Sometimes, you just need to get away to get things done.
When it’s time to tackle that glaringly big project (write your novel, scrapbook your vacation, or knit a stocking full of Christmas scarves), and you don’t have the time or focus to complete it in your normal day-to-day life at home…it’s probably time for a Working Retreat.
By “Working Retreat,” I am not referring to a “working vacation,” that antithetical and oxymoronic habit of refusing to unplug from your work life even while on vacation. Dragging your laptop and crackberry to the beach is not a vacation and may in fact be hazardous to your health and relationships.
Here’s my definition of a Working Retreat:
the act of withdrawing for a pre-determined period of time from one’s daily life, especially from what is demanding and distracting, for the sole purpose of completing a challenging yet attainable goal.
I don’t recommend spending every weekend this way, but it can be a fantastic means to a desirable end–that elusive art of GSD (Getting Stuff Done). As mentioned in Weekend Challenge #15, Seth and I set out on a three-day Working Retreat last weekend. We learned a few things by trial and error about how to set yourself up for maximum success:
- Singular Focus: Don’t try to cram several things into your retreat. Pick one big goal that demands uninterrupted attention and tackle that alone. Even two projects are too much and may prevent you from completing either goal (I speak from personal experience here). Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, “My goal is to scrapbook Spring Break 2010.”
- Make a List & Check it Twice: Write out your goals for the time period and list each item you’ll need to complete your activity. You wouldn’t want to arrive at your destination, get settled in to your chair with tea and pens at hand, only to realize that you’d forgotten the 300+ word manuscript you travelled 150 miles to read, like I did last weekend. (Oops! Fortunately, I had the file on my laptop.)
- Remote Setting: Choose a location that removes you from your daily life and allows for solitude and quiet. Drive far enough away that your perspective shifts and you aren’t tempted to “just run home” to check on things. A natural setting, like a beach house or a friend’s cabin in the mountains, is regenerative.
- Maximize Drive Time: Books on CD and audio guides are your friend. Or just use the time to clear your mind and rev up your imagination. Think before you get in the car, “How will I use this drive time to help with my goal for the retreat?”
- Eliminate Distractions: The first few tips will naturally remove you from most distraction, but be ruthless about eliminating any further distractions from your retreat location. Cell phone, internet access, and television—be gone! Anything that doesn’t contribute directly to your primary goal–even if it’s “productive” in some way–is probably just a temptation to avoid what you came to do. Instead of going down rabbit trails, just write those activities down on a to-do list for another time.
- Simple Pleasures: Before you start thinking that I’m suggesting you go lock yourself in a jail cell for the weekend, I’d better mention that this should be an enjoyable time from which you return refreshed and refocused. Take a morning walk. Eat well. Soak in the hot tub or sit in front of the fire before bed. Sleep well. Breathe deeply and enjoy your getaway. The key is to keep it simple and refrain from over-entertaining yourself.
- Just Do It: The purpose of the above guidelines is to create the ideal environment in which to accomplish your goal. So once you’ve identified your singular goal, removed yourself to solitude, eliminated distractions, and lightly seasoned your time with simple pleasures…Git ‘er Done!
If you follow these guidelines, you will emerge from your retreat with a clear mind, renewed momentum, and great sense of achievement!
Now, let’s take a look at your calendar… :)