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Book Review: Living With Monks

Last night, I re-read the entire “Living with Monks” book by Jesse Iltzer. I started at 8:30PM and ended up going to bed around 1am.

My takeaways from the book are common sense things everyone should already know, yet, here we are. This is why re-reading books is a good thing. Or atleast, taking really good notes, and updating those notes to be able to come back to reference. Thats why i’m writing this. It’s more for me, than it is for anyone else.


This book illuminates how distracted we are these days. The big thing I took away from this book yet again, is when Jesse noticed how the Monks will focus on getting one thing done at a time.


The subtle, and extremely powerful, detail he noticed about their monotasking, was the monks did the best job they could on that one task. They sunk every ounce of focus and deliberateness into the task at hand.

If the monks are washing dishes, even if its 500 dishes, they will wash one dish at a time and clean that dish the best its ever been cleaned before.

Doing deep work on the thing you’re currently working on. We should all strive for that. I am now. When I can stand back and get some perspective on that, I quickly see that yea, it’ll take a little longer to complete the task, but when that task is done, it’s completely done. Theres no cleaning up to do, no re-do’s, nothing. Its been done as perfectly as possible.


Having a rough idea of how you’re going to spend your time for today is another highlight from the book. This also means scheduling in time for yourself for play and relaxing.

The monks were not productivity whores, but they just got the work done that needed to be done. That was their purpose. To pray and to tend to the things that needed to be tended to.

One of the ways I’ve been able to wrangle distractions and focus more is by using the Pomodoro technique.

The pomodoro technique gives you a framework to operate within for the day for your personal or professional life, mostly professional.

You can easily get started with a piece of paper, pen, and a timer on your watch or computer (I use Google timer.. I just type into google “25 minute timer” and a timer pops up and starts).

The technique helps you understand what “Deep work” feels like almost immediately.

Theres a wide range of styles of downloadable worksheets to help you with this. Honestly, the simplest thing would be a legal pad and pen, but if you need a worksheet, here are two that look decent and not overly complex. First and Second.

If I had to pick one, i’d probably pick the first one to experiment with first, thats why I named it ‘First’, ha!

Be Perfect, but not always perfect

A lot has been said in the past about “Good is the enemy of Perfect”. I completely agree with that.

There are small tasks, everyday mundane ones that have a very clear start and finish like washing dishes, that you can do perfectly, though.

When doing bigger projects, like software projects etc… Sure, do the best you can, i.e. good enough, and get the first draft done. Then go back and make it better.

The idea out of the book is, there are a lot of simple things we can pour our focus into and do such a great job we dont have to come back to it and more importantly, we’re focused and not distracted.

Again, pomodoro can help with this too.

I’m done when the job is done, not when I’m tired

Another concept in the book is getting things done even if you’re tired.

The first example of this is the story about Jesse doing a last-minute-hike up Mt Washington with his buddies. One of the guys says, “Its not an honest hike yet”… As in, don’t give up and don’t procrastinate, get the thing done that you said you were going to do, even if you’re tired and no one would know if you didn’t finish.

Don’t save things for later.


Another very important topic as well is the subject of “listening”.

Theres a quote in the book, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

I definitely attempt to listen more than I talk.

I read that out of a business book a long time ago and do my best to follow that advice.

Theres a simple game I played when I was on sales calls for the software company I built. It was the first-one-to-speak-loses game. I would sit silently on the phone sometimes, just to see how long I could go without talking and let the other person talk until there was an uncomfortable silence. It was great training. I listen way more than I talk these days.

Time, and how much of it you have left

I lost my relationship with time somewhere.

Jesse dropped this nugget of math in the book. It may be a tad scary to stare at your mortality when you do this math, but its useful.

Its fuel.

The math of roughly how much time you have left to live and to do the things you want to do.

It can kick you into urgency almost instantly. When you realize you only have so many days left potentially, why are you sitting around watching Netflix and fucking around?

The average life expectancy of a male in the US is 79. (You won’t need to live longer if you live enough in those years.)

I’m 41 right now and that gives me 38 years. I’m sure (and hope) it’ll be more, but lets go with this.

If we do 38 years and multiply that by 365 for the amount of days in a year, that gives me 13,870 days left.

If we subtract 33% of that time for the 8 hours of sleep everyday, that gives me roughly 9,154 days. And today is just one more day off that.

Ok, now what?

What if i say 20% of that time is going to be in my prime physical years.

Thats 1,830 days. Well, shit.

Now, i just backwards to see what I want to spend that time on.

If I want to take flying lessons, thats 40 hours at least of instruction, right there puts me into the 1,700’s You see where this is going?

It’s eye opening. As I write this, it lights a small handful of tinder in me. The fire isn’t there yet, but I can sense it could grow into a rager extremely quick.

I don’t know if i’ve ever actually done this math. It was always too scary for me. Nowadays, I want to face every fear that comes my way.

Facing death in its face, almost.


Lastly, because of that math I just did. I need to be content with how i spend my time, no matter what. Thats a big takeaway from the monks. They’re content. Happiness is fleeting and usually dependent on some external factor. Like, you’re only happy if you’re traveling, or doing something, or having sex, or someshit. Yea those are fun, but they dont give you daily, long-lasting happiness. Contentment does. Contentment, from what I gather so far based off this book, is to focus on the thing in front of you fully and just enjoy the process.

Not gonna lie though, contentment was something I used to do very well, lately the past few years not so much. Money and social media have wrecked this idea. Everyone still believes that if they are not traveling to some far off destination that their life sucks. You dont need the hottest female on the planet (they are mostly a pain in the ass anyway) or the fastest car (you can only go the speed limit anyway) or the biggest house (you will store more junk in it anyway)…. Just be.