Monk Mode: The Key to Finishing Your Dream Project

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Karen Fisher-Alaniz is a freelance writer and published author. She holds a master's degree in education and taught special education for 14-years. She is a frequent speaker on veteran's issues, and teaches workshops on memoir writing. She teaches a life story writing course at her local community college. At midlife, she found herself dealing with health issues, divorce, and the loss of a job she loved. She shares her journey of starting over at midlife on 8 Women Dream every Sunday morning. Her dream is to build a writing life, and find her writing voice, while restoring her 100-year old home. She dreams of writing best-selling books in her own voice. Karen lives in the pacific northwest with her family.
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monk mode


Without great solitude, no serious work is possible. -Pablo Picasso

There’s a time to write on schedule, and there’s a time to buckle down and focus all of your energy on your project. That’s where I am with my current WIP (work-in-progress). It’s astonishing to realize that by writing just a thousand words a day, one can finish a novel-length book in less than two months. Slow and steady does win the race. That’s the way I think of things most of the time – writing five or six days a week.

But there comes a time in every writer’s project that the pressure is on to get it done. That deadline mentality can be from outside forces, such as an agent or editor, or it may be from internal forces – something inside you that just says, “This is it. Time to get this done.” That’s where I am with my current book, tentatively entitled, Drawing Me Home: a Soldier’s Search for the Meaning of Survival Through the Healing Power of Art. So what does that mean on a practical level? Here’s what it means for me; Monk Mode.

Monk Mode is the practice of shutting down everything else in your life for a block of time, so that you can put all of your effort on one project. I know…I know. But before you start listing all the reasons you can’t possibly do Monk Mode, read on. Anyone can accomplish a period of concentrated effort, aka Monk Mode. Fitting it into your life might not be easy, but it is possible. It’s not a matter of going off to a cabin in the woods for 60-days. It’s a matter of making the most of the time you carve out of your life – no matter how small or large that might be.

How to Accomplish Monk Mode:

1. Preparation: While it might be tempting to just jump in with both feet, this rarely turns out well. Instead, it’s important to carefully plan your Monk Mode time. Begin by looking at your calendar. Look for blocks of time that are relatively free from obligations and events like weddings, holidays, birthday celebrations, vacations, and work (day job) projects. Let your family and friends know what you’re going to do. Talk to anyone who usually interrupts your day – even for good reasons. Decide where you will work. If you’ll work from home, get your office cleaned up and your desk organized. If you’ll work from the library, or a coffee shop, load a backpack with everything you’ll need; your office in a bag. Stock up on easy to prepare meals for you and your family. Set your email up to auto-reply a message stating that you’re currently in Monk Mode and that unless this is a time-sensitive matter, you’ll return their email when you can.

2. Emergency Contact: Many women are the caregivers in their families. This can range from minor obligations to your spouse, to caregiving of children, grandchildren, and elderly parents. It can feel like you’ll never be able to focus on your dream project because you’ve got to be available 24/7. But if you begin to think about the possibilities, you might be surprised to find that it is possible. For example, if you need to be available by phone, give an alternative number to those who need an emergency contact. Whether it’s daycare, a nursing facility or just your kids or grandkids – give them a designated emergency contact number of someone you trust to protect your time, but who you also know will contact you if the need is legitimately an emergency. Give specific instructions as to what is considered an emergency and what is not.

3. Outside Obligations: Clear your calendar of all obligations. Believe it or not, the world will not tilt off it’s axis if someone else picks up your grandson from school for a week, or a month or more. Your husband or boyfriend may even take pride in fixing dinner, running errands, or being the family chauffeur for a time. If there are obligations that need attention during your block of Monk Mode time, delegate. Pull in your sister, brother, boyfriend, husband, auntie, daughter, son, friends and whoever else can help. Delegate – it’s the key to keeping your world running while you concentrate on your dream project.

4. Set a Deadline: Most creative projects take a good deal of time. But with the concentrated time that Monk Mode allows, it might not take as long as you’d imagine. When you strip away the rest of your life and all of your other projects, you are left with quality time to spend on your creative project. That time is multiplied when you’re using your time solely on the project because your concentration isn’t broken by a multitude of other obligations and projects. Make a good faith estimate of how much time it will take you to finish the project. Block out the space with the least obligations on your calendar, and mark a start and finish date.

5. Schedule Time and Breaks: Now that you’ve analyzed your obligations and time, and you’ve set a start and finish date, it’s time to look at each day. Within each day, look at what needs to be done and when. For example, during your morning block of time, you might write new material for your book, and during the afternoon block, you might work on editing and rewrites. Within each day, figure in breaks. Our brains can only take so much of this intensely focused time, without losing productivity. So, schedule breaks as well as work time. This way, you’ll be as sharp mentally at 7am as you are at 4pm.

In the article, The Magic of Being in Monk Mode is a great example of how to accomplish Monk Mode. Author Greg McKeown shares his experience using it. When he finally found a publisher for his book, ironically entitled, Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less, he realized that he would need to figure out a way to increase his focus and productivity and to decrease that ever-present American phenomenon of busyness. That’s where Monk Mode came in.

Structuring Monk Mode can be individualized from person-to-person and from project-to-project. However you choose to do it, Monk Mode will enable you to finally focus on the project of your dreams. Block off your Monk Mode time today. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can do this – believe it!

Karen Fisher-Alaniz

Starting Over at Mid-life

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