Monk Mode: How and Why I Gave Up the State of Distractedness for Lent

Ultimately, I decided to give up the state of distractedness from my mission-critical creation projects for Lent. Here are the exact steps I took:
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A number of you have reached out to ask what I'm working on. What's shareable is that I'm writing a book and ramping up to launch a business.

But when Lent rolled around a few weeks back, I had a couple of other irons in the fire, too. I was in the midst of interviewing candidates for the community farm I helm the Board of, attending family weddings, facilitating a Retreat, and hosting an Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party at my home for a dear friend. I was meeting with sometimes 2 or 3 other entrepreneurs, colleagues and investors every day of the workweek.

I later calculated that I was fielding an average of 6 invitations for meetings, every single day, and this doesn't even include the never-ending flow of brunch invites. So much brunch is happening, guys. So much brunch.

All marvelous things. But, despite having recently quit the best job ever, I was busy. Too busy, even, to decide what to give up for Lent. I Googled what Lent is really for. It's supposed to turn our focus back toward God (the Most Important Thing), purify us, and prepare us for celebrating Easter. Giving up food or Facebook or something wouldn't really fit the bill, for me - neither of those are my struggle.

I'd actually sort of decided that I was too busy to figure this out, and was just going to honor Easter which a big brunch and keep it moving.

After a 6-day run at breakneck intensity, in which I got no writing done, I was on my yoga mat, de-chaosing my nervous system to onramp back into writing. I looked down and saw these words on my yoga mat: "that which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the least."

Instantly, it became crystal clear that there was something I needed to give up for Lent this year: distractedness.

I know that phrasing is awkward, but it is also precisely accurate. At 40 years old, I know by now that you can't actually give up distraction. There's lots you can do to manage incoming distractions, but life happens, people you love will need you, and trying to stop the world from turning and events from happening is a little like trying to stop the ocean from creating new waves.

It's a losing battle.

What you do have control of--utter control of, actually--is the way you allow your mental state, your calendar and your priorities to respond to the incoming flow of distractions.

I realized that I had allowed my mental state to shift from flow and focused creation mode to meeting mode or executive mode, which is what I'm wired for. Normally, taking meetings and nurturing relationships are the cornerstones of my career. But taking all those meetings during this critical, micro-season for my book and my business was keeping me from the creation projects that must happen right now for the longer-term vision to come to life.

Ultimately, I decided to give up the state of distractedness from my mission-critical creation projects for Lent. Here are the exact steps I took:

1. I created a decision rubric. I worked through a detailed outline and strategic action plan for the book and my company launch, and created a decision rule: for 60 days (a long Lent, certainly), my decision rule for whether I'll take a meeting is based on whether it furthers the book (including its marketing and promotions) or the launch of the business.

Meeting with prospective clients, it might surprise you, does not fall into the "meetings I'll take" side of the rubric. That's a lot of what I'd been doing, and I've found that most prospective clients are urgent enough that it's difficult to extract from the conversation, and that most of the great prospective clients for my business are so engaged that one conversation snowballs into 5 meetings and then poof! a week of writing is gone. I spent the first few days still taking meetings that had long been calendared, but am now well into the delirium of uninterrupted, deep work and thought time.

2. I communicated it directly, unabashedly and consistently. Where I live and work, things get done, built, created, started via relationship, conversation and action. My bias is toward yes, toward connecting and toward action. I've long cultivated that. And people know it, which is why the calls and emails come in.

I love that about myself, and my circle.

I got some help from my team in clearing everything I could from my calendar. And I also simply started fielding incoming meeting requests - even some from friends! - with some version of this:

Hey - I would love to connect soon. Here's the deal. I'm in Monk Mode right now, working on my book and business. You know I love to connect with people, and I was finding that it was really distracting me from the things I need to get done right now. Do you mind if I reach back out in April or May to set something up? Thanks so much for understanding!

I've gotten maybe one response that gave away some irritation. I've gotten about 2 dozen that have expressed some form of admiration, appreciation or even flat-out jealousy. So far, verbatim, I've gotten: "I love that!", "I admire that", "I admire your directness", "I want to do Monk Mode!!", and so on.

Giving up distractedness is a mindset management move, not just a time management move. If you feel like you'd love to do Monk Mode, but could never get that much control over your own time, I challenge you to look at your calendar, look at what you do with your unbooked moments and get real about how you could devote more of your mental bandwidth to the projects or people you say you care about.

3. I observed my internal resistance without judgment.
My nervous system is wired for a fast pace and for a lot of interpersonal interaction. So I definitely have experienced some internal resistance to Monk Mode, as luxurious as it really is. This mostly comes up in the following forms:
  • saying yes to invitations and projects, especially exciting ones
  • falling prey to calendar creep, that thing where you agree to do one 30-minute call and end up booking 6 hours of meetings that day, and
  • fantasizing about elaborate mental or logistical "prerequisites" to going into Monk Mode, like thinking about going away to my favorite retreat Ranch.

I've been treating these things the same way you'd treat your wayward mind during meditation: noticing the drift, and gently releasing it. This is a course of constant course-correction. I'm not even really tempted to be harsh with myself on this point, because (a) harshness with self never got anyone anywhere, and (b) it's precisely my normal nervous system wiring that makes me an effective leader and entrepreneur and marketer and speaker and thinker.

This is just a season in which I can't give way to that tendency to run on a constantly booked calendar. I'm allowing myself to down-regulate on my nervous system's own natural timetable, just constantly, gently reminding myself to say no, to keep the calendar clear, and to enjoy this season of deep work and creativity.

Here's what has happened in my world since going into Monk Mode: compounding energy, clarity and creativity. When I went into Monk Mode it was a lot like that financial strategy of paying yourself first, but with my time and my energy. And in the same way paying yourself first creates compounding interest on top of interest over time, I found myself finding new stores of energy, getting clear on things that had been foggy, then even clearer on more things, fast, and finding creative solutions to challenges that had been long stuck in my mental parking lot of issues to work out.

Flow has become my friend. Productivity, too. I've made about as much progress on my two important projects in the last 14 days as I had in the first 6 weeks of the year.

The projects I'm working on will bring to the fullest expression and impact the work I was put on this planet to do. I know that. They are the most important thing. So giving up distractedness from those projects for Lent seems more appropriate, in many ways, than giving up, Facebook or, well, all of those brunches.

This is an excerpt of a piece that originally appeared at Subscribe to Tara's newsletter on her blog, or follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.