Experiment No. 27: Swapping Alone Time

Take turns unplugging completely from family/household life
Blog Post
Jan. 19, 2021

The Basics

Target Audience: Partners, parents, housemates
Ages: Adults
Category: Leisure
Estimated Time: 30 minutes – ½ day
Difficulty Level: Easy (smaller time interval) – Medium (longer time interval)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, households are spending unprecedented amounts of time in close quarters with one another. Even individuals who worked remotely pre-pandemic are struggling with the addition of individuals into their workspaces and loss of quiet work time. For some, the office is now the home. Others have left the paid workforce, temporarily or permanently, and may be focusing more on care needs in their homes.

There are research-supported reasons so many people are craving a week alone on a deserted island these days. Studies show that solitude helps us regulate our emotions. Also, a majority of activities that introverts and extroverts alike view to be the most restful are activities we typically do alone.

Though we may say to ourselves, “I’m too busy to spend any time alone,” reported levels of parent burnout during the pandemic (especially for mothers) indicate we can’t afford not to spend time alone. Levels of anxiety and stress have gone up for just about everyone, and the stress is even affecting our physical health. Time to relax and restore emotionally has never been more important. How to ensure that each member of the household has an equal opportunity for much-needed restorative solitude? Swap equal amounts of alone time with your partner or household members.


  1. Set aside time to talk with your household members or partner about how you each could use some dedicated alone time. Start by encouraging each person to think about how you feel and behave when you’ve had some time alone. Center the conversation on the benefits it would bring to each of you, your relationships, and your household to have household members who are able to recharge on a regular basis. For parents, this time for solitude can lead to greater levels of patience and help you model healthy behaviors for your children. For partners or housemates, ensuring everyone gets alone time may help household members lean into their most creative selves, or give them the chance to be messy, loud, or lazy with no one else around.
  2. Brainstorm a time-swapping arrangement with your housemates or partner that would make you all feel good. This might be something like “one person gets 1 to 3 hours alone on Saturdays, and the other person gets 1 to 3 hours alone on Sundays.” Or think about swapping alone time in the evenings, or whatever works for your schedules. If you don’t all agree on the best model for this, agree to try one person’s suggested schedule first and then try another afterward. Remember, the goal is to find a system that works for you and the members of your household, first and foremost.
  3. Share your initial plan for sharing alone time with the rest of the household. Explain the concept of “alone time” and what this time swapping experiment will look like at home. If you have kids, you may explain to them the importance of alone time, and recognize that it’s something they too enjoy in their own fashion. You may want to create some reminders, perhaps by making color-coded signs to hang on a door, letting the family know when you’re on alone time, or a clock, like at a store, with when you’ll be “back” in action, so they know it won’t last forever. If you will be taking your alone time in the same space as your family, it may also help to wear earbuds or some other reminder that though you are present, you are not available to them at the moment. For partners or housemates, it might be a reminder not to text or call the person during their scheduled alone time or make any asks of them during that time.
  4. Take your alone time! It may help to list in advance the activities that re-fuel you and to draw from that list when your designated alone time arrives. (This list might include things like wandering the neighborhood, curling up with a book, journaling, gardening, or anything else that recharges you.) Also, right before and right after your alone time, take a moment to note for yourself your level of burnout on a scale of 1-5 (where 1 is “I feel like I just got back from a relaxing beach vacation” and 5 is “I’m truly about to go off the rails”). Notice if your number changed before and after your time to yourself. If you aren’t feeling refreshed, what do you need to change for your next time alone?
  5. After you and your partner or household members have each experienced your scheduled “alone time,” compare notes with one another. What were your respective experiences? Does anything need to change about the time swap next week? Is it time to try someone else’s idea for scheduling and swapping alone time? Share what you have learned and encourage the rest of the family to think about creating space for their own “alone time.” Keep experimenting until it feels right. Over time, your family will not only have a fairer distribution of alone time but will also have a greater shared understanding of why that alone time matters to the whole family.

Connect With the Better Life Lab

Are you going to try this week’s experiment? Do you have a story about how you and your own family solved a problem with the work at home? Is there a specific challenge you’ve been trying to tackle? Can this experiment be improved? Please let us know via this form, at bllx@newamerica.org, or in our Facebook group for BLLx Beta Testers.

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This experiment was written by Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD. Lori is the founder and CEO of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and co-host of the Parents at Work Podcast. She is mama to two wonderful red-headed boys (ages 7 and 10) and is a partner in the health care practice of a large global law firm.

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