At Entrepreneur’s Winning Strategies event in Long Beach last week, we heard a common theme from the audience. When you spend most of your time in an office in front of a computer, it’s easy to feel isolated. Disconnected. Disengaged.
It’s ironic, considering our uber-connected online world. But contrary to what you might think, spending time on social networks actually increases your sense of isolation. That burst of instant gratification dissipates as soon as you quit, leaving you with a hollow feeling. It’s like a bottomless pit you can never fill.
When it comes to working alone, I can definitely relate. I mostly work at home, by myself, in the mountains of Silicon Valley. But then, my isolation is self-imposed. After growing up in a crowded city followed by 20-plus years in the high-tech industry, I was craving peace and quiet.
Still, no man – or woman – is an island. And nothing can drain your enthusiasm and productivity more than feeling disengaged.
If you want to stay connected to the real world, your best bet is opening a storefront. It’s not for every entrepreneur and small business, but if it makes fiscal sense, there really is no better way to connect with customers, partners and vendors than actually having a real brick and mortar presence in the community.
If that doesn’t work for you, try networking. Not social networking. Old-school networking. You know, in the real world. Go to industry conferences or networking events. Start your own event. Get out and walk around the neighborhood and meet people. Or pick up the phone and, instead of texting or tweeting, actually use it to call and talk to someone.
Granted, you don’t want to waste your customer’s time or anyone else’s for that matter. Don’t just start desperately calling everyone and talking at them for hours on end. You’ve got to have some sense of whether they’re into it or maybe you’re invading their space. Pay attention.
Another option that came up last week is connecting customers that might benefit from getting to know each other. Long ago, one of my sales reps connected me with another one of the companies he represented and, a year later, I ended up working there. The guy actually created a huge opportunity for me.
Then, of course, there’s food. Everyone eats on the go these days, but that’s not only inhuman, it’s a missed opportunity. I’m not much of a morning person, so I’m better off having breakfast alone, but lunch, coffee, dinner, drinks – they’re all better with company. Besides, we all have to eat and drink, right?
If all else fails, there are a number of activities that will help you to feel connected and maybe even inspired … that don’t even involve other adults. Instead of working out in the morning, try doing it around midday, say just before lunch. Get out and run, hike, walk, or shoot some hoops. It’ll also take the edge off a stressful workday.
Then there’s the Zen approach. Commune with nature. Take a break and go to the park or a lake. Do some gardening. Pick flowers. Throw a ball around with your dog or play with your kids. Take a nap or meditate (you’d be amazed at how rejuvenating actually connecting with yourself can be). Whatever works for you.
Speaking of what works, here’s one thing I’m pretty sure doesn’t work. Reading. Honestly, I can’t think of a more solitary activity than reading. Don’t get me wrong; I love to read. But if you’re alone and feeling isolated, disconnected, or disengaged, that’s probably not the answer.
Look, you’re not an avatar. You’re flesh and blood. I know it’s counterintuitive, but if you want to feel connected, you have to disconnect from the online world and find actual people. If you can’t do that, the next best thing is to commune with anything that’s alive. It’s not only good for you. It’s good for your business.
Now, I’m going to head into town and grab a cappuccino. Care to join me?
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