May 20, 2020

Along with the social distancing, constant hand washing and facemarks, COVID-19 has added another issue many people – including creatives – are finding challenging: working alone in isolation. A lot of creatives have grown up in the open office environment, sitting side-by-side with other employees sharing ideas, discussions and creative on a continual cycle of collaboration and conversations. The new reality of working from home in isolation is like being locked in a dark closet. Conversation and background office discussions are now distant memories. Collaboration takes more effort than just poking your head over your desk and speaking. 

So with all of this, why does it seem I am currently more productive and creative than I ever have been?  

Don’t get me wrong, collaboration is important for everyone. Collaboration is often said to be a key to creativity. How, then, does our best work often seems to happen in solitude? Why do so many of us so often find ourselves going into work early saying “it’s the only time I can get things done!” or working long after set office hours to finish a project that does not have an impending deadline? Because we are able to singularly concentrate on the project at hand by remaining unplugged, disconnected and laser-focused. 

Solitude was instrumental for some of our greatest artists and intellectuals. History is full of iconic artists and scientists who accomplished their greatest work in isolation or because of it. Great scientists such as Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Sir Isaac Newton are quoted referencing the benefits of working in solitude. Newton in particular was a proponent of isolated working, often shutting himself away in his room restricting his conversations only with those who he thought capable of appreciating his work. Artists, writers and actors/actresses as well found that their best work was often produced in isolation. Pablo Picasso said “without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

But how do you create an office zone free of distractions while being disciplined with your working hours? I have read numerous articles and online posts discussing this very thing. Everyone has a set list of ideas and beliefs as to how and why. Some are very specific and others are very loosely organized. I think everyone’s approach is different,and we all have a unique way finding our own personal center of focus. Be it starting with a morning coffee, going for that run, or jumping in and going right to work, we all find our own routine to get into that zone. Whichever way you do it, what is essential is making sure we are productive and using our time of solitude the best that we can. Here are some ideas that I think help to keep you productive and the zen flowing. 

  • Participate, talk and explore. To be creative we still need to connect with the world. By reaching out and talking with others, joining an online chat about a topic you’re interested in or by reading the work of others, it helps us grow our minds, generate creative thinking and give us the experiences we seek when we are at home and working in isolation. It will become the catalyst for original thinking and creative breakthroughs. I think simply being alone without interacting with the outside world creates a view that very often can be too narrowly focused.
  • Schedule your time to work. Staying disciplined with a set timeframe enforces your thoughts to be singularly productive on the current task at hand. Too many breaks or unorganized work hours help to make distractions become, well, distracting. Being disciplined by working at set times helps to build confidence and a strong work ethic that really drives up production.
  • Remove those distractions. Being able to work on a singular project or idea without allowing for distractions helps us to focus our most important thoughts and creative thinking, which is often impossible in a busy office environment. Shut off your phone. Close the door. Let your housemates know that you are off limits for a time. If a distraction is inevitable, take a break and take care of the issue. Then come back for a set amount of time afterwards without those distractions.
  • Moderate your expectations. Lets face it, we don’t always hit it on all cylinders every day of every week for every month. Mental roadblock is a common and almost expected occurrence for any person and working in isolation can sometimes make it seem far more of an issue than it really is. Sometimes you are storming the castle and taking no prisoners and other times you cant even get over the wall. Relax. Maybe now would be a good time to take that break and go out and do something fun. Very soon I guarantee you that the wall will crumble and you will move forward with your thoughts and ideas. Do not judge yourself or your output.
  • Include relaxation. Working in a highly focused island of isolation can be both energizing, productive and tiring. A healthy life is a combination of focused work along with an extremely healthy dose of personal time. Don’t hold back. Go out and do whatever it is that quenches your soul. Follow your passions. In turn, those passions will help you to focus and think creatively the next day. Live it up with whatever gets you excited and let’s see what tomorrow brings.


May 18, 2020

For many of us, the feelings of stress and anxiety often ebb and flow depending on external circumstances. But the circumstances we are living in now; the compounded negative effect of stay-at-home orders, unemployment, and the threat of illness for ourselves and our families, is creating a constant barrage on the efficacy of our body’s biological response to fight anxiety. 

In an April 20th, 2020 article published by The American Journal of Managed Care, “nearly 7 in 10 employees indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic is the most stressful time of their entire professional career” and that “88% of workers reported experiencing moderate to extreme stress over the past 4 to 6 weeks.” That translates into a loss for employers through declines in productivity, creativity and effectiveness. Not to mention the impact on employees’ personal lives.

Already, even in our pre-COVID-19 era, a lot of mind-share was devoted to awareness of the negative impact of stress on our health and well-being. And now that we’re in a new paradigm of a global health threat that currently doesn’t have a cure, or even a preventative, the knowledge of the impact of stress, I think, is even more timely.

When we experience a stressful event like physical trauma or even the mere rumination of a potentially stressful event in the future, our body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated. It’s commonly referred to as our “fight-or-flight” response. The activation of that system releases a variety of chemicals and hormones like cortisol into the body. Chronic, continued activation of the sympathetic system, and those accompanying hormones, is associated with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

In contrast, we also have a natural system in place that restores our body to a calm and relaxed state — the parasympathetic nervous system. And just as various physical and mental triggers activate our stress response, we can also intentionally shift our body into its relaxation response.

Each of our body’s five senses provide a variety of opportunities to relax and manage stress.


Immerse yourself in the natural world — gaze intently at the landscape, the park or even just the clouds and sky above. Stare for a few minutes at a single tree and really notice the colors and texture of the bark and leaves. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported experimental results that demonstrated a lowered level of stress after just looking at photographs of nature. 


Many of us listen to music while working to help us stay focused and relaxed. As an alternative, try listening to Gregorian or Buddhist chant. Simple, natural sounds like falling rain can also be deeply relaxing. One of my newest finds has been listening to the sounds of “singing bowls” made from brass or crystal. YouTube is a great source for these.


Light a scented candle, apply fragrant hand lotion or diffuse essential oil into the air with atomizers or nebulizers. Lavender, vanilla and lemon are some of the typical scents that provide relaxation. But any particular scent you love, makes you happy or that brings back good memories can help reduce stress. For me, the scent of clover immediately reminds me of my childhood — specifically the summertime laundry that was dried outdoors on the clothesline and took on the scent of the surrounding hayfields of my family’s farm.


As a response to stress, it’s common to compensate with eating — we naturally crave salt, fat and high calorie foods. But eating these foods can create imbalances and spikes in blood glucose that cause irritability and ultimately a cycle of even more stress through increased cravings. Specific nutrients and chemical compounds found within particular foods, however, can actively assist in stress reduction. Salmon, yogurt, oatmeal, nuts and berries are all good choices. And perhaps the ultimate win-win just might be dark chocolate — at 70 percent cocoa or higher, 1.4 ounces of chocolate per day can lower levels of cortisol. 


Another great tutorial to walk through on YouTube is “tapping”, also known as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). It’s a series of gentle taps of your fingertips onto specific points of your face and upper body that help relieve tension and stress. It’s a technique that has even been adopted by professional golf, football and baseball athletes.

An important fact to remember is that any one of these techniques can make a difference in stress management. Don’t give yourself an additional burden by committing to too many. Try just one or two. When it feels right you’ll enjoy the process and more likely continue, and ultimately feel the better for it.