Why working alone is as important as collaboration

Collaboration is a sexy word these days. Here in Silicon Valley, I can collaborate around splitting my grocery bills, working out and ordering in. But what I found ironic about collaboration in a work setting, or at least a start-up work setting, is that it’s not the most common activity.

In a start-up – especially the very, very beginning of one – most collaboration is done by the founder(s) as they sit. And think. And go outside and walk. Or sit back at their desk and think.

Sure, there are whiteboards full of scribbles, conference calls with gurus and coffee chats with mentors and experts and advisors and future board members.

But there’s a lot of sitting alone, alone with your thoughts.

And if that sounds lonely, it is. But it shouldn’t scare you. To paraphrase some wisdom from my friend Elle Luna: no good ideas and creative works of art have ever been made without some real stretches of solitude.

And I think that’s absolutely true. If you can afford to, dedicate the first hour of your day to brainstorming alone. To sitting and thinking. That little blip of alone time is what will power the rest of your collaborating. It’s why shower time has been shown to be so productive: a single uninterrupted break of the rest of the world, with no distractions, no collaborations to be had, except with yourself.

As your start-up grows, don’t phase out your alone time in favour of full time collaboration, however tempting it may be. It’s here where it’s most important to keep solo time in the picture. If you can, save your weekends from collaborations. If your side hustle is dedicated to weekend time, dedicate a portion for collaborating, and a portion (ie, the mornings) for your own time. I promise it will fuel the rest of your team-based work with innovation, creativity, and productivity.

And when you get out of the initial ideation stage, the collaboration becomes awesome. You are riffing on an idea with other people (those mentors or team members or advisors) who now have something tangible to review and help you flesh out and develop. For me, the perfect day is a morning of solo time putting pen to paper, and an afternoon reviewing it with others.

Our team at When To Jump collaborates in a million different ways. My colleague Amy, our director of operations, splits time in LA and here in San Francisco. We build in a week a month together in person, plus weekly Google Hangouts to set goals for the week ahead and a recap of the week behind. For phone calls, we do end of day, to debrief on what we got done and set it against the goals of the week. In this way, my mornings are unobstructed.

For our broader team, we aim to hold virtual one-to-one catch-ups with most team members every two weeks or more, plus quarterly all-hands video hangouts. With a team that spans two coasts and a bunch of cities (plus one team member, Dirk, living and working in his RV crisscrossing America!) it’s digital collaboration that makes our collaboration happen. We have a rule that no meeting runs for more than 30 minutes, and we try to stick to it.

That way, we can keep collaboration constant, and have some time for ourselves.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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