Do you ever think about how much time you spend solo versus how much time you spend doing things at work with others? For some leaders, schedules fill up with meetings and team events. Other leaders barely take part in social situations.
The delicate balance between solo and social time has an impact on productivity, engagement, and happiness at work. Too much social time often reduces our productivity, focus, and energy. Too much solo time often reduces our connection, sense of alignment, and engagement. The right balance of solo and social time at work looks different for everyone, but to be happy (and productive at work), finding this middle ground is crucial.
Solo times allow you to recharge and reflect
Let’s start with the importance of solo time. Solo time is vital for leaders because time alone allows leaders to foster a point of view, focus, and reenergize. How often do you take time alone to return to your core mission and objectives? Without spending time alone reflecting on your mission, vision, and relationships, you are always following. Solo time is where you cultivate a dialogue with yourself.
Yes, it’s difficult to do—especially when the temptation and expectation of social time surround us both physically and digitally at work and at home. But it’s a crucial part of moving forward. Without taking the time to reflect—whether that’s journaling in the morning or sitting at a coffee shop by yourself for a few hours a week—you might not know whether or not you’re moving in the right direction.
Leading a team also requires a lot of energy. You need a break from running meetings, supporting the team, and working toward your goals. But it’s not enough to work alone. Leaders need constructive rest. Constructive rest is the kind of healthy rest you take during (or outside of) work that replenishes your energy. During work hours, constructive rest could look like taking a walk, meditating in a quiet room or in your car, or going for a coffee break. Outside of work, many people engage in activities like watching TV, drinking with friends, or intense exercise classes to force themselves to take a break from work. But those practices rarely restore your body and mind in a way that is sustainable and fulfilling. Activities like walking in nature, reading a book, sleeping, practicing yoga, and freewriting are all examples of real constructive rest.
Without first replenishing your cup of energy and connection to your inner purpose, you can’t engage with others authentically from a place of genuine, stable support. Now let’s move on to social time, or team time, which is an essential counterpart to our time alone.
Social time is an opportunity for positive engagement
Most leaders find that social time takes over their day-to-day work schedule. Leaders that manage teams tend to prioritize social time over solo time. For leaders that don’t manage a team, social time happens through cross-functional work and more casual interactions with others. Sometimes, social time is seen as unnecessary because meetings, side conversations, and group gatherings take focus and space away from the actual work.
This is often true; however, social time is essential for progress as well. And I’m not only talking about coffee chats, team lunches, or team bonding. I’m also talking about group meetings, one-on-one conversations, and video calls—any time you spend with other people.
Here’s the thing. You can’t have an effective team without alignment. That’s how you make progress and achieve something together. Without regular team meetings, team members work in different directions and lose connection to the collective vision. Team meetings provide a forum to clarify direction and also show how each individual contributes toward the collective vision. It’s also an excellent place to delegate tasks and rally around common objectives.
Time with others at work also cultivates a connection to purpose and the collective mission. Some of my best relationships grew from work situations—it’s easier to bond when you can talk about the impact of the contributions you make to the organization (and the world) every day. Spending time with peers can also help you work through challenges and share ideas to enhance your contributions and gain inspiration. A simple one-on-one brainstorm meeting or coffee chat can do wonders when you’re stuck in a rut.
Meetings can also enhance engagement and positivity. Whether one-on-one or in a group, a meeting is a great place to acknowledge people for their hard work and achievements. Making an effort to do so will make your team members feel valued, and they’ll have more of an incentive to strive to be their best self at work.
How to find your balance
Do you have a healthy balance of solo time and social time at work? As a leader, are you practicing a balance of both solo and team time? If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of meetings on your calendar and feel as though you don’t have time to realign and rejuvenate alone, it might be time to start a solo practice by blocking off your calendar or using your weekends for dedicated solo time. Cut the excess social time in your schedule by taking a close look at how you spend your social time and by setting boundaries.
If you feel that your team spends a lot of time together but not enough time on individual development, try out some of the solo exercises I suggest and encourage them to practice these as well. On the other hand, if you feel as though you’re craving more social time or need more social interaction at work, making time for some of the social can help to elevate your sense of connection.
The first step is to figure out if you have too much social time or solo time. Once you’ve done that, then choose one practice you can add to your weekly routine that will provide a bit more balance. It might take you a while to find your perfect mix, but when you do, you’ll be glad that you took the time to figure it out.
Hilary Jane Grosskopf is the author of Awake Leadership: A System for Leading with Clarity and Creativity and Awake Ethics: A System for Aligning Your Action with Your Core Intentions. She is a leadership strategist and founder of Awake Leadership Solutions.