I’m prone to squirreling myself away, binging Netflix and hunching over DIY or writing projects without coming up for air. Suddenly, I’ll catch myself in a one-sided conversation with the dog. I lean a little introvert on the personality spectrum, but even introverts get lonely.
There’s plenty of proof that introverts make great entrepreneurs, and it can be assumed, more equipped to thrive in the isolation that comes with the lifestyle. Alone and lonely, however, are two very different things.
Loneliness has been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, and poor social networks can contribute to a number of other health concerns. Cabin fever, it seems, is a more worrisome diagnosis than I thought. And, it’s an epidemic: the rate of loneliness has doubled in the past 30 years, with 40% of Americans reporting feeling lonely.
For solopreneurs, the company safety net doesn’t exist and the networks don’t come standard.
Three years ago, I made the leap from office to remote life. I’d tell you it’s my preference—that I’m more productive, less distracted—but the truth is, I do miss the energy of others (my dog notwithstanding). Frankly: I get lonely. At home, I don’t benefit from spontaneous group discussion or connections made at the coffee maker.
When I work from home, though, I still have access to Slack chatter and can hop into regular meetings on Hangouts. There’s a desk waiting for me on the other side. For solopreneurs, the company safety net doesn’t exist and the networks don’t come standard. In both cases, combatting loneliness requires a little proactivity.
Beat work-from-home isolation with a few tricks from the entrepreneurs that know how to get rid of loneliness:
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1. Get outside
Change the scenery
Note: if you are unable to have contact with others due to practicing social distancing, you can still get outside for some fresh air.
For a lot of new small businesses, renting office space can be too costly. But there are happy-medium alternatives to the tiny workspace wedged into the corner of your kitchen: answer emails from a café, get a membership at co-working spaces, or consider pooling together with other entrepreneurs to share a studio.
Sophia Pierro, owner of Present Day, started her business in her basement. "I would routinely try to do the laundry, dishes, and my bookkeeping at the same time," she says. "It saved me money, but I was wasting so much time that I'd end up working till 1-2am to catch up." Moving into a shared studio space has helped her curb loneliness and gain motivation to keep more "normal" hours and create space between life and work.
“I have cats. They help with isolation but are also super distracting,” she says. “My new studio is cat-less but I now have studio-mates, which is much better.”
We’ve already told you that fresh air and nature are great for productivity and strategic thinking, but a good dose of green can also alleviate symptoms of depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
“If there aren't built in reasons to move during your day," say Jason Fried and David Heineneier Hansson, authors of Remote, "Find excuse to move—for example, instead of eating lunch at your desk, walk to a cafe or sandwich shop.”
2. Crowdsource your health
Keep fit (and social)
Note: if joining an in-person class isn't an option, find group classes or fitness programs that are offered remotely.
Studies show that fitness improves concentration and enhances creativity – essential attributes of a great entrepreneur.
As a busy entrepreneur, that extra hour in the day could be put to good use: fulfilling orders, working on a social strategy, answering customer service emails. But it might be an hour better used to keep fit—studies show that fitness improves concentration and enhances creativity, essential attributes of a great entrepreneur.
Desk yoga is great in a pinch, but a regular fitness commitment can pull double duty as a way to combat isolation. Join a run club, hit the gym, or sign up for group fitness classes—anything that involves other people. The positive impact on your heart and energy is a bonus.
Eat well, together
When I work from home, my meals sometimes consist of a spoonful of peanut butter or a tray of oven fries. It’s an easy habit to adopt when you’re busy—putting work needs ahead of your own.
Planning healthy meals can increase productivity, but it can also be social. For accountability, I use apps that help track eating habits, but also connect me with others. Many have a social component, allowing you to share your health goals with a supportive community.
3. Make time for face time
Note: if your current situation prevents you from connecting IRL, technology is a great plan B, as long as you're connecting with other humans.
Technology makes it easy to run a business without ever leaving your couch and sweat pants. Kicking it old school with some real face time, though, keeps your communication skills sharp, and your social health in check.
Teach and learn
Connect with other entrepreneurs and hone your craft by enrolling in workshops and courses. For more seasoned business owners, pay the knowledge forward by applying to teach.
"Now that we’re sharing a space, we’re putting a whole new plan into action," says Sophia. "We're starting community workshops, classes, and programs that are connecting us even more with our community.”
Move your meetings offline
No need to be lonely when you can squeeze human interaction into your day-to-day business tasks: visit your suppliers in person, deliver local orders by hand, and meet your designer over coffee.
Whether you’re treating yourself to a trip to attend a small business conference abroad, or popping into a local meetup, events are great for not only for learning new tricks of the trade—they’re also replete with other cabin-fevered entrepreneurs looking to connect.
Grow your professional support network quickly by attending events that have networking built in. “When I want to meet people who are also into fashion or online retail, there are plenty of fashion startup round tables here in Portland, so I try to go to as many as I can,” says Sarah Donofrio, founder of One Imaginary Girl.
Networking events also offer opportunities to practice your pitch, source investors, and bounce new ideas off seasoned entrepreneurs.
4. Stay connected
Note: if you're practicing social distancing or are unable to meet people in person, there are plenty of ways to connect online.
Reach out often
Out of sight, as they say. You’re likely not interacting face to face with your business’ stakeholders or customers on the regular, and maybe your assistant is virtual. Be proactive about making online contact regularly.
“Make a point of reaching out to other people," says Stephanie Shanks, who works remotely for Shopify. "It can be hard sometimes—I’m quick to assume they’re all super busy and I don’t want to bug them with chit chat—but it’s what keeps me connected.”
A more formal approach may work for you as well: schedule time into your calendar to make contact—it’s one of those items that might otherwise be put off forever.
Join online communities
Even if you’re running a business from a small rural community, there are plenty of support resources in forums and groups designed for entrepreneurs. Can’t find a group that fits your niche or personality? Start one!
“Online small business groups are great for after-hours assistance and feedback with impartial views," says Melanie Hercus, founder of The Local Pantry Co.
Make (real) friends
“I joined a few local networking groups of people my age, which have been incredibly beneficial for my business," says Sophia. "It's impossible to run a business fully on your own, so taking the time (even if you don't have any) to meet others in your community will, without a doubt, help you in the long run.”
But where do you meet friends as an adult? It's a big, lonely world out there. There are plenty of apps that follow the swipe-right dating model, but are designed for platonic or business connections.
Surround yourself with people who support your business and your lifestyle.
Feelings of loneliness can occur because of non-existent social networks. But, they can also impact people with large networks of toxic or low-quality friendships. Surround yourself with people who support your business and your lifestyle.
“I designate time every single day to take a break from it all and connect,” says Josie Elfassy-Isakow, owner of MagneTree. “If I don't, I just can't focus because I'm browsing through social media all day long, looking to fill that space.”
Expand your wolf pack
Offer an internship opportunity to a student or new grad—barter business knowledge and real world experience in exchange for low-cost help and human interaction. Contact local colleges for information on work placement and internship programs in related fields of study.
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5. You do you
It’s easy, from home, to blur personal time with dedicated working hours, and you may find yourself bailing on girls' night out to pack boxes or tackle invoices. Establishing office hours, setting deadlines, or scheduling tasks in your Google calendar can help with work/life balance.
Draw the line
Use tools like Trello or RescueTime to keep you on track. Walking a dog or other daily establishing events can also act as work-day markers. “Coming back from the dog run in the morning is the start of my day,” says Valentina Rice, owner of Many Kitchens,“and I have that clear delineation where I will take her out again at lunch and after work.”
Get a life
Kaitlin and Ryan Lawless try to save business conversions for after their first coffee. They take respite from their work life by focusing on their relationship over the daily morning ritual.
Allow yourself to step away from the business to focus on hobbies and friends outside of your industry. The effects can actually be good for your business. Studies show that some hobbies can improve communication skills and work ethic, and help you cope with work-related stress.
“In addition to running my store, I also DJ for OPB radio, and being an indie rock radio station, there's no shortage of characters there," says Sarah. "I always have concerts or pub nights to attend, and am surrounded by people who want to talk about music all night.”
When lonely feelings come knocking, remind yourself of the benefits of working solo. Without the shackles of a cubicle and punch-card, you’re free to make your own hours or work from the road. Take your business with you while you check places off of your travel bucket list.
And remember, sometimes the grass isn’t always greener. “As an entrepreneur working in the intense pace of Hong Kong," says Alexis Holm, owner of Squarestreet, "I would revel in the chance to experience some isolation and loneliness.”
Take care of yourself. Your business will thank you.
Feature image by Burst