I have been left on my own for nine days. My wife is on holiday in Canada with her mother, two sisters and a family friend. Both of our children have fled the nest and we no longer have a pet. So, I do mean on my own, just me with myself.

The early stages of my temporarily singular status coincided with spotting in June’s issue of The Week their statistics of the week. Apparently, 9.1% of Britons never meet socially with friends, relatives or co-workers; 21.4% do so less than once a month. These data suggest that I am not alone in spending time alone.

This set me thinking about solitude. In a world where, on the one hand, we have never been so linked to each other, where six degrees of separation now appear at least two steps too many, you would expect being by yourself to be on the decline, unnecessary, a thing of the past.

Yet, the number of people living alone in the UK, for example, according to the Office of National Statistics, has increased dramatically in recent years, by as much as 16% between 1997 and 2017, and is projected to hit 10.7 million by 2039. That’s one person in seven.

This research also found that the rise in single-person households was greater than the population increase of 13%, over the 20 year period, and largely concentrated in midlife and older age groups: the number of people aged 25 to 44 living alone has actually fallen by 16%, while the number of 45- to 64-year-olds living on their own has increased by a significant 53%.
And, focusing on those aged 25 to 64, the study indicated that most of those who live alone (60%) are men. So, for these nine days, I am so on trend!

If this sounds a little glib, I should say that I acknowledge too the darker side of these stats. It is not to be celebrated that so many younger people cannot afford to live independently. Also, the scourge of loneliness among older people is at distressingly high levels.

There is an important distinction between being alone and feeling isolated. Ensuring that our family, friends and neighbours remain nourished by social interaction is a responsibility that we all share.

Personally, however, I must say that I have found this short period on my own to be a positive experience. And here’s how, in my view, having had this precious time to reflect, taking steps deliberately to schedule some solitude can offer benefits, both personal and professional.

Firstly, it is hugely rewarding, in our busy lives, to carve out some peace and quiet. By switching off, ditching the phone, removing the draining effect of being connected to others, we can reduce our stress levels and re-charge our batteries. In the workplace, if this seems impossible, simply set up a meeting but make it with yourself. It doesn’t have to be for long, just a time out when your commitments appear overwhelming.

Next, I have found that time alone can be very helpful for re-calibrating important relationships. A bit of distance allows opinions on others to be considered with a more measured appreciation of their situation and in the context of our own (not always perfect) behaviour. The result can be greater empathy, compassion and the ability to be a better person for the key people in your life.

Thirdly, by leveraging a major asset of introversion, being on our own can be a spark for creativity. Whatever the challenge, at work or play, letting our minds wander allows our brains to work subconsciously until ‘aha’, a light bulb comes on. We should never underestimate where day-dreaming can take us.

Fourthly, just getting stuff done can be transformed by some time in our own company. There is evidence that being surrounded by other people can impair productivity. A little privacy, therefore, can facilitate a period of intense effectiveness in crunching through the to-do list while also helping engender a sense of control and independence.

Nearly done but without what has come to be known as me time, there can be long gaps between check ins on what’s happening in our own lives. How often do we re-visit the life plan? Are we on track? Is there a track? The simple discipline of asking ourselves what we would like to start doing, stop doing and/or do more of can be followed up with a resolution better to balance how we spend our time.

Finally, as far as I am concerned, spending time alone can be in bed with a glass of wine, binge-watching a box set but it doesn’t always have to resemble a vegetative state. Indeed, conscious solitude can help make us smarter and healthier if more ambitious mental and physical activity feature on the agenda.

Health experts recommend that we spend at least 20 minutes a day doing something for ourselves, not taking anyone else’s needs into account. Planned time alone can deliver real benefits in both a private and a business setting.

Who knows, when my wife returns she might find a better husband!