CEO Victory through Mastery of Monoidealism

CEO Victory through Monoidealism

Have you ever felt like, as a CEO, you’re being pulled in many directions at once?  You’re simultaneously working on multiple projects – “multi-tasking” but the results aren’t up to par.  Here’s an excellent article by Josh Kaufmann in his book The Personal MBA that could really help.

What Is ‘Monoidealism’?

Monoidealism is the state of focusing your energy and attention only on one thing. It’s often called a “flow” state: clear, focused attention on one subject for a long period of time.

Here’s how to induce a Monoideal state:

  • Eliminate potential distractions and interruptions.
  • Eliminate inner conflicts.
  • Kick-start the attention process by doing a “dash” of productive work to get into the flow quickly. You can stop after that dash, but chances are you’ll keep going.

If you eliminate distractions and conflicts before you start your dash, you’ll quickly transition into a Monideal state.

Josh Kaufman Explains ‘Monoidealism’

Much has been written in the past few years about the subject of productivity-how to get more done.

Books like Getting Things Done, The Power of Less, and Master Your Workday Now! all propose different methods of achieving workflow nirvana.

When we’re trying to “be productive,” what exactly are we shooting for? Ideally, you want to focus the full powers of your energy and attention on a single subject at a time.

Monoidealism is the state of focusing your energy and attention on only one thing, without conflicts.

Monoidealism is often called a “flow” state, a term coined by psychologist Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi. This is the state of human attention at its most productive: clear, focused attention and effort directed at one (and only one) subject for an extended period of time.

PJ Eby, a former computer programmer who specializes in helping people use their minds more productively, defines Monoidealism this way:

When somebody says ‘just do it,’ they are trying to communicate that you should not do anything else.

It might better be phrased as, ’Do it, without thinking about anything, not even about what you’re doing.

In fact, don’t even do it, just watch yourself doing it, but don’t actually try to do anything.


Properly, “monoidealism” is simply the state in which you have exactly one thing on your mind, with no Conflicts.

It’s a condition that results in one naturally taking action in relation to the thought, rather than a technique in and of itself. The usefulness of a particular productivity technique for a particular individual will largely depend on whether it addresses their particular stumbling blocks in achieving a monoideal state.

When you’re “just doing it,” you’re in “flow”-a Monoideal state. There are no distractions, no interruptions, no self-judgments or doubts. When your mind is in 100% “do” mode, you inevitably get a lot done.

So how exactly do you get yourself into a Monoideal state? First, eliminate potential distractions and interruptions. Depending on the level of cognitive activity required to complete your work, it’ll take ten to thirty minutes before your mind becomes absorbed in what you’re doing.

Phone calls, co-workers “dropping by to pick your brain,” and other unanticipated demands on your attention will break your Monoideal state, so priority #1 is ensuring you don’t get distracted.

I often use earplugs or play instrumental music to eliminate background noise, and disconnect the phone when I don’t want to be interrupted. Turning off my Internet connection (see Willpower Depletion) while I’m writing also makes it much easier for me to maintain a Monoideal state. Otherwise, I’m way too likely to browse the Web when the going gets tough. Using similar Guiding Structure techniques is a good way to prevent your attention from straying.

Second, eliminate inner conflicts. Sometimes it’s difficult to get started because you’re experiencing a Conflict between two control systems in your mind.

Eliminating these conflicts before you start working helps you achieve a Monoideal state much more quickly. If you feel resistance to getting started, it’s useful to spend some time and energy exploring that conflict more deeply before you keep working.

While writing this book, I experienced several periods of frustrating resistance.

Instead of trying to ignore the resistance or push through it (a surefire way to experience Willpower Depletion), exploring that resistance using Mental Simulation and Reinterpretation helped me uncover a hidden conflict: I wasn’t happy with how my work was turning out, and doing more of what wasn’t working would be a waste. Spending some time revising the structure of the book resolved that conflict, simultaneously making the book better and eliminating the source of the resistance.

Third, kick-start the attention process by doing a “dash.” Since it can take ten to thirty minutes to get into the zone, setting aside 10-30 minutes for a quick burst of focused work can make it much easier to get into the zone quickly. If you’re not productive by the time the dash is over, you have permission to stop and do something else.

That’s rarely the case: once you get started, it’s easy to keep going.

One technique I often use is called the Pomodoro Technique, named by its creator, Francesco Cirillo, after those funny little kitchen timers shaped like a tomato (“pomodoro” in Italian).

Here’s how the technique works: set a kitchen timer for twenty-five minutes. You job is to focus on a single task for the entire duration-if you get stuck, keep focusing until the timer goes off. After the twenty-five-minute work period is over, you can take a five-minute break, bringing the total duration half an hour-a block of time any of us can fit into our schedule here and there.

What I love about the Pomodoro Technique is that it accomplishes two goals at once: it makes it easy to get started, and it gives you permission to ignore distractions. Even if you’re not excited about what you need to do, saying to yourself “it’s only 25 minutes” is a great way to overcome the initial resistance of getting started.

The Pomodoro Technique is also a good excuse to ignore distractions: if the phone rings, reminding yourself that “a Pomodoro is indivisible” is an effective way to give yourself permission to ignore it, maintaining your monoideal state.

If you eliminate distractions and conflicts before you start your dash, you’ll naturally transition into a monoideal state a few minutes into the work period.

Meditation is a form of monoidealism “resistance training.” Simple meditations like focusing on your breathing, then consciously (and non-judgmentally) bringing your focus back to your breath if and when your attention strays is a way to consciously practice the skills used to maintain your attention in the face of distractions.

As little as 10 minutes of simple meditation every day can dramatically improve your ability to focus.

Questions About ‘Monoidealism’

  • How often do you find yourself working in a monoideal state?
  • Using the techniques above, can you restructure your work to make it easier to ‘just do it’?

“Just do it.”

Nike, brand slogan