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The Rise of the Monk Mode Morning

February 24th, 2017 · 44 comments

Productive Conversations

In my role as someone who writes about productivity, I enjoy the opportunity to discuss this topic with a variety of different people. Recently, something caught my attention about these conversations.

Several different accomplished people, all in distinct occasions, mentioned to me their adoption of the same bold deep work hack: 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.

What makes this hack particularly effective is its simple regularity. If someone wants to schedule something with you, it becomes reflexive to respond “anytime after noon.” Similarly, your colleagues soon learn not to expect you to see something they send until after lunch.

There’s no guesswork or inconsistency: everyone’s on the same page, and you make 3 to 4 hours of deep progress on valuable goals, every day.

From Theory to Practice

Clearly, spending the a.m. in monk mode is the type of hack that makes me swoon. But it’s also the type of hack that I would usually assume is not feasible for those in “normal” jobs with clients and employees and deadlines.

Which explains why it caught my attention when, as mentioned in the opening to this post, multiple different people in “normal” jobs told me that they employ the monk mode morning to great effect.

Earlier this week, for example, I was talking with a media personality who runs his own company and swears by the monk mode morning. He said: “if someone gets really upset that they can’t reach me in the morning, my first thought is that this guy is a [pejorative deleted]…not the type of person I want to work with.”

Not everyone is in a position to execute the monk mode morning (indeed, most of the people who mentioned this to me in recent months run their own companies). But the growing popularity of this bold hack is yet another indication that my long predicted shift away from the cult of connectivity, and toward depth, is perhaps beginning to pick up speed.

(Photo by Hanoi Mark)

44 thoughts on “The Rise of the Monk Mode Morning

  1. Alan Dalton says:

    I like how the “Monk Mode Morning” concept combines so much daily time for deep work with such a straightforward explanation for people who want to interrupt it. “Any time after noon” doesn’t sound like too long to wait—it sounds more acceptable than asking someone to wait until the evening or the next day.

    The concept sounds like an even more effective, easier-to-sell version of Jason Fried’s “No-talk Thursdays” from his “Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work” TED Talk.

  2. Avi says:

    This post seems to partially contradict one of your earlier posts about spending the first hour-and-a-half of your workday on deep work. Isn’t this an extension of that philosophy?

    I mean, that “rule” only says spend the first 90 minutes on deep work. It doesn’t say spend only the first 90 minutes on deep work.

    But I completely agree with the MMM rule and have been trying to follow it (and succeeding :D) for quite some time now.

    1. Study Hacks says:

      It’s a good question. What I was disagreeing with in that earlier post was the idea that it was sufficient organization to simply start your day by tackling the “most important thing” and then giving yourself over to the whirlwind after that. I’m a proponent of planning out the time in your day/week in much more detail.

      For those embracing MMM, therefore, it is still important to plan carefully what happens during that time, as well as what happens after that time.

      1. A.I. says:

        I couldn’t agree more about the importance of planning ahead what you are going to do in your Monk Mode Time, or as I like to call it, the Golden Time Slot.

        You must not waste any time by searching for the paper you want to read, or blank paper to scribble your calculations on… everything must be in place the moment you sit down to do your deep work, and you shouldn’t get distracted by other things, but totally focus on the things you are trying to figure out.

  3. Lisa says:

    This is perhaps my favorite Study Hacks post thus far. Will definitely find a way to put in place my own monk mode mornings (and maybe ocassional weekends).

  4. I like the idea of monk mode mornings (though I tend to do monk-mode afternoons myself), but I don’t agree with your conclusion that the idea is picking up steam. If, as you say, most of the people following this technique are people who run their own companies, it’s worth asking if some people are achieving monk-mode mornings at the cost of depriving others the same opportunities? For example, do these company bosses require their subordinates to send it reports or get something done by noon so that they can be reviewed in the afternoon? If that’s the case, maybe some people’s monk mode depends on other people frantically rushing around to be responsive at the same time.

    1. Rajat Bose says:

      I quite agree with you.

    2. Tim says:

      But what if everyone did MMM? What if the creation of ‘reports’ and ‘doing things’ achieved little that would have been spent better on deep work? (I’m not saying they have a choice, I’m suggesting companies owners think differently 🙂

  5. Kalpesh Patel says:

    In mornings I have to take calls with offshore but I started using calendar block in afternoon at same time every day to go into MMP “Monk mode programming” from January. So far it has been working good as even though I manage people, I have been able to increase my individual coding contribution.

  6. A.I. says:

    This is exactly how I lived my life when I studied for my exams in theoretical physics.

    This was the best and almost happiest time of my life, if I subtract the pressure of wanting to do very well in my theoretical physics exams.

    I found out empirically, that I was able to solve the most difficult physics problems in the Golden Time Slot between 9 and 12, with a cognitive peak around 10:30 and 11:00.

    I wish I could reclaim that in my current job, but that is extremely difficult. I do that on my home office days, but that’s just once a week. When you need to travel, it’s totally impossible to make use of this wonderful time slot.

  7. A.I. says:

    Reading the article Cal is referring to:

    I have been in mourning since monk mode came to an end.

    Me too. 🙁

  8. Anne says:

    Thanks for the great post Cal. Based on what I have read about learning and the imagination, I also recommend the night before briefly reviewing your notes so there can be some incubation time for ideas to take hold overnight. Then, maybe some mid day exercise to stimulate thought and solidify learning.

  9. Andrew says:

    While I enjoy Cal’s posts, I’m always conflicted over what seems to me to be a huge underlying requirement of deep work: the deep worker cannot be bothered with children/family.

    My question is: how does one help raise a family and work deeply?

    I think there is a balance, and I think pieces of Cal’s teachings can apply to someone with kids, but most of his posts preach a message that doesn’t seem to fit with family. Am I wrong in this?

    Any feedback would be appreciated.

    1. TJ says:

      Cal always defended the idea of fixed-schedule working and always claimed to stop working around 5pm to go home to his family.

      So I would say to first figure out what are your working hours on a weekly basis (when the kids are in school, day care, sleeping or your partner or someone else can take care of them) and then schedule your deep work sessions in these time slots without distraction. Outside these time slots, let your attention fully go to your kids and family.

  10. This technique has been working so well for me.

    What I’ve been doing is putting my phone on airplane mode before going to bed and then not turning it on until I’m done writing for the day.

    If I don’t write first thing in the morning, it’s probably not going to get done…

  11. CM says:

    Cal,

    I read deep work this past year, and worked hard to implement a number of the strategies you outline in this blog and in your book. Very happy (and thankful) to report that my law school grades improved when really committing to them. I really like this MMM idea and might add it to the mix.

    I do have a question regarding your thoughts on the use of stimulants. I’m talking coffee, redbull, tea, nicotine, etc. (not hard drugs/adderall)

    Do you use any of these when trying to make a big push to finish a project or difficult problem? Any more or less than you usually do? I always find myself resorting to a heavier use caffeine with a big paper or project, especially around finals, but hate the addiction/crash that occurs as a result. Any remedy to this? Staying at a deep level of focus while not getting groggy can prove difficult. Case law isn’t always a riveting read.

    Thanks again for all the work you do!

  12. I am so lucky because i am reading about “monk mode morning” in your blog.

    Really great sharing for something special.

  13. Sara Bollinger says:

    I always enjoy reading your posts and asking myself how I could apply some of these principals as a middle school orchestra teacher. It definitely translates to doing things like score study, lesson planning, activity planning, problem solving, etc.. during my 30-40 minutes between classes in the morning and making copies, organizing the office or the classroom, reshelving music, etc.. in my afternoon planning period when my brain is toast. I like the idea of not touching email until the afternoon. It is so easy as a teacher to feel like I must reply to those morning emails to be considerate when I could really address those in a short period after school and will still have replied to the parent or colleague within 24hrs.

  14. Patrick Key says:

    Monk mode was so helpful when I writing a dissertation

  15. Gokul Kaushik says:

    Hey – I’ve been reading your blog for a while. Would it be possible to make a list of books that you’ve read ?

    After reading deep work, I read 4EX and some of the other books that you referenced. If you are willing to post some of the books you found interesting, it would be nice.

  16. This is probably one of my favorite Study Hacks post so far. I will definitely find a way to put in place my own monk mode mornings. Thank you.

  17. Anna says:

    This would be extremely hard to do for me. Living in Hawaii I’m already 5 hours behind the East Coast so if I started working at noon, I wouldn’t be able to get a hold of anyone. I guess it’s “the paradise tax” we pay to live here. Great post, I’m getting Deep Work to check out some more of your brilliance.

    1. TJ says:

      same issue here, working from Europe with a team in Russia/SE Asia.

      In the mornings I have to catch up and be responsive. After noon, when the buzz has slowed down, I can go into focused mode.

      If I could choose, I would have preferred it the other way (a team in US 🙂 to have the mornings without distraction.. but one learns to live with it: I tend to take a walk after the morning frenzy and lunch to return more relaxed for the after noon and go into focus mode.

  18. My girlfriend says I won’t get any sex if I go into monk mode?

  19. Carl says:

    Monk Mode is the way forward!

    Random acts of variety may ‘feel’ productive but it’s often just a distraction from what matters most.

    Disconnect to reconnect!

  20. S says:

    I really like this idea, but I do like to do 30-40 minutes of exercise in the morning. What do people think about maintaining that habit while doing the monk mode otherwise? I’d love some feedback on this.

  21. Jase Rodley says:

    I’d never heard of the Monk Mode Morning, but as it turns out it’s something that I’ve been doing (or at least trying to do) for some time now.

    As many of us end up working in a different timezone to our boss/clients, it’s actually a perfect opportunity to do some timezone-geo-arbitrage. Most companies I work with don’t come online until after lunch my time, leaving me the morning to use for uninterrupted work, “making time”.

    I call it my Maker, Manager, Dreamer schedule: https://jaserodley.com/maker-manager-dreamer-schedule/

  22. It’s great to know that what i have been doing, has a name·········yay!

    After reading Brian Tracy’s EAT THAT FROG, i have adopted the habit of tackling my most important [sometimes, most difficult] task of the day, first thing in the morning.

    I shall read Cal Newport’s DEEP WORK this week

  23. Great article, though as other readers mentioned very hard to implicate into normal schedules. Though on days off this should be easy. Thank you!

  24. Love this!

    I started implementing this in my life a few years ago, first blocking off until 10 am and slowly expanding. Sometimes now I go past noon, but noon is my general cut off, with very few exceptions. It helps me balance between my need for a “maker schedule” and the demands placed on me for a “manager schedule.” Before noon — when my creativity and flow is at peak — is my time for my morning rituals and deep work. Afternoons, when I am more easily distracted, is for meetings and other things requiring context switching.

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