Working alone is critical to effectiveness.
Popular wisdom tells us collaborating is the best way to work, but is that true all the time? No.
While work is fundamentally social, and teamwork is critical to any positive work experience, it shouldn’t be the only way you work. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you need both time with others and time alone. In fact, being altogether all the time can actually get in the way of effectiveness.
Working In Teams Is Important
Figuring out how to work successfully in teams is more important than ever. Problems are getting more complex and multiple disciplines need to come together to solve them. It’s so important that a new field of study, described in the Journal of Science Translational Medicine, has been established to help understand and inform more effective teamwork across multiple disciplines.
In terms of team size, researchers at the University of Chicago found smaller teams came up with novel ideas, particularly when it came to science and technology. Big teams had their place—they tended to develop and consolidate existing knowledge. But overall, they were more conservative and offered less innovative solutions.
Time Alone Also Matters
But time alone is also important. College students are an example. Often new students are urged to join up, find a group and establish friends early— evidence of the importance of our social nature, sources of happiness and approaches to survival in new situations. But embracing alone time can be very good for mental wellbeing and performance according to a study in the Journal of Motivation and Emotion. Appreciating time to reflect, solve problems on your own and assert independence are important life skills.
Productivity may also be enhanced by working alone. Researchers at the University of Calgary found when people around you are working slowly, it may degrade your own productivity. Therefore, working at your own productive pace can be the best approach for the greatest effectiveness.
How To Create More Time Alone
How should you create time alone? First, distinguish between loneliness and being alone. Our society tends to overvalue social time and undervalue alone time. So, remind yourself how time alone is valuable to reflecting, rejuvenating and mindfulness. Remind yourself of the value of being alone.
Set boundaries. If your Saturday lunch with a friend always goes long, set a time limit so you have the opportunity for a solitary walk in the park on your way home. Or if a phone call from your aunt tends to go on and on, explain at the beginning of the conversation that you only have a limited amount of time because you have other obligations (to yourself).
Use your in-between times. Rather than opening Instagram or Facebook while you’re waiting in line at the pharmacy, and rather than dialing a friend while you’re on the subway, take advantage of these moments to be by yourself and in your own mind without the clutter of others.
Revel in the solitary. Figure out what you love to do and find ways to spend time with yourself (or with a pet). Plan for the walk you’ll take with your dog, learn to kayak on quiet waters or leverage your Audible subscription—anything to be on your own now and then.
Teamwork works—there is no question. But it’s not a panacea and you must have time alone to be your best. Value time with yourself and plan for it intentionally. You’ll be better with others when you’re also able to be by yourself.