Recently, I spent a morning reviewing my goals and the things I’d like to accomplish over the next several months.
As I sat on a quiet park bench looking out at a picturesque lake on a beautiful spring morning, I was reminded of how valuable – and how meaningful – it is to take time to retreat and withdraw, both for my task list and for my spirit.
The practice of solitude brings clarity of thought, a time for reflection, and a break from the noise – and although we know we should take time to focus on this important discipline, many of us:
- Put it off, thinking there’s always time to focus on it later.
- Make excuses about how we are too busy to take time to get away.
- Try to do more, thinking more “checked off item” will solve our problems
Engaging in the Practice of Solitude
As leaders, each of us can regularly engage in the practice of solitude by utilizing these nine keys:
Key #1: Schedule it
The first step to facilitating solitude is simply to schedule it on your calendar. Look out a week or two and carve out a three to four hour block. Put it on your calendar and don’t let anything take it’s place.
Key #2: Schedule solitude starting in the morning
If you’re new to the practice of solitude, it’s easier to withdraw if you are just starting your day off rather than after a half-day of meetings and conversations to “muddy the mental waters”.
Key #3: Treat solitude like a reward
Make it a time to look forward to. Treat yourself to your favorite Americano, or that Chai Tea you love. Dress in your favorite clothes, or stop by your favorite breakfast place on the way. Do what you need to do to make the experience special and rewarding. It’s been my experience that there is a “recipe” for creating great moments and it begins with the simplest of things.
Key #4: Clear out your inbox the night before
Make sure the people that rely on you (coworkers, assistants, employees) have everything they need from you for the day. This is as much for you as them. You want to have have mental freedom and not thinking, “oh, I need to see if …” Also, be sure get a good night’s sleep.
Key #5: Be unavailable
If you struggle with always being available to your staff and clients, here’s your chance to practice being unavailable and see if the world continues to spin on (as a “recovering people pleaser”, I can assure you it will). Also, make sure your spouse, assistant, or your team member(s) know you’ll be unavailable for that particular morning. Setting the expectation that you’re going to be incommunicado will ensure they don’t call to ask you to pickup milk on the way home, or ping you three times about those “TPS Reports” you already filed.
Key #6: Pick a place to go in advance
Pick a place to go where you will not be disturbed or distracted. I find that while I love to work in coffee shops – for this practice, it doesn’t work. There are too many distractions and too many opportunities to engage others. I like to go to a park and find a quiet, out-of-the-way bench to sit on; or just take a drive out into the countryside. Some of my best moments of solitude have been sitting in my vehicle out in the middle of nowhere. Regardless, have a plan for where you are going, or you may end up driving around and running errands all morning.
Key #7: Go analog
For me, I’ve found that I don’t need to be “connected” during this time. Though I take notes electronically 90% of the time, via my iPad or in Evernote on my Mac, I prefer to be “analog” during this time. I take a notebook and a pen with me and that’s it. My notebook is one that I can easily tear pages out of and run through my Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner. They then go directly into Evernote for future reference. There’s just something about being completely disconnected from technology that I really enjoy during this time.
Key #8: Be intentional
It probably goes without saying, but during this time of solitude, you should be intentional. Turn off your phone. Resist the temptation to check your email right before you get started (I promise you the email setting in that inbox is not as urgent as you think it is). If you have a thought that leads you to look something up online, make a note and do it later. In our digital world, true solitude comes from completely disconnecting from everything around you, not just being physically alone.
Key #9: Create a rhythm of solitude
Don’t head off to the woods for a morning and then never do it again. The key to the practice of solitude is to engage in a rhythm of engagement and withdraw. Once you get in a rhythm, you’ll probably want to do it once a month, but start with whatever you feel is comfortable – maybe once every 6-8 weeks to start. If the prospect of three or four hours alone that often is daunting, start off with just one. The important thing is to get started somewhere and to build it into your rhythm of life.
Remember, when all is said and done – the act of practicing solitude far outweighs any perceived downside associated with a “lack of availability” on your calendar. There are tremendous benefits just waiting to be realized from just a brief time “apart” – now go discover them!