Tag: Well-Being

Does Solitude Enhance Productivity?

Do you remember the time you came up with a perfect idea for your project while singing in a shower? Or while brushing your teeth before going to sleep? It might not be a coincidence, even though you thought so. It seems that productivity and creativity flourishes when we are relaxed, alone and focused on a mechanical task – that’s at least what scientists claim.




One For All – One For Himself

It is commonly believed that a group is the sum of constituent parts or greater in terms of productivity. A group by its definition consists of two or more individuals who are independent and can contribute with various actions towards reaching a common goal. Yet researchers have recently came to the conclusion that working alone might bring better benefits than working in a group.

According to Steiner’s Law of Productivity, group’s ‘actual productivity’ is its ‘potential productivity’ minus ‘faulty group processes’. Potential productivity refers to the team’s best possible performance if all members perform to their full potential, yet such “perfect” situation is nearly never achieved due to changing environments and moods. ”When an individual could see their partner actually performing the task, the partner’s performance interfered with their own performance, causing them to perform more slowly,”, explained Dr. Tim Welsh working in University of Calgary, Faculty of Kinesiology, who has just performed a new research on productivity. It could be a starting point of believing that we are better of working alone – rather than together.


Researcher claims that when an individual only saw others’ work results but not the action itself, the interference effect was no longer observed and performance as well as focus on the specific task improved. The psychology behind is that if we see someone performing a task alone and we are perfoming a similar, yet related task, we automatically imagine ourselves perfoming the task of a co-worker. This behavior is part of our mirror neuron system.

Mechanical Task + Unexpected Moment = Brilliant Idea

All of us could come up with the situation or two from our past when the best solutions to our problems came when we were alone, instead of being surrounded by people. The craziest yet the most productive places would probably be working table, shower and toilet (!) since one can be alone and focused on performing a mechanical task, which does not require thinking or specific thoughtful action. In such cases our brains are “unoccupied” and therefore “open” for new ideas, i.e. creative and innovative solutions to the problems we have.

Creativity is defined as an ability to come up with solutions and/or products which are original, useful and value adding, yet, according to Susan Cain, solitude is said to be out of fashion, since schools, companies and even our culture encourages group work instead of solitude, even though research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom. I have recently found a great article published in New York Times, written by her, Susan Cain, writer and lecturer, famous for her non-fiction book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. There’s a grain of truth in Susan’s words; she claims that psychologists who study creativity know that it requires both solitude and collaboration and exceptional creativity (i.e. exceptional ability to come up with new ideas) involves a lot of hard work (i.e. thinking), and that often happens in solitude. And, to my surprise, the most creative people are introverted – they are not extroverted enough to exchange their ideas with others…

Co-Working Might Slow Us Down

According to the author, Susan Cain, solitude is a catalyst to innovation, and has long been associated with creativity and transccendence. She also quotes Picasso’s words, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible”. Her thoughts on solitude enhancing productivity can also be supported by findings of Dr. Tim Welsh, who claims that co-working might be demotivating and slowing down.

We live in a society that worships teamwork rather than solitude. We encourage groupwork, group goals rather than personal achievements and personal characteristics. We tend to put people in “boxes” and view them as part of the content, not the content itself. Solitude is usually perceived to be a bad thing, as our whole society is built in order to serve each other in one or another way. With so many options and opportunities available to us for distraction, we generally tend to forget the value and importance of soliture and making room for thought, which is essential to sort our thoughts and find the power to regulate our lives.

But What About Brainstorm?

… I can hear you ask. It can also be argued that the activity we most often call brainstorming – the ability to bounce off ideas in a group, receive feedback and feed off of each others creative genius is something that cannot be achieved in solitude. Both are most likely true, because both serve different purposes. Brainstorm is arguably unmatched when the objective is to produce new ideas or entirely new ways of thinking, however when it comes to getting your sleeves rolled up and hands dirty it is probably not the best to be surrounded in the same environment where creativity lives. Creativeness and productivity seem to not get along too well, so best separate them. From this we can maybe draw the complete productivity formula – iterate between moments of solitude and work in groups for the maximum effect.

Alone But Not Lonely

Solitude itself is a state of seclusion, i.e lack of contact with people due to (mainly) purposeful actions. Short-term solitude is often valued as it can sparkle creativity (i.e. personl feels free and therefore has a chance to come up with useful solutions), yet purposeful long-term solitude, where any human contact is intentionally neglected, usually brings negative experiences to an individual. As mentioned earlier, persons creativity can be sparked when given freedom and solitude. Solitude should not be confused to loneliness and/or social isolation, which are unpleasant emotional responses due to isolation and lack of human contact. Loneliness and social isolation are usually involuntary and related to unpleasant feelings while being alone, whereas solitude is based on particular individual needs and wishes and are associated with intentional and positive experiences (i.e. I want to be alone, therefore I will not contact and/or talk to anyone today).

One could observe and conclude that a number of highly creative people, such as Nikola Tesla, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Albert Einstein or Franz Kafka highly valued solitude, since solitude was the only state of mind where they could use 100% of their potential as no one would observe or distract them while in process of creation.

The science of creativity shows that creative people, who do not need distraction would always prefer solitude to those, who feel good being part of the group. People differ. And so do our preferences. So question for you – do you have a method of finding solutions to your problems, and do you generally find the solutions while in solitude or in a group?

Exercise Your Brain

Researchers claim that with the working age we gradually start loosing our memory, though it is possible to train brain in order to improve both short term memory (i.e. working) as well as long-term memory. 

Would you be able to remember phone numbers of your beloved ones if you lost your phone, and your colleague would offer to call from theirs? Are you able to recall a name of your friends boyfriend you met yesterday, while passing by and meeting the happy couple? If you answered “no” to both of questions, you might have a room for improvement. And that is not even too hard.

In many cases people over forties would experience “shrinking memory” as they often start to notice that their memory and mental clarity are not what they used to be like before. In such cases people would usually observe the “shrinking” effect of their short term memory, where they would realize they have forgotten where did they put the keys that they just had in a palm or would forget the name of a colleague.

Is It Inevitable?

The short answer, just like to majority of situations would be “it depends”. It depends on your job, your social skills, your abilities and even your genes. It might seem innocent and inevitable, but loss of mental focus can potentially impact ones professional, personal and social lives. Happily enough, neuroscientists claim that a lot can be done to increase our memory capacity, especially with brain exercising. Brain needs to exercise exactly like our muscles do and mental exercises can therefore increase the capacity. Thinking and accurate reading is the first step towards brain training, as it essentially is a process of making neural connections to the brain.

Even though strong memory depends on your age, health and vitality, a good thing is, that no matter your age, everyone can improve their memory and everyone can become better at this regardless of how good or bad it currently is.

Train Like A Pro

Not too long ago, San Francisco web-based company has taken even a step further in memory development and developed the first online-based “brain training program”, which is designed to help people improve and retain their memory. Lumosity is a website, where users are being offered to play various crosswords, based on creativity, attention and memory training. It shows you the ideal score you could have achieved as well as the one you did, so you can keep the track of your improvements. Besides, it also shows your progress after each class as it compares each of your actions daily. By now, more than 14 million people from 180 countries have trained online.

It is said to be far more than an online place to exercise mental skills, as it systematically allows you to train, keep track and improve based on variety of pre-designed tasks. Most importantly, it modifies and enhances the games making them slightly bit harder as you progress, so you could improve even more.

Memory Games

Besides regular daily activities, such as accurate reading, thinking and daily memory usage, there are some simple ways to improve your brain. Neuroscientists suggest to play a so called “vowel game”. You have to print an article or take a magazine, take a pencil or a pen and mark all vowels you see in a text as quickly as possible. Such kind of childish games do improve brain function. At least 10-20 minutes of daily exercise and in a few weeks you will not only see a significant improvement on your memory and attention, but also on the IQ!

Scientists also suggest changing your daily habits into doing something that you are not used to. Try doing that every single day and change the activity, so that you wouldn’t mechanically learn it but that it would still require conscious effort to complete it. A good example of such activity would be brushing your teeth with a left hand if you are right-handed, drink your coffee while holding a cup in the hand that you are not used to and try writing with the hand you don’t write with. Psychologists claim that the more “weird” actions you engage in, the more actively your brains work, therefore keeping it “in shape”.

If you have problems remembering names of people you are associated with, try associate names with something funny. Images and emotions remain in memory longer than plain names, therefore make funny associations for the names or think of nicknames that you would associate name with. I myself had a lot of problems when I just came to Denmark since Danish names were something unusual and I would have a really hard time remembering them. I would remember Mette as “meet a” and Line as a liner (sorry!). It might not be very nice of you if you start addressing people with the associations you made, but there’s nothing bad in helping yourself to remember names the easiest way for you. The more interesting and/or funny you make it, the easier it becomes to remember.

If you have problems remembering numbers and number combinations (phone numbers, PIN codes etc.), try making a sentence out of the numbers you have, which would be easy to remember. For example, you want to remember your car number, AN 44 887. Help yourself making a sentence out of it – “Anne Christensen in the week 44 turned 88, she celebrated birthday on Sunday”.  Another example would be remembering a PIN code for your bank card, for example, 1821. Make an association of something similar to “In Europe you can buy alcohol when you turn eighteen, whereas in US only from the age of 21″. Another option for that would be searching for number associations based on how it looks like. For example, if you imagine that 0 looks like a balloon, 1 – like a street light, 2 – like a swan and so on, it could help you remember numbers if you remember (imagine) them by the things you associate them with, e.g. 0180 – balloon, street light, bow in the hair, balloon. Funny and effective.

It doesn’t matter what kind of brain-training game you choose, remember to do it regularly to enjoy improved memory for a long time!