev in May or June, my productivity immediately nosedived. Not only were there so many new distractions: cheap living, aesthetic streets, beautiful women, etc., but I couldn’t simply shut all of these distractions down; I was now embedded in the environment.
The first thing I did when I landed in Kiev was to visit my favorite rooftop bar. Having a nice glass of cold beer never felt so good.
In order to enter monk mode, you need a high level of motivation. Not everyone can suddenly decide they want to achieve something and begin feverishly working in that direction.
When I was in New York, it’s not like I purposely wanted to remove every single distraction from my life. Like anyone else, I happen to enjoy distractions, it’s just that I wanted the business to succeed much more. I wanted to make money more. I wanted to create new streams of passive income more.
On the other hand, if you don’t have the drive to create a passive income stream, whether it’s an extra $500 or $5,000 per month, then why would you voluntarily subject yourself to such extreme conditions? You won’t.
It’s crucial to have an end goal in mind and focus on it as strongly as you can.
If your disease is laziness and lack of results, then obsession plus tunnel vision (monk mode) is the medicine that gets you results.
For all its advantages, monk mode does come with a heavy price. The main problem is that it’s not only difficult to lock yourself out of the world for six months, but, many times, it’s undesirable as well.
Although I blocked out the world for six months, I certainly don’t look forward to doing that on a regular basis. I want to actually live my life, develop relationships with people, travel around the world, have new experiences, etc.
You only live once and locking yourself up for six months isn’t something that I plan doing it consistently.
Can you achieve anything of monumental value without going into monk mode? If you’re trying to build a business from scratch, you will need to make some serious changes in the way you spend your time and allocating few hours per day into your existing schedule just won’t cut it.
If monk mode seems too rough to you, there’s an alternative. A good compromise between the extreme 6-month monk mode and merely working few hours per day on new business are something I call ”work sprints.”
This is where you tell yourself that for the next several weeks or even months you will focus on getting something completed. During this period, you cut out all unnecessary activities and distractions: stop going out as often, stop seeing friends that add little or no value, etc.
Nevertheless, you’re interacting with the world (eating out from time to time, having a drink here and there), it’s just that now you’re actively working hard towards a particular outcome instead of just “going with the flow” while working on few tasks per day.
My deep six-month monk mode was as much of an exercise in productivity as an exercise in self-control. The fact that I didn’t go out, didn’t drink, didn’t socialize and pretty much focused on one thing for six months seems crazy now, but at the time it was absolutely necessary.
Moreover, knowing that I simply can’t fail whenever I’m in a deep monk mode and will have a profit generating business at the end is definitely confidence-inspiring.
I know realize that monk mode is an important tool for any entrepreneur’s arsenal. Those with a 9-5 can simply show up to work and have their paycheck deposited into their account, but entrepreneurs who work on their own terms need an extra push where they alternate periods of hard work while bootstrapping a new business and easy work during the maintenance phase of the business.
In many ways, a monk mode is the backbone of any successful entrepreneur. Whether you’re planning to go deep and cut out every single distraction or embark on a quick work sprint with a clear milestone, there is simply no other way to build anything substantial that will generate profit down the road. At least I haven’t found any other way.
As I write this now, I’m getting mentally prepared to do a work sprint that will last me about eight weeks during which I will be focusing on getting a couple of serious projects wrapped up.