About a month ago, I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed. All day. Every day. I was relentlessly busy, and I didn’t feel willing to give up a single thing. This obviously lead to multiple dropped balls, lots of junk food, and lots of crying (for “no reason”).
I was looking at my Google Calendar, obsessively planning the upcoming month (typical), and I saw a blank weekend. My immediate reaction: how can I spend that weekend 100% alone?
I am very introverted. I enjoy time with family and friends so much, but I need a lot of time to decompress and recharge afterwards. There are often entire weeks where the only alone time that I get is consumed with chores and work. If I don’t plan relaxing alone time, it just doesn’t happen.
So I planned alone time. I got an Airbnb, packed sweats, jammies, and no makeup, and spent Friday afternoon-Sunday lunch in total solitude. The only person I saw was a cute lady who sold me kettle corn.
I feel like so many of you can relate: I am constantly, unendingly doing stuff for others. My husband, my family, my job, my readers. And I, for the most part, really enjoy the things that I do. I love love love interacting with and supporting my people. BUT it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and run down. Scheduling purposeful alone time saved my sanity.
I had 36 hours where I didn’t have to make anyone else dinner, I didn’t have to make small talk, I didn’t have to get dressed, I didn’t have to do anything.
This gave me the chance to do SO many things that I hadn’t made time for in months: I watched TV, I did 1,000,000 administrative tasks for the blog and for life, I set up systems to streamline a lot of the things I do every week, and I wrote. I wrote uninterruptedly. I wrote about nothing, and then copy and pasted the paragraphs that were worth saving into upcoming blog posts. I journaled and brainstormed and ate a bunch of chicken, mayo, and potato chip sandwiches (so, so good, I promise).
This weekend away gave me two things that I don’t get enough of: focused work and intentional alone time.
While I highly HIGHLY recommend that everyone get a weekend away when they can (even if it’s just volunteering to housesit for a friend), that’s not always practical. I can’t spend the money on an Airbnb or hotel room every time I need a reset.
What I can do? Build more focused time and intentional alone time into my weeks so I need this reset less urgently and less often. (I still plan to take at least one night away for myself every six months or so. I need it, and I’m willing to cut corners in other places to make it happen.)
Focusing on ONE task for an extended period of time is the best way I know to be productive. I don’t mean the emails that you write while you wait for dinner to finish simmering or the TV you watch while you schedule your week.
I mean sitting for 45 minutes and writing an entire blog post. I mean putting your phone on airplane mode, turning on an awesome playlist, and cleaning that cluttered af room in your house. I mean DOING THE WORK without distraction.
It’s so hard to make this happen. I know I’m not alone. The list of things that must get done each day is 1,000 items long, and it often feels easier to multitask. But I’ve learned the hard way that too much multitasking and not enough heads-down time makes me mean and teary.
By scheduling time for FOCUSED WORK, I relieve stress from the rest of the week. I have several two-hour blocks scheduled each week, and I use that time to plug in, ignore my phone, and power through. There are so many administrative tasks that support the work, but they can eat up all the time that you have to do the actual work. For me, that’s writing.
I can design graphics and schedule FB posts and send emails with the TV on or while listening to a podcast, but I can’t write while I’m distracted. At least nothing that’s worth reading.
Making time for this uninterrupted, focused work isn’t easy. I get up very, very early, even on the weekend. This is what works for me. I’m a morning person by nature, and I love killing that to-do list pre-10 a.m. I would rather write from 4:30-6:30 a.m. than give up my evening with Grant or drinks with a friend. And, to be honest, I often get the non-focused work done in the evening, regardless. Formatting a blog post or returning Instagram messages can totally happen during the Bachelorette.
INTENTIONAL ALONE TIME
Spending time alone is so essential to my level of happiness. If we meet for drinks and I am spaced out or having a hard time following the conversation, it’s likely that I haven’t had a substantial chunk of alone time recently.
I’m sure all of you — especially those of you with kids! — understand how difficult it is to get chunks of time to be alone. There are always errands to run and meetings to get to and endless family obligations to meet. And I usually use little tricks to fit alone time in the gaps: taking the long way home from an event so I can listen to a podcast, going for a walk, exercising with really loud music. But these don’t really count. They bandaid the issue.
To really feel restored and ready to take on another jam-packed day or week or month, I need several hours or more. I need time where I can be alone with my thoughts. I need several hours to watch what I want on TV or read without a timer that reminds me to move onto the next chore. I need time to zone out while I’m eating a sandwich.
I don’t think I’m alone in constantly running through the day’s agenda in my mind. What needs to get done next, what needs to get done tomorrow, what tasks I need to add to the to-do list at some point. I’ve got a lot of balls in the air, and this level of organization is required.
Taking chunks of time where I don’t have to think this way is meditative. It’s restorative. It feels like a nap, but without the weird hangover.
But the reality is that this time doesn’t just happen. I rarely get a four-hour block of Saturday without an event or task on the agenda.
So when it does happen — whether by chance or by plan — I want to spend it intentionally.
I’ve talked about this before — this means not scrolling on my phone. Not channel surfing. It means doing the things that I always wish that I had time for. Reading a book. Watching a favorite TV show. Going for a walk with a thermos of wine. Not talking to annnnnnnyone. If I spend this time on purpose, that means that I don’t waste one of my two free hours on Instagram.
I try to do this when I can in my everyday life. I often beat Grant home from work, and I’ll set a thirty minute timer and read before I need to start making dinner. Or I’ll wake up early on a Saturday so I can read in bed with my coffee before the day really starts.
Basically, I’ve learned that alone time isn’t going to just happen. I have to make it. And then make the most of it.
I am so thankful that I took the time and spent the money to go on a solo retreat. I am SO lucky that I can afford to do this (both with my time and with my disposable income). I am not blind to that. If you can’t take time away, you can hopefully implement an at-home version of my retreat. Make time for focused work and intentional alone time on a weekly basis, and watch your life change.
A real-time example of this focused work and alone time colliding: I got to a bar an hour before my friend. I’m enjoying a class of happy hour champagne and putting the finishing touches on this post.
Since my retreat, I’ve seen my stress levels drop and my daily mood improve. I also think that I’m sleeping better. When I take time for myself, I’m less likely to wake up sweating at 2 a.m. (which I’m sure is stress nightmare related).
What I’m saying is that I’m spread thin, sometimes too thin, and I’m working to fix that. My weekend away was the beginning, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.