Getting Shit Done & Staying Sane

(by Elaina Giolando)

"I’ve come to accept that being a blogger means giving all my secrets away.

Today I’m going to tell you my biggest secret for coming up with new ideas, getting and staying inspired, and maintaining my creative productivity while still working a full-time job.

It's pretty simple. At least once a month, I spend a Sunday in solitude from sunrise to sunset — no technology or other people allowed — and take the day to fully disconnect myself and engage in purposeful thought, creative exploration, and self-care.

I call them Sundays for the Soul and they are a sacred practice in my life. They help me get inspired, work on important projects, and recalibrate my physical and mental health.

My kind of Sunday for the Soul

Today was one of my Sundays for the Soul, so I'll walk you through what one of these days looks like for me. I hope it inspires you to craft a practice that works for you.

Last night, I went out with some friends and came home late. Before falling asleep, I put my phone on airplane mode and purposefully turned off all the usual alarms. (This is going to be good.)

Today I woke up at noon with the sunlight beaming in through the windows. For me, it’s such a joy to let the body wake up naturally, so I didn't beat myself up for sleeping in. I laid around in bed for awhile, relishing in the warmth and softness and being deeply grateful for a safe, private, and comfortable place to sleep.

Elaina blog article on Embracing Solitude at least once a month

I finally sat up and settled in for a few minutes of meditation. To be honest, I’ve gotten out of my regular practice lately but I still try to sneak even ten or fifteen minutes in whenever I’m able to have a slow-moving day.

Eventually I showered and got dressed, deciding to take a day-long vacation from jeans, boots, makeup, and jewelry. I stripped off my jangly bracelets, left my watch on the dresser, and slipped into yoga pants, sneakers, and a beanie. It’s heaven to have the opportunity to dress simply and not decorate myself for anyone else's eyes.

To wake up the artist brain, I start the day with my usual morning pages (three pages of stream of consciousness writing). This lets me purge a lot of unnecessary mental bullshit and begin to tap my creative well. Then I pack up my journal and books of the week and jog to my favorite neighborhood cafe, which is always full of scattered groups of friends talking quietly and handfuls of individuals curled up like happy cats with books, laptops, and coffee.

My phone is back home on the nightstand, where it stays on airplane mode. This is a key component of my “Sundays for the Soul” practice: no technology. No phone, no internet, and if I absolutely have to use my laptop for writing, I keep it on airplane mode, too.

Without any distraction from my phone or laptop, I settle in for three hours of deep reading, journaling, and thinking — not to mention great coffee and eggs. It’s incredible how much more quiet and creative the mind can get when it goes for an extended period of time without being distracted by another person, device, or activity.

I use this time purposefully: to think about new ideas, to journal, to flesh out topics I want to write about, to read important non-fiction, and to reflect on the past week and the week to come. Anything related to my job, other people, or things I have the urge to Google all get jotted down on a piece of paper and set aside for Monday morning. Only work on personal projects, fleshing out ideas about the future, reading, writing, and other creative brainstorming will get done today.

After a second cup of coffee, I move outdoors and spend some time reading in the sun. This time with nature is important since I’ll inevitably spend most of my week in the office or otherwise removed from grass and the warmth of direct sunlight. Sometimes I go for a long walk, ride a bike, or visit some other form of green space.

Elaina Biking in Berlin

Back home after sunset, I prepare a simple dinner of fresh vegetables, olives, bread, and cheese and sit up on the roof deck where I focus on enjoying my food with no distractions — no books, no laptop, no phone, no conversation, no music. I really just sit with myself and eat, something none of us really do or are even able to enjoy doing anymore. I think it’s an acquired taste, no pun intended.

After dinner, I make a fire (I’m lucky to be renting a homey cottage for autumn in Australia) and bring out my laptop on airplane mode. Curled up in front of the fireplace, I decide on three topics from my afternoon brainstorming session and start writing a draft for each one. This time is used for getting the words and ideas down, which takes dedicated brain power. Editing the drafts, which is a much more mechanical task, can be done after work later in the week when I don’t have as much time or energy. This compartmentalization of the creative process is my secret for maintaining a freelance writing career while also working full time.

Freelance Writing Career

I can usually manage one draft per hour, but sometimes bigger ideas or more important pieces take longer. As a writer, I've come to know that producing a certain amount of content is just about showing up to the page. So whether I feel like it or not, I show up and write. Because I’ve structured the day in a way that leaves me inspired and rejuvenated, I usually feel ready. But even if I didn’t, this is the time I’ve allocated and I’m going to show up and do the work, however imperfectly, until it’s finished. Sometimes making bad stuff is just the necessary gateway to making better stuff later.

Once the most important work of the day is done, I’ll return to my books and read until bedtime. These days I try to read books in no more than three sittings, which gives my mind a chance to settle and really focus on the content of the book in a much deeper way than reading a chapter here or there.

When it’s time to go to sleep, the creative solitude of the day has had a meditative effect on me. And I actually feel excited to set my alarm, knowing I’ll wake up tomorrow and put on my jewelry and makeup and boots and march back into my social world with a big smile on my face.

Adapting it to your needs

I’ve written this account from the perspective of a writer and blogger, but the formula is always the same: mornings for health, afternoons for inspiration, evenings for execution, and bedtime for relaxation.

The actual activities you do will reflect your own interests. You can dedicate these Sundays to writing poetry, learning a language, drawing cartoons, reading the classics, starting a magazine, or designing clothes. If you’re a musician, you might spend afternoons practising and evenings composing. If you’re starting a new business, you might brainstorm the brand concept in the afternoon and write website copy in the evening. I like reading before bed, but you might prefer listening to a new record or sketching with colored pencils.

What you don’t do is watch a movie on Netflix or go to yoga class or invite your girlfriend over. A Sunday for the Soul is a day of complete solitude and the no-technology rule is sacred. The process of fully disconnecting and freeing yourself of all distractions is an essential prerequisite for deep concentration, purposeful self-awakening, and tangible creative output.

By taking yourself on a mini retreat at least once a month, your side projects and artistic interests will blossom. You’ll refine your ability to think deeply, spend time alone with yourself, and execute new ideas. You will feel more energized and focused. You may even find yourself excitedly setting aside important or difficult tasks in anticipation of that Sacred Sunday Solitude and looking forward to chucking your phone in a drawer for the day. Imagine that."

To finish that inspiring article we have selected this extract from "The Work We Were Born to Do" (by Nick Williams) which is quoted in the 'Mini Retreat' link above:

“When we are on the early steps of reclaiming our true selves, we can feel very vulnerable, like a sapling just rising from the Earth. We may need to fence it off for protection, but as our sense of self gets stronger, we flourish and can remove the fences and quit hiding. Then in time we become a strong tree able to offer protection and sustenance to others.”

This article was originally published on Elaina's blog (Life Before 30) and we invite you to follow her on instagram.

ABOUT ELAINA (in her own words)

Elaina Giolando blogger Life Before 30

"Hi, I’m Elaina and I want to help you live life on your terms, find a career you love, and travel as often as you want.

I've lived, worked, and traveled to more than 55 countries, including some pretty off-the-beaten path destinations like Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Paraguay. I've also lived out of a suitcase as a full-time nomad for the past 4 years, ever since leaving my management consulting gig in New York back in 2013 when I landed an international role at a media company that sent me all over the world to work. You can read my full story here.

What makes my story unique is that I've traveled AND built a professional career, working for companies like IBM and Uber over the years. I've also spent long stretches of time freelancing and traveling adventurously through South America, Asia, and Africa. I'm currently freelance writing, coaching professionals through career transitions, and working on a few small business ideas while splitting my time between Berlin, East Africa, and India. I'll be overlanding on local transport from Malawi to Kenya in September — stay tuned for that adventure!

I write about self-development, digital nomadism, charting unconventional life paths, finding REAL jobs overseas, pursuing long-term travel, and living more purposefully in a fast-paced, confusing world. There's simply no one-size-fits-all model for creating a life you love. I'm not a full-time digital nomad and I'm not a full-time corporate professional: I've done things a bit differently and I think it's feasible for more people to live 'off the beaten path' ".