Some of us enjoy more alone time than others. Since the recent rise of working from home, for many of us, this also encompasses more hours working alone.
Working alone is about creating a space where intense concentration becomes easily accessible. When finally alone, it’s easy to allow a wave of self-doubt and insecurities to begin to flood your mind. Sitting in solitude for even five minutes makes you get up to grab a snack. Or to check Twitter. And perhaps the most challenging of all, you don’t know when to call it a day; the constant polish and re-polishing when your energy is low masquerades as productivity—or so it goes if you’re not prepared.
Here are a few tools which will hopefully make working alone more enjoyable and effective.
Face distractions head on
Being alone can often feel like being pushed in front of a big mirror that plays back our errors and experiences we may not be proud of. It’s hard to ignore our flaws, even when we know everybody has them. When we’re in a social setting, there’s an atmosphere of stimulus to distract us from thinking about ourselves; we’re curious about other people’s thoughts and how they’re viewing us. When we’re alone, we can’t help but tune in to the voices that readily get muted.
There are, however, ways to enable focus and turn solitude’s outcomes from loneliness into productivity. For example, listening to sounds of nature is a great way to create a positive ambiance of solitude. Apps like Noisli are great for this, allowing the user to plug in their headphones and hear the sounds of rainfall, birds chirping, or a fireplace crackling as distractions fade.
We have a fantasy of working in solitude for hours on end, uninterrupted and pure. But such a scenario is unlikely (and not even all that more conducive to productivity than your current one). Don’t chase an “ideal” work environment, accept what you have. Once you let this reality simmer, it’s easier to get to work. Rather than fighting the notion that you have to work effortlessly in order to get work done, you can soon accept the reality that deflecting distractions is part of the creative process. The more you show up in this space of working alone, the easier solitude becomes.
Go by tasks not by time
The renowned author Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4:00 a.m. and works for five to six hours straight, according to Mason Currey in Daily Rituals. In the afternoon he runs or swims, does errands, reads, and listens to music. Bedtime is 9:00 p.m. “I keep to this routine every day without variation,” he told The Paris Review in 2004. “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerise myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
The lesson is simple: When you’re clear about your boundaries, you know in your gut when the day’s work is done. A “normal” salaried job typically has defined hours. But as anyone who has experienced the 3 p.m coffee slump, long hours do not always equal lots of output.
Take advantage of your solitude. Be very clear and deliberate about what you should, can’t, or wouldn’t do. Without boundaries while being alone, you will work into the night with dark circles under your eyes, falling under the seductive illusion that you’re being productive. You’re dogged, yes, but at what cost? You have to determine when the day’s work is done so you can let the unconscious part of your mind do its work, too. Whether this is based on a time of day, a cue like making excessive typos or mouth-tearing yawns, you are the custodian of your output.