Personal Retreat – July 2019

I recently did my third personal retreat. I got quite a bit out of my first two retreats earlier this year and I was really looking forward to this one.

Preparing for the Retreat

In his personal retreat video course, Mike Schmitz pretty strongly recommends going somewhere and getting away from the distractions of home for your retreat. Both of my previous retreats have been “offsite” and I think that it definitely helps. Not only does it eliminate distractions, I find it also helps me get a different perspective.

I’ve done my previous retreats in a room at a local hotel and a cabin at a state park. I liked the cabin quite a bit, but in July I figured it might be a bit too hot to enjoy the state park’s amenities (the high on the day I did the retreat was 100 degrees). Instead I found a nice loft on Airbnb just the other side of downtown from my apartment and booked it for two nights.

When I did my first personal retreat I made a last-minute decision to do it on paper, rather than electronically. I’ve kept doing the same for subsequent retreats. I brought the same Studio Neat Panobook I used for my last retreat and a Retro 51 Tornado pen. Though I did the retreat on paper, I also brought my iPad for reference material (and to do this writeup).

I headed over to the Airbnb in the late afternoon and took advantage of the good restaurants nearby to get some sushi for dinner. The next morning I got up early, took a walk, then dove into the retreat process.

For my previous retreats I watched Mike’s videos before going on the retreat and took a bunch of notes. During the retreat itself I just relied on my notes. This time I took advantage of the WiFi at my Airbnb to rewatch the videos while I was doing the retreat.

Core Values

The first exercise in the personal retreat course is to define your core values. Obviously, if they really are core values they’re not something that should be changing every three months, so I could probably get away with just a quick review of what I did last time. Nevertheless, I’ve found it useful to go through this exercise from scratch each time. Mike has some great prompts to get you thinking about what’s truly important to you. Comparing my answers this time around to the previous retreats they’ve been pretty stable and I haven’t made any changes to my core values as a result. However, going through the process has lead me to emphasize different values or parts of particular values each time.

Where are you right now?

This portion of the personal retreat course includes two exercises: listing all of your current commitments and responsibilities, and rating your satisfaction with various areas life in the Wheel of Life exercise. I find listing out my commitments helpful in getting a handle on what my responsibilities are. The Wheel of Life, not so much. This is the third time I’ve done this and I still haven’t found an approach to this that really resonates with me.

Designing the life you want to live

In contrast, designing the life you want to live is probably my favorite part of the retreat. It asks you to envision the life you want to be leading in five years. Mike has a great set of prompts to get you thinking about what you want your life be like in all sorts of different areas, from your job, to personal relationships, to where you live and how you spend your time. He asks you to envision what a day in your life will be like five years from now. When I did this during my first retreat I got so into it that I wrote out way more than could be done in a single day. Since being overly busy is not the sort of life I want to live five years from now, I’ve taken to imagining an entire week of my future life. This allows me to include all the elements I want to include while having it unfold a more pleasant and realistic pace.

The Retrospective

Having taken stock of where I am now and envisioned where I want to go, the last step before setting goals for the next 12 weeks is to look back at what I’ve done since the last retreat. This process starts with listing out your accomplishments during the past three months.

There always seems to be a mismatch between how little I feel like I accomplished and how much there is when I get it down on paper, but it was particularly acute this time around. I’d done quite a bit of travel during the past three months (I was on the road 24 days during that time). In addition to the time I spent traveling it took me a long time to get caught up after I got back. Nevertheless, I still managed to accomplish quite a bit, including some very significant things at work. It’s easier to dwell on the things that fell through the cracks, so an exercise like this that forces me to acknowledge the accomplishments is very helpful.

After listing your accomplishments, the next step is to reflect on what went well during the last three months and what could have gone better. Dealing with travel, and particularly the post-travel period definitely falls in the “could have gone better” category for me. I fell off the wagon when it came to block scheduling a couple of times and had trouble staying on top of my task management. Both of these definitely affected my productivity. Partway through the quarter I also ended up deciding to basically drop one of my 12 Week Year goals entirely, as I just didn’t have the time to dedicate to it while I was trying to dig out from the effects of travel.

I took a break for lunch at one of the nice restaurants in this part of town before diving into the last part of the retrospective. This involves asking: What should you start doing? What should you stop doing? and What should you keep doing?

Setting Your Goals

Before setting your goals, Mike advises taking stock of your existing commitments for the next 12 weeks. In a good illustration of why this is important, I realized that I’ve got almost as much travel coming up in the next three months as I did in the last three months. Given how much that travel disrupted my productivity and my 12 Week Year goals, realizing how much travel I had on tap led me to pull back on some of my goals.

I did still set three goals. Two of them are carried over from my last 12 Week Year; however, I scaled down a bit to take into account the impact of travel. One is fitness related, while the other is a goal to do better on my time blocking and task management. The third goal is a new one, replacing the one that I dropped partway through the last 12 week year. This new goal is to start the process of getting a professional certification. Getting the certification is going to be a longer term goal (the earliest I would take the certification exam is next spring). Because I’m going to be going through busy periods at work later this fall and again next spring I want to start studying for the exam now.

During my last personal retreat I chose some leading indicators for each of my goals (tracking how often I did the things that would lead to accomplishing each goal). I think that the leading indicators were useful, but I had too many of them, making it difficult to consistently track them all. I cut way back on the number of things I’m tracking this time around. Just four indicators in total (one each for two of the goals, and a pair for the third goal). This should be easier to keep track of and help me keep up with both my tracking and with progress on the goals themselves.

Executing the Plan

The final part of the personal retreat is to lay out your ideal week. This is an exercise that I really dove into the first time around, with a color coded Numbers document showing what I’d do every day of the week. However, I kind of skated on it this time around, just making a few minor tweaks to my existing spreadsheet.

Reflecting on the Retreat

I stayed a second night at the Airbnb (though I did pop back to my apartment for our monthly resident social event that evening) and headed home the next morning.

These retreats are very valuable for me. I continue to be grateful to Mike Schmitz for the personal retreat concept and for his excellent course, especially the great prompts that he’s incorporated into the course to get you thinking.The clarity around the core values and the vision of the future that continues to be very beneficial. In addition to the 12 Week Year goals, I’m also finding that I get other insights from the process.

For instance, while I’d known all the travel really threw me for a loop, the Retrospective part of the retreat helped me really appreciate the impact that it had on my productivity. Going forward I think I need to have a post-trip plan to help me catch up after being gone and I need to set aside time specifically for those post-trip activities. Another non-goal thing I got out of the retreat is that I need to do a really deep cleaning of my OmniFocus database. There are a lot of tasks and projects in there that need to be dropped or put into deep freeze.

All in all, another successful retreat!