Why executives must protect — and cherish — alone time

Meetings, phone calls and social interactions claim a significant share of an executive's day. While these interactions are essential to running a company, creative thinkers need regular periods of solitude free from conversation or distractions, according to the Harvard Business Review

Throughout history, leaders have cited the importance of alone time to fuel creativity. But contemporary culture is saturated in connectivity, reinforcing the perceived need for constant interaction. Time spent alone has even come to be viewed as wasted or indicative of a melancholy or untrusting personality. According to HBR, we should celebrate solitude as a signal of emotional maturity and psychological development.

Although collaboration and positive interactions among colleagues is critical to corporate health, oftentimes the best insights manifest during solitary reflection when individuals are unafraid to delve into new and unconventional ideas. Neuroscientists have reaffirmed: Solitude breeds creativity. We come up with our best ideas when we can think without being engaged in our immediate environment. When we think freely and let our minds wander into our own personal warehouses of memories and emotions, a default mode network is activated in the brain, according to the report.

Unfortunately, most people don't afford themselves adequate alone time, so this type of deep, purposeful and imaginative contemplation doesn't occur. The modern workplace — especially a busy hospital or physician's office — may not be conducive to quiet thinking time. However, there are steps executives and their teams can take to increase time spent in solitude without lessening collaboration or becoming withdrawn from work.

One simple solution is designating an area in the office or hospital for quiet work. The most important thing, according to HBR, is for bosses to let employees know they respect each person's individual work style. Bosses should encourage employees to take periodic rests and periods of solitude during the work day, and all of their allowed vacation days. These breaks are critical for restoring energy and replenishing creativity.

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