I am writing this blog on a hot afternoon from Fairfield, Iowa, about 110 miles from my home in Des Moines. I came here with my friend and fellow entrepreneur Sally for our semi-annual two day working “retreat.” We started doing these together last year and this is the second venue we’ve been to. We arrived about eight hours ago and started work immediately.
I’ve spoken about retreats before, and I’ve even convinced a few people to adopt the practice for themselves. I try and get one in about every quarter and let me tell you how refreshing and invigorating it is to get away from the day-to-day grind in order to focus energy on—well, whatever needs my concentrated attention.
The retreats Sally and I do are mostly centered on our businesses. Sally owns a marketing and communications agency, Cooper Smith & Company and this time she is working on some strategic projects, a communications plan and some of her own firm’s marketing these next two days. I am working on getting my calendar reigned in (rethinking my workweek and hours of business), editing an on-line program I wrote to help people transition to a raw food lifestyle and marketing for Fork in the Road. Sally and I compared notes about our individual goals in the car on the way here and we’re gently holding each other accountable for hitting our own stated objectives. A big part of what makes this successful is that Sally and I have similar work styles. We’re both early risers, we like to work through all meals except dinner (which we’ll go out for in just a little bit to give ourselves a breather) and working silently but in tandem with another person invigorates both of us. We interrupt each other infrequently and only for good reason. We encourage each other, critique one another’s work, and we remind each other to take a break now and then. At dinner we’ll give each other progress updates and we’ll also allow ourselves to talk about stuff other than work. We’ll probably have a glass of wine and we’ll also probably work a little bit more after dinner tonight. Once we’re back in Des Moines, we’ll meet regularly (usually once a week or every 10 days) to check in and to keep the reinvigorated feeling alive. We have become sort of accountability partners for each other.
In between my retreats with Sally I do solo getaways. Last summer I was gone for almost a week and my objectives for that experience was a combination of additional business goals and some personal reflection. While I was there I actually worked out the plan for my video entry into the international 2010 Hot Raw Chef competition, which I subsequently went on to win. I also established some personal goals and revisited my 2010 “resolutions.” It was an intimate, productive and refreshing experience.
If the idea of a retreat resonates with you, I highly recommend giving it a go. A few thoughts that might help guide your planning and give you a better experience include:
Have a list. Write your goals and objectives in rank order of importance and work on them in that sequence so that you’ll get the truly important stuff worked through.
Pick a partner. If you decide to go with another person, choose someone who easily meshes with your own work style. I prefer to work with people whose drive and energy level matches my own.
Location, location. Be deliberative about your venue. In addition to the bare basics such as a work area in which to spread out, you might also choose a spot with amenities that matter most to you. For example, I prefer to make my own snacks and food, so I need a small kitchen.
Take care. You know I would not be doing my job if I didn’t remind you to take care of yourself during this focused time. I take healthy food with me (no junk at all!) as well as tons of water. Plan to get to bed early and allow yourself frequent breaks.
Keep the end in mind. Remember why you’re going on retreat. I go during the workweek because I am working. (This is not to say a 90-minute shopping break couldn’t benefit you; just be cautious about heading out to the pool for an afternoon of umbrella drinks before you have your work done.)
Follow through. I like to plan a half day right after I get back that I can devote to following up on ideas I’ve birthed or projects I have begun on retreat, This might mean making phone calls to set up meetings or dropping things off somewhere or other tasks I couldn’t do remotely. I realize this makes my two-day retreat a little more of a time investment, but it’s positively worth it.