Creating Perfect Solitude for Creative Focus

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?
More insights on: Disconnecting, Focus, Workspace Design

Leo Babauta

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Leo Babauta is the founder of and author of the new book, Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction.
load 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.

  • K-eM

    Believe it or not, my biggest distraction is my cat. He is as devoted as a dog and it’s hard to work when he’s always at me for attention and love. So I end up leaving the house when I have to really focus. Having people around doesn’t bother me, however, so I often go to my local coffee shop and occasionally the library. The internet and email can be a distraction, so I’ll usually go “old fashioned” with my notebook/sketchbook and writing utensils.

  • Conrad Von Supertramp

    I love the super late at night, or early early morning depending on your perspective. AFter midnight, when no-one is awake. NO cars going by. No noise, not many lights, dark quite solitude of creative energy flowing through the universe.

  • diana goh

    Can’t agree more. (^@@^)
    My perfect solitude is either very early in the morning, when the sun just rise, or late midnight. But the early morning period is usually short. When the noise from cars and human traffic starts, it’s different. And in order not to live life like a dracula, it’s good to practise and cultivate one’s creative focus. Thank U for the useful tips! *back to the solitude cave*

  • Vincenzo Vecchio

    Absolutely agree with all your points. The only difference is that I prefer nights instead of early mornings :)

  • Ithielcrossty

    Definitely, there is designers block just as there is writers block!

  • Sarah

    Maybe I don’t have the discipline, but I just can’t disconnect from the internet when I paint or write, because most of the time I’m looking for reference material. Especially when you’re working on a website, you *need* to have the net running! If you have to stay connected, a web designer friend of mine gave me the name of this program, Self Control:

    It lets you make up a list of websites you want it to block, such as facebook, twitter, etc. and you get to set a timer for how long you want it to block them. Really helps me stay on track. :]

  • Dratsum

    Great advice – I can’t get anything started with a messy work area, I almost always write late at night, when I’m the only one left in the office, and almost always I start in TextMate.

  • Mtn

    Great tips, my best solitude moment is at night. Thanks.

  • annelander

    Great tips, but personally I find picking just one task difficult. Sometimes I think enforced focus can be the enemy of creativity. Maybe it’s not the most commercially viable way to work, but it’s better than burn out!

    If you get inspired or ‘on a roll’ with something that wasn’t scheduled for that day, it’s better to go with it than stop and beat yourself up for getting sidetracked and potentially produce nothing at all. That’s also a good pathway to poor mental health.

    I’ve realised that if I force myself to only work on a particular picture, I will often make mistakes or it won’t be to the standard I know I am capable of. I found having at least three pictures in various stages of completion is the best for my creativity. If I get tired of tracing or my hands get too shaky, I can colour for a while or do some new observational drawings which use a different part of my brain to give the perfectionist a rest.

    Unless by ‘pick a task’ you mean more general tasks like, ‘draw’ or ‘write’, in which case I completely agree!

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  • resume help

    well, tips can be useful i think. but all these things are very personal. and i do not think that internet bothers. it is our life. and now internet is a part of it. i don’t really think that disconnection will help. that must come from your inner world and all the outside connections have nothing to do with that

  • Elizabeth

    I am so glad you wrote this. I have just recently discovered the usefulness of social media for networking, and I love it. But I have also lost a lot of time to it. Thank you for the reminder that my creativity is at the heart of what I do, and that making time for it is IMPORTANT! Off goes my computer now, while the desk is still clean.

  • Ross

    For clearing the desk… I just bought a $149 portable scanner (Brother). Being able to simply and easily scan all the notes, articles, doodles, idea generators into my computer keeps my desk ultra clear! And since I know I can retrieve these clutter-makers anytime and from anywhere, I’m free to throw out all the clutter without worrying about losing that great thought or idea. Great clutter-keeper system!

  • chadrodriguez

    I think this is really important for personal creativity. It’s always good to unplug to get fresh perspective for yourself. Knowing the “why” behind the “what” is so crucial to being a good creative. Great practical article.


  • essay writing

    Thanks for the interesting post!

  • Betty

    I thank you for this video and post!!! I have just joined the millions of “empty nesters” out there. I have raised 2 children by myself due to the fact that their father wanted no part of “Family”. I have been blessed to have my children in my life and the unconditional love that they have shown me. They are now on their own beginning their “own life”. I have been trying to figure out what “Being Alone” will mean to me and this post hit home! Thank you! Now on the “Me Time”!!! :)

  • Aaron Couch

    For writing with no distractions, I suggest Q10. Works like a charm!

  • Josh

    Turn off your cell phone! Doesn’t matter if you’re working at a time in which you wont be reached. Psychologically, it’s liberating to know that your space is impenetrable and that you are alone with your thoughts. Trust me, try it. 

  • Dave Baldwin

    I must be wired differently. I’ve found that my most creative times come when I’m in the most crowded, noisy environments. I tell some people I can get more work done sitting in the A Concourse of O’Hare Airport than sitting in my office.
    I know, I know, it’s just me!
    Thank you for the post though.

  • geraldine

    @twitter-21258487:disqus the most wonderful ideas pop up in my head when i’m doing house chores – washing dishes or washing my clothes. those where the times when a story idea, a scene, is visualized in my mind. and when i’m so engrossed in those thoughts, i just voiced it out; talking to myself. maybe i should record it. =)) after that, when i start writing, it’s gone. i can’t pen it. i like to hang out in the malls and observe people.

  • Sobala.M

    It is not about
    Obsession but about Passion.


    this article is my own way of clearing my mind or simply understanding my own
    psyche by sharing my experiences with you. But please do read. I have been
    engrossed in a creative project that is highly technical, for the past 4years.
    Looking into my past, I realise that I was never creative but innovative even
    though the two originate from the same area in the mind. I could never create
    something from the top of my head but by seeking what I call points of inspiration
    from other sources, mainly the internet (designer sites to be precise), I could
    create work I never imagined possible with my talents. From those experiences,
    I found solitude to be a blessing and a curse at the same time. Having that
    quite time to think and reflect has always bore the sweet fruit of creative
    work but I have found myself overwhelmed time and time again, so much I just
    have to switch off from the creativity. I get this slight nausea and just fill
    like I am out of my head a little like I am straining a muscle or something,
    maybe that is the reason why they call it brainstorming. So far, my coping
    mechanism has been to completely distract myself by participating in other
    activities like watching movies and music (my favourite) to cooking and
    cleaning. To be honest, these overwhelming feelings do scare me at times, maybe
    it’s the fact that I work in the mental health services to pay the bills.
     Finding the balance is definitely what I seek here. I feel that the whole
    experience of creativity should be about passion not obsession; after all I do
    have other commitments.


    is truly a creative treasure but so is participation in other activities. I am
    glad I have a 12hour 3day job not related to my creative work to distract me
    and give my mind that full life experience that it needs. Saying that though, I
    do find that I have had moments when my social life has suffered due to my
    passions but gladly my loved ones are not too needy to require my attention
    24/7. In fact, many encourage me to carry on and are more than happy for us to
    pick up from where we leave off socially. 


    feel that the human psyche in relation to creativity should be one of tuning in
    and out of the creative process rather than constant connectivity. What I mean
    by this is that, the psyche when it comes to life is tuned in at a certain
    frequency. That frequency allows us to enjoy the realities of life in full and
    no less. Our ability to imagine is perfectly natural but is a psyche at a
    higher frequency than the psyche of reality. The mind is not designed to
    completely stay in that high imaginative frequency but is designed to tap in to
    it at a very acutely balanced level. Maybe that is why sometimes, creativity
    feels so hard, because the mind is naturally preserving itself. It is at that
    point that one is free to carry on with the washing and cooking until the next
    imaginative session. I for one love living in reality but enjoy the occasional
    day dream. After all, reality is where I live and it is a blessing. 


    all in all, my take on the whole concept of creativity in relation to solitude
    is that, it is not about obsession in creativity but the passion instead. It
    makes for a balanced diet. So I always take my time in creativity and you
    should too.

  • Stephenwaymire

    I wrote the following in my little comp book I write in almost daily early in the morning to fcous. I use little comp book to make keep everything simple and direct:

  • shammer53

    The quiet moments are great but getting out of yourself is sublime.


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