“The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.”
— Thomas Edison
I first learned the value of alone time while living in New York City with an apartment-full of models with whom I shared little in common. If I woke up at 6am, I had the place to myself. I’d sit on the patio, writing on journal pages and postcards, savoring the peaceful morning air and freedom from voices, cigarette smoke and personalities and appearances I found intimidating. No matter what happened the rest of the day, I could rest easy. I’d fueled up on me-time—the ultimate preventative medicine.
Now as a writer, that solo time goes far beyond helpful. It’s as necessary as food and sleep.
To be successful as artists, we’ve got to not only embrace alone time, but protect it. That’s not always easy in our hussle-bustle, multi-tasking society, but I believe it’s worth the effort.
Here are just some of the reasons solitude is important:
We get more done independently. It’s fun and healthy to interact with others. When it comes to getting things done, though, solo seems best. A large body of research shows that individuals perform better quality and quantity-wise compared to collaborating groups. In other words, working alone even trumps working with a group of others toward the same goal.
Distractions can keep us from working, period. Some amount of distraction can stimulate creativity and keep our minds fresh. Constant bombardment of online chat messages, phone calls, visitors or favor requests we have trouble saying “no” to, however, says “yes” to everything but our creative work.
Solitude reduces stress. Quiet alone time, devoid of distracting TV shows, phone calls and visitors, promotes a state of mindfulness. We’re more aware of the present and our place in it. Studies also show that mindfulness reduces physical stress. And the less physically and emotionally stressed we are, the more likely we are to thrive as artists.
We become stronger socialites. Though it’s not as important as our primary work, interacting with others is important emotionally and career-wise. Ongoing research at Harvard shows that blocking off sufficient amounts of alone time improves social function. And whether we’re introverts or extroverts, we tend to form longer lasting, more accurate memories and deeper interpersonal connections after alone time.
10 Ways to Savor Solitude and Get More Done
1. Eliminate distraction from your work time and save social media checkins, phone calls and texting for breaks.
2. Learn to say “NO” to unnecessary obligations that interfere with your work.
3. If carving out large blocks isn’t an option, work in shorter spurts, whenever you can.
4. If you have a day job, carve out solo time before or after work. Even 10 minutes a day goes far.
5. Take breaks and aim for balance. Working without respite is a great way to work our brains into a gluey haze, not to forge ahead with gusto. We need solo time, but we need interaction, too.
6. View alone time as essential, rather than optional.
7. Choose friends wisely. Supportive friends respect your need for solo time.
8. Set boundaries. Telling someone to take a step back isn’t easy, but what’s more important—your work or seeming “nice?”
9. Eat mindfully—with awareness and without distraction. When I teach nutrition classes, I often suggest candlelit dinners for one. The mindfulness gained carries over into other parts of life, and is a powerful form of self nurturing.
10. Don’t feel guilty for prioritizing private time. If you do, remind yourself that we’re only good for others and the world if we take care of ourselves first. As artists, that’s particularly important; our readers and fans—current and future—deserve it, too.
For writers in particular, some of our solo thinking and work time has to take place around others. For such cases, I’ve been considering a shirt that looks something like this.
How do you protect your alone time? Any areas you’re struggling with? Any tips to add? I love hearing from you.