I don’t know about you, but sometimes it can be hard work only having yourself for company.
It’s the first day after an all-too-fleeting weekend and the blank page in front of you just won’t quit. The curser flickers. You know it’s waiting for that captivating first sentence. You rack your brain for something genius to write; your eyes flicker to the long list of things to do that you wrote the night before in an attempt to motivate an early start in the morning; it’s 11.30am and you’re already on your fifth cup of tea.
Working as a writer is a lonely business, sure. Living alone undoubtedly makes things harder. Setting up house in a city empty of familiar friendships and family that love you, well, that’s just the cherry on top of a heavily iced cake.
On the outside I guess it looks like quite a reclusive existence and speaking honestly there are times when this is a fairly accurate description; you can’t help but mournfully ponder why nobody wants to be your friend. There are also times though (and thankfully so) when this could not be further from the truth. With each day filled with autonomy and self-satisfaction, only a fraction of time is spent thumb-twiddling or striking up conversation with a good-looking reflection (it happens).
Fulfillment and (let’s face it) sanity whilst working alone, for me depend on a few things. Structured into a handy list, here lies my best advice on how to survive your own company.
Make a Schedule
There is nothing worse than having nothing to do, or trying to organise a day that is built upon multiple post-it notes hidden in different ‘safe places’. You know the ones; so safe you can’t remember where you oh-so safely hid them away. Prioritise, organise and be sure to follow through.
Make the most of social media. In business hours you ought to use it for business, so don’t go checking for the latest MIC scandal or London Fashion Week news, but do use it to form new relationships, research others in the field and find inspiration. If Twitter’s not your thing try commenting on an online forum around a topic you’re interested in. Sometimes these can be great sources for quotes or new ideas. Social media is a great way of remembering how many people are out there, and how many people are in a situation similar to your own.
Keep it Real
Working alone can lead to one of two things. Being really easy on yourself – “sure it’s fine to watch 3 hours of daytime TV for every half hour of productive work, I’m my own boss, I can do what I want!”– OR being a total slave driver. It’s important to think of yourself as both an employee and an employer. Treat your day as though you were working for someone else; take your half hour lunch break, stretch your legs, text your friends or go for a walk, because at the end of the day, your entitled to.
Make it Personal
Following the above, recognize your freedom and understand your needs as a worker. If you’re not a morning person and lounging around watching Homes under the Hammer actually helps get into a work-based frame of mind, do it. If you know you work better in the evening, give yourself a lie in. If you were struck by inspiration at 7am, finish your day at 3. If you need two 15 minute breaks as opposed to one 30 minute lunch, so what? Take it. It’s important to recognize your work habits; you have the freedom to structure your day to suit them.
Create a Background Buzz
If it’s not too distracting, listen to the radio. Having a bit of background noise helps to create a busy atmosphere, reminding you that although you might feel like the lone survivor of an apocalyptic meltdown, there are actually other people out there getting on with their day, just like you.
Destroy the Evidence
Don’t literally destroy your work. But at the end of a working day it IS useful to totally remove yourself from your workspace. Just as you would pack up and close the door on your 9-5, do the same in your work environment. If (like me) you work at home in a space that is impossible to close the door on, because there is no door, then make sure all work-related equipment is put away. Return the space to its liveable format. It will do wonders for your frame of mind.
When your workday is over try to engage in a bit of human interaction. Grab some groceries and have a chat with the lady at the check-out (not as weird as it sounds, in my experience the conversation is appreciated), arrange to meet someone for dinner or go for a drink with a friend, give your mum a call and offload about your day, set up a Skype date or head to the gym. Basically, do something that is completely separate from your work persona and start to fulfill your social needs.
Remember your Health
When working in isolation it’s easy to be forgetful of your health. We’ve touched on the social aspects of lone work, whilst this list has been compiled to benefit your mental state. We ought not to forget physical health either. So, eat right, wear glasses if your eyes hurt, sit up straight, drink a load of water and remember to exercise. It’s important to feel pro-active in all aspects of your life, and to recognize your achievements. Exercise is great for focus and reflection; it creates space (and pain, lots of pain) that leaves you feeling refreshed and ready for the next working day.
Embrace the Insanity
A final note (and one that is likely to be the most useful) is to accept that you will go a little bit crazy. You’ll probably sing aloud and awfully out of tune forgetting that your neighbours can actually hear you; you might catch yourself in the mirror and have a little chat; you may send yourself a text to say hey, how’s it going?; you will definitely scold yourself for mistakes and commend your inner genius aloud, for a lot longer than is necessary, and you will probably literally pat yourself on the back, because there is no one else around to do it for you.
All of these things are possible, likely and absolutely fine. Essential to surviving the highs and lows of a one-man-band existence is embracing insanity, ironically, in order to stay sane.