I got a ton out of my first personal retreat back at the end of January. It helped me define a long-term vision for my life and had a significant impact on how productive I’ve been during the past three months. Now that three months have gone by it’s time to do it again.
For my first personal retreat, I decided to go whole hog and follow Mike Schmitz’s recommendation to do it “off-site,” away from home. I found a lot of value from getting away from familiar, distraction-laden environments. Back in January, I rented a hotel room for a couple of days. While the hotel room worked well, I thought I had a good chance of getting good weather this time of year and reserved a cabin at a local state park for two nights.
Preparing for the Retreat
I brought all of my notes from the last retreat but deliberately decided not to look at them ahead of time. Since I’d be at the state park cabin, I packed plenty of food and drink and a sleeping bag, along with my usual tech gear.
Last time I had made a last minute decision to do the retreat on paper, using a Field Notes Steno Book I had in my backpack. I liked the analog experience, so this time I planned for that in advance. I brought a Studio Neat Panobook notebook. I’ve had the Panobooks since the original Kickstarter, but I haven’t used them much because they seem too nice for just day to day use. The personal retreat seemed like an excellent opportunity to put them to work on something ‘special.’
I headed out to the cabin mid-afternoon on Thursday. After a stop at a local grocery store for some supplies, I enjoyed a nice dinner. I finished rereading The 12 Week Year while waiting out some rain showers then took a nice walk at sunset.
After breakfast and an early morning walk, I got started on the retreat.
The first exercise is to define your core values. Rather than starting by reviewing what I’d written at my first retreat, I decided to go through the exercise from scratch. I thought it would be interesting to see how consistent my responses were. After all, core values should represent things that don’t change radically every few months.
Mike’s course has a great list of questions to help prompt you to think about what you value. After going through these, I opened up my notes from last time and compared them. They weren’t exactly the same, but I covered a lot of the same ground. I ended up keeping the same set of core values, but I refined the wording a slightly, merging two of the values together.
This time, rather than walking up and down the hallway of the hotel between exercises, I was able to get out and spend a bit of time enjoying the park by taking a short walk (I saw a trio of wild turkeys).
Where Are You Right Now?
The next exercise has you list out all of your commitments and rating your satisfaction with different aspects of your life. I found my responses were fairly similar to last time. The numeric values differed (it seems like I had been more willing to assign extreme ratings back in January) but the areas that had been highest continued to be highest, and the ones that had been lowest continued to be lowest.
Designing the life you want to live
Next up was an exercise involving thinking about your life five years from now. The Personal Retreat Handbook has a nice list of prompts to help you think about what you want your life to be like in the future. This is one exercise I really dove into at the previous personal retreat; I did the same this time.
The course asks you to write about a typical day in the life. Last time I did this I ended up with a tremendously overstuffed day to fit in everything I wanted to write about. Since being insanely busy is not one of my ambitions, I decided to do a week in the life this time. That allowed me to fit more of what I’d like my life to be like at a much more realistic and relaxing pace.
The Retrospective – Major Accomplishments
After another break, I came back for the first part of the retrospective, listing your major accomplishments. I’d been making an effort to track my accomplishments better over the past 12 weeks, so this went a lot more smoothly than it did the first time. I was able to fill an entire page in the Panobook in fairly short order. Even before this exercise I felt like I’d had a productive quarter, but seeing everything listed out definitely drove home how much I’d gotten done. It was a very heartening experience.
The Retrospective – What you’re going to change
After lunch, I did the second half of the retrospective exercise, looking at what went well and what could have gone better during the previous quarter. While there were a lot of things I feel I did well, there were also quite a few areas for improvement.
Setting Your Goals
Finally, where the rubber meets the road. This time I set three goals, rather than the two that I set at my first retreat: one health-related, one around learning a new skill, and one around improving my task management. The skill goal, in particular, is also more ambitious than my previous goals.
One area where I part ways a bit with Mike is his suggestion that you concentrate your goals on the areas you rated lowest back in the “Where are you right now” exercise. The health and learning goals are actually in two of the areas I rated most highly. They’re highly rated because both areas are very important to me, so even though I’m doing well in them, I felt like I’d get a lot out of pushing them even further.
Rereading The 12 Week Year helped clarify the difference between goals (what you’re trying to accomplish) and tactics (how you’ll go about achieving that goal). These were somewhat muddled together in my first round of goals. This time they’re more clearly defined.
The other thing that rereading the book led me to change was to take a more quantitative approach to some of these tactics. I established leading indicators for all the goals (essentially how much of the time I’m performing the tactics compared to how often I said I would). Two of the goals have lagging indicators as well (real world numbers that the tactics should move the needle on).
One important aspect this time around was assessing my existing commitments for the quarter. I’ll be traveling for two full weeks, plus a few additional weekends. Recognizing this lead to some weasel wording in my tactics and indicators saying I’ll do them “when I’m not traveling.”
Executing the Plan
After a break, I picked up with the last exercise of the day. The main activity in this exercise is to create your “ideal week.” Last time around I dove into this, spending a lot of time creating a color-coded numbers spreadsheet laying out my ideal week. The spreadsheet was still mostly good to go, so this time I just tweaked it to accommodate some stuff related to my new goals.
With that, I finished my second personal retreat. I took another walk and made dinner (boneless buffalo wings, which is turning into a tradition on these personal retreats). Then played some Stardew Valley and binge-watched The Tick.
The next morning I enjoyed the state park a bit more, then packed up and headed home.
I feel good about my second personal retreat. It wasn’t quite as revelatory as the first one, but that’s really an experience you can only have once. I got more out of the retrospective this time around (and I think I’ll get even more out of it next time, with more ambitious goals and better-defined tactics). The goals this time around are much more ambitious. I’ll need those well-defined tactics to help achieve them. Come July, we’ll see how I did.