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How can I run my own working retreat?
I could really use some direction for a DIY retreat date for myself to help me make progress & move a big project along! I’ve realized that I work best when I can chunk off times for big projects instead of going back-and-forth between the project and my other responsibilities. I’ve read your article on creating a DIY strategy retreat but this would be a bit different – I know what I need to do, I just need to actually DO it. Any advice for how to set this up?
Ready to Retreat
It doesn’t have to be fancy to be successful.
Ooooh, I’m excited for you! Call me a nerd, but the idea of having long stretches of uninterrupted time to do juicy, creative, or even tedious work projects sounds like a total dream! As you know, I’m a huge proponent of limiting distractions while you’re trying to work, and setting up a do-it-yourself working retreat is just a bigger and more intentional version of that habit.
That being said, I’m excited to dive into this question and share my thoughts on how to run a successful working retreat. The last thing we want is for you to go away for the weekend and come home not having made any progress. No thank you! Instead, let’s get our mindset right so we can buckle down and get things done. Here are my top tips for running your own working retreat:
1. Escape Your Everyday
One way or another, you need to get away from your typical routines & responsibilities. You want to feel a clean psychological break between your daily life and this retreat! That new mental space will help you get into a more focused headspace to get to work. Not only that, you’ll literally have less to do without family members nagging you or household chores calling your name!
There are SO many options for this, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some ideas:
- Trade houses with a friend for the weekend
- Go to a super-cheap motel nearby without many bells & whistles
- Offer to cat- or dog-sit for family members
- Rent a gorgeous cottage by the water
- Go stay with your parents and instruct them not to bother you 😂
If you can’t physically leave your house (due to COVID-19 or other factors), at least change things up! Get up at a different time, work in a new room of your house, take field trips to new cafés, order take-out, and refuse to do chores.
2. Set Your Space Up For Success
Honesty time: what do you absolutely need in order to be productive? Be specific! If you need silence to write, you should pack your noise-cancelling headphones and/or earplugs. If you like a big space to brainstorm & mind map, bring those dry-erase markers to scrawl all over the bathroom mirror. And if you know you can’t work without the faint scent of lavender & eucalyptus wafting gently through the air, take along the dang diffuser!
The point is to know thyself. Pick a setup that supports you, whether that’s through a beautiful view out the window, a fridge full of your fave snacks, or a pillow to support your lumbar spine. You want to clear away any impediments to your productivity. I don’t know what will work best for you, but you do! Make a list of what you need, and make it happen.
Oh and a pro tip? Don’t waste time judging yourself for the conditions you like to have while you work. Everyone is different. Besides, isn’t running your own business supposed to be fun? Here’s a permission slip: be as extra as you want to be.
3. Set Yourself Up For Success
Okay, now that we’ve gotten all the fun stuff out of the way, let’s get real. Spoiler alert: all the bougie scented candles and artisanal snacks in the world won’t be enough to make you actually do the work itself.
Here are the three most important factors for actually making your retreat a productive one:
Make sure you know exactly what you want to accomplish during your retreat. That means not going in with a plan to “work on” your course. “Work on” is not a verb that will help us move the needle.
Instead, you want to be super-specific. Make a list of tasks you want to accomplish and break them down into teeny-tiny parts. Aim to make each task doable within 30-60 minutes of time. Instead of “work on my course”, you want to create tasks like “find quotes for modules 1-7”, “write the first draft of my script for lesson 1”, and “create the title graphic”. Do this before you show up at your retreat, not when you get there. SKIP THIS STEP AT YOUR PERIL.
This element really depends on your tendency. If you are an Obliger, doing a solo working retreat might take a bit more planning! If you know you’re someone who needs accountability, that does not change just because you want to do a retreat. I repeat: give yourself what you need! Always & always.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to build in accountability. Maybe you go on retreat with your mastermind group – provided y’all don’t distract each other the whole time! Maybe you set up FaceTime sessions with your business bestie each morning and evening to ensure you’re staying on track. Or maybe you plan a few coworking sprints using a tool like FocusMate! Again, only you know what will work best for you.
When Sarah Von Bargen does her DIY writing retreats, she doesn’t even ask the hotel for their wifi password so that she won’t be tempted to get off track. Genius! You might need the internet for the work you’re doing, but what other technology guard rails might help you stay focused? Here are some ideas I like to use:
- Delete Instagram, TikTok & all other offenders from your phone for the entire time
- Turn on Airplane mode when you’re really trying to get things done
- Switch on Do Not Disturb on your computer
- Write in Ommwriter, which blocks all other sights & sounds
- Install Freedom to block specific websites that you know are your downfall
4. Create a Structured Schedule
Before you even get to your destination, make a plan for your retreat. Set up blocks in Google Calendar or just scribble a rough itinerary down on a piece of paper and tape it to the wall. Choose when you’ll wake up, when you’ll eat, and when you’ll take breaks. Schedule in work sprints each day: time when you’ll do deep work with zero distractions.
Most importantly, schedule your “quitting time” for the day. You want to give yourself restorative rest – it is a retreat, after all! Plan to take yourself out for a nice dinner, pick an inspiring documentary to watch, or enjoy a bubble bath with a great novel. If you get in the zone and want to keep working into the evening, go for it! But if not, you’ll have a delicious back-up plan that helps fuel you for the next day of work.
I’m including a sample schedule here, but remember that you should customize your time based on how you work best! Set things up according to when you personally have the most energy & focus to work. As with everything, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
The fact is, running a successful work retreat is mostly about giving your time some direction & purpose and eliminating distractions. Those strategies tend to get supercharged when you’re also away from your every day life, which makes retreats so powerful. But! I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t remind you that giving your time direction and eliminating distractions are strategies you can and should be implementing all the time. The results you’ll experience will astound you.
I’d love to hear from you: Have you ever run your own DIY working retreat? What strategies worked for you? If you haven’t, which tip here will you be remembering while you plan your first one? Let me know in the comments below or on Instagram @stephpellett.
PS. No retreats coming up anytime soon (thanks COVID!) but I am starting The Profoundery very soon, which will definitely provide accountability & community for getting things done. Click below to join the waitlist!