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Creating Perfect Solitude for Creative Focus

"Alone time" unlocks our creativity. Five simple steps for carving out the headspace to focus and do your best work.

Collaboration and connecting with others is a beautiful thing, but in the end, creation is done in solitude. All great art is done in isolation. All creative work must be done by shutting out the outside world, sitting down, and creating. That sounds simple, but creating the perfect block of solitude in your day isn’t always easy. We’re going to look at how that’s done.

1. Schedule It

Solitude doesn’t usually happen by accident – you have to carve it out of your busy day. Set the time for your first block of solitude now – and see if you can make it an un-missable part of your daily routine. Some ideas:

  • Early. I like to take my solitude early in the morning. It’s when the world hasn’t woken yet, the kids are still sleeping, and everything is quiet. I get my best work done here, and the great thing is that nothing comes up this early to disrupt the schedule.
  • First thing in the office. If early morning isn’t good, try as soon as you get into the office. When I worked in an office, I’d get in 30-60 minutes early, just so I could get some quiet work done before the office started buzzing. And again, first thing is great because later, things get busy and can disrupt your solitude block.
  • Away. If you can’t do it early, get your solitude by getting away from the office or your home (if you work at home and there are others in the house). Go to a coffee shop, or better yet, a library.
  • Late. Tim Ferriss is the opposite of me – he gets his best work done at night. If you’re a night owl, this is a great time to find quiet and solitude and get creative work done.

2. Clear the Desk

Before you start your Perfect Block of Solitude, prepare your environment. This doesn’t have to take all day, but it’s worth spending 10 minutes of time, because a cluttered environment can be distracting. Some ideas:
  • Clear the top of your desk. If it has a bunch of papers, folders, or office tools, clear them off the desk. You can simply stack them neatly out of sight on the floor, or put them in a drawer or a box for now. Later you can find places for these things, but for now, just get the desk clear, with a minimum of essential things.
  • Close computer programs. If you’re going to write, for example, you don’t need anything but a text editor. Close your browser and all other programs. Turn off email and IM notifications and anything else that might pop up and distract you.
  • Clear the walls. If you have a bunch of papers posted on the walls, take those down. Leave up artwork, but take down anything that’s distracting.

3. Disconnect

Turn off the Internet. Seriously – turn it off, or you won’t get any creative work done. If you need some research done, do it before your block of solitude. If you doubt your ability to leave the Internet disconnected, actually unplug your router, or use the Internet-blocking program Freedom.

If you skip this step, don’t expect the rest to work. Disconnect from the Internet.

Also turn off your phone, mobile devices, and anything on your computer that gives you notifications. Completely disconnect, so there are no distractions.

4. Pick One Task

Pick something amazing. Something that will have a huge impact on your life and work and business. Something that excites you, that’s important and worth your time and trouble.

This is the one task you’ll focus on during your block of Solitude. Don’t multitask or switch back and forth. Pick one task, and focus on it completely.

5. Simple Tools

You don’t need to obsess over your tools. If you’re going to do a writing task, use a simple text editor like TextEdit or WriteRoom on the Mac, or Notepad or Q10 on the PC. For other tasks, choose something similarly simple – and don’t fiddle with them. The important thing isn’t the perfect tool or setup, but the doing.

Pen and paper, by the way, also work great. No distractions, and that’s what you’re aiming for.

What’s Your Take?

Is solitude crucial to your creative output?
How do you find alone time?
Comments (47)
  • Dan Cristea

    Absolutely, you need to eliminate all distractions as much as possible. As much as I love music, sometimes I have to turn it off. And I work faster and more concentrated.


  • Geri

    Great post, solid advice.
    However, I don’t need solitude so much as to be left alone. I don’t mind the buzz of the office around me, so long as none of it is directed at me, no one is asking me questions, no one wants me on the phone. True, it’s more likely that these conditions would be met in solitude, but I like to have a buzz of creativity around me, it helps spur me into action.

  • Marco Monteiro

    love your article, and i totally agree with your point of view. Those 3 questions at the end of your article that we always forget to ask ourselves if we really need alone time and if we do, do we really have an idea on how to do it?
    maybe if we asked those questions more times we would be more productive on our work..


  • Marco Monteiro

    yeah, but i still think that depends on the project and specially on the person in question. some guys work better on a coffee place or something like that. =)

  • Christopher Gronlund

    Since I work from home and my wife doesn’t work, I’ve learned to live with certain distractions. We exist in less than 900 square feet and both have creative things we do. (I write; she’s an artist, a musician, and she sews historical reproduction costumes.)

    I’ve always been a big fan of getting up and tackling 1 – 3 things that will make the day seem to matter even more, regardless of what happens. I don’t need complete solitude to create, depending on the distractions. If I need to drown out street noise, I listen to music, or put on a pair of ear defenders like people use at a shooting range. (We’re in an apartment and on a corner, so there’s some traffic noise.) If I’m writing something during the day and need to focus, I let my wife know and she respects that I need to be completely cut off. But I’ve learned to deal with distractions because I have no control over some of the things I deal with throughout the day.

    When I need to really focus, I wake up early. If I get on a roll and don’t want to be bothered, I leave a note for my wife explaining that I’m cruising on something and she understands.

    Other than that, though, I don’t need as much solitude as I once did to create. I like solitude, but there have been many times in my life that my options were “Deal with distractions, or not create,” so I’ve come to be better with snapping out of a creative flow and getting right back into it out of necessity.

  • supernalsteve

    Thanks Leo – I needed to hear that today – I love the way that clearing all the distractions can create that space to create! I’m like you – I like the early hours – before the world wakes up!!

  • Dan Cristea

    Hey Marco,

    Yea, to each his own i guess. I don’t think that there is a miracle solution, however when you find things that work for you you tend to stick with it. These tips are good and i especially agree with turning the internet OFF when you are in creative mode. :^)


  • dave

    I agree. One of most productive habits is *Not* turning on the computer when I arrive in my workspace (be it my home or office space). It’s AMAZING what gets accomplished without the digital distractions. Also, I’ve recently embraced the idea of being on a ‘Tech-Diet’- limiting the amount and number of times I engage with email, text, web, etc. It’s been quiet helpful with my day to day focus and calm.

  • Phil

    Great program for getting away from computer distractions. Full screen and simple.

  • Phil

    oops should of read the whole article before posting!

  • lehacarpenter

    For me, a lot of this won’t work, and maybe doesn’t need to. For one thing, I work on the computer, so can’t turn it off, and then, if I turn off the Internet completely, that’s not going to work either, because I’m a web developer. Also, like Christopher, I work at home, and so does my partner. Finally, I have some clients that come to me largely because of my excellent response time and quick job turnover.

    But what I can do when I need to create non-web stuff away from distractions is I can turn on my iPhone, close the web browsers on the computer, an field all emails and so forth via the phone only. It’s not perfect solitude, but I can deal with that. I actually like little distractions as long as I know they’ll be short. And since I hate answering emails on the phone, I’m compelled to only answer the most urgent ones. This seems to be all it takes for me, but I have been working on the web for 20 years, so maybe the charm has worn off a bit. (-:

  • newsongchurch

    I have been doing something like this for the last two weeks and it truly led to a life of Joy and Peace, even in the midst of chaos. I use Ommwriter as my writing tool. Thanks for the great article.

  • Sam

    Sorry, wrong log in. The previous response does not represent Newsong.


    it’s good to have a time for being alone sometime…..being in solitude i can express my feelings,my emotions through writing poems,notes….and i can practice my sketching…….being in solitude i can find peace and organize my way of thinking….u can explore your innermost thoughts,your innermost desires,and will know your wants and dont’s in your life……and it will give you ideas how will you make improvements in your life…….i like being alone……and i’m enjoying it…..

  • William Wolf

    Great tips! It’s often hard (for me at least) to disconnect the internet, but when I do it it seriously boosts my focus, output, and creativity. The more I do things like this, the easier it gets as I realize how well they work. Thanks for sharing.

  • William Wolf

    Also came across this program for those of you running linux. It’s like freedom.

  • Dustin Lucier DiTommaso

    Solitude is crucial but we need collaboration as well. I like to make assumptions and form ideas then leverage a team of minds or at least a design partner to bounce Ideas off of. Once my head is swimming from that exchange, I need to go back into solitude to put it back together. This can be and often is an iterative cycle. I definitely think the best ideation, problem solving and refinement comes from this approach.

  • Steve

    re. simple tools – try Notational Velocity on the mac. You don’t even have to Save anything, and it’s all synced to the cloud too.

  • George Brett

    This is great article, Thanks!!

    In addition to simple text editors, I find that a simple mind-mapping program like FreeMind allows my to capture thoughts as they come into my head — usually by association and non-linear. There is a text box where I can write prose. Then I can re-arrange (if need be) and produce an outline in sequence to place in simple text editor or some word processing programs. My premiere multi-dimensional program in Personal Brain Pro ( ) — similar but for free is Compendium (… ).

  • Hugh

    Leo there’s so much truth in this post. I completely agree that you have to schedule this time, or else the day will slip away from you. It’s very similar to working out. I run in the AM because that’s the only way I can ensure I’ll do it. Then, I get to the office at least 30 minutes early to have my solitude before the office begins to fill up. I definitely need to be more disciplined about scheduling this solitude, especially on days when I’m not in the office.

  • GrassDog

    Distractions are not the same as collaboration, and they are also a part of my creative process. When I need to sit down and really create something, I have about four or five places where I can go to do so: My home office, my work’s cubicle, and one of a number of cafe’s. I often find that I work the best in a busy cafe where I don’t know anybody. It is a kind of isolation, in that I’m not likely to get involved in a conversation, but when I start to drown in my work I can look up and see something new.

    I think a lot of these steps are handy, but I get frustrated with articles that list suggestions as if they are tried and true and set in stone for everybody. We all work differently, and not every truly creative task is the same. Heck, my own requirements for a work space change with my mood and how much I’ve eaten.

  • Parin Patel

    Agreed. It really does just depend on the individual.

    I like the tips in this article (especially #1, because I find that if you don’t make a conscious effort to ‘schedule it’, ‘it’ rarely happens, and #3, responding to a buzzing blackberry may not be the most effective thing to do when you’re trying to focus :)), but I completely agree that it really does depend on the individual.

    Sometimes you don’t know what “works” until you give it a try either (i.e. going to a coffee shop vs library vs in complete solitude). You can gain inspiration from you’re environments too like you said GrassDog.

    Personally, I think it’s important to keep track of what works for you through some self-reflection activities, that way you see what works and what doesn’t.

  • Pete R.

    Being disconnected is the best solitude in my opinion. I don’t mind having people around while i am working in isolation but the only thing i needed to be away from is any kind of internet connected devices.

    I love going to a coffee place, having a great coffee while writing notes, designing workflows and websites on the paper. That is the drive for me. It’s a lot easier for me because I love coffee and staying home won’t give me that.

    Just wanna share my current experiences. I totally agree with the article though. Solitude is a must.

    All in all. Great article! Really enjoyed it.

  • R Y Munni

    After reading the proses of creating perfect solitude for creative focus i am so much interest to learn this.

  • Art of the Comic Boo

    Absolutely correct. Thanks for breathing logic into the old corpse.

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