What the Business World Can Learn from the Monastery

In a recent Daily JO roundtable with businessmen, it became apparent that everybody in the group was afflicted by distractions from electronic devices. This is particularly troubling because it was preventing almost everyone from achieving the solid morning routine they desired with things like journaling, meditation, a workout, and strategic thinking. 
Reflecting back on my 19 years living in a religious order--similar to a monastery-- I can see how the routine we lived makes it much easier for me to achieve success in this area. 
In the monastery, and most seminaries too, the Church has a tradition called the Great Silence. This covers the entire time between night prayers (usually around 8:30 or 9:00pm) until after breakfast (usually about 7:00 to 8:00am). Silence means that nobody talks to anybody else. There are no phone calls, no conversations, no laughing, no computers, no nothing. It is time dedicated entirely to prayer and reflection on the day that is finishing, 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep and then prayer, meditation, the daily liturgical service and finally breakfast. After breakfast the Great Silence is over and normal business continues, although silence is still observed in certain areas and times. For example we would listen to someone reading a book during lunch and dinner. I still recall many history lessons I learned as I ate lunch in the seminary in Connecticut.
Living like that for so long makes it very easy for me to put down my phone and not open my computer. My wife and I don’t bring any electronics into the bedroom at night. We don’t have a TV at all, although occasionally we’ll watch something on Netflix on the laptop. My morning routine with a newborn in the house is now wake up when he does (usually between 4 and 5am), hang out with him for an hour or two, during which my wife can sleep some more and I get my coffee and usually breakfast. Sometimes I can journal if he’s playing quietly, otherwise I wait until he goes back to mom for his breakfast before I can journal. Three days a week I go to the gym for an hour with a trainer to hold me accountable. When I get to work I open the computer and get to work. I usually spend the first hour or two writing or doing other important things I won’t have time or attention for later. Only then do I open my e-mail.
I don’t have statistics on whether monks are more productive than business people. What I do know is that productivity goes up radically when there are fewer or no distractions. The research on this is abundant. I haven’t seen even one example of a successful person who doesn’t attribute a large part of his or her success to getting enough sleep and having a strong morning routine. The work on attention management by Maura Nevel Thomas is awesome. Check out her book Personal Productivity Secrets or go to one of her seminars. Above all, write down what you will do to “Win the Day" and don’t open up any electronics until you’ve achieved it. Why wait? Start now before you get distracted.