How to Have a Great Personal Planning Retreat

Posted 11.09.2021

This is the week when Diane and I are taking our annual personal planning retreat together. We’re not quite sure when we started this tradition but it was at least 25 years ago. As I’ve written about before, back in the early days we spent a weekend at a $25 a night cabin in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. This year, it’s a crisp November week on a South Carolina beach. We’ve lost track of all the venues and iterations of the years in between but what we haven’t lost track of is the immense value in taking some dedicated days every year to look back and look ahead. The practice has proven to be a foundation of our marriage, our parenting, the business we run together and the overall life partnership we’ve created together.

People often ask us what we do on our retreat and how we do it. Here are the components that we’ve learned are important to have in our mix:

Get Away If You Can – A change of scenery makes it a lot easier to relax and reflect. It doesn’t need to be fancy; it just needs to be different than your usual place. We’ve had a few years where health or other life issues kept us from getting away. That’s better than not taking the time, but not as good as getting away.

The Journey Matters – We’ve learned that the retreat begins with the journey to the destination. It should be close enough that it’s not a hassle to get to but far enough away that you can use the trip there as a time to transition from your everyday routines to the retreat itself. We’ve found 2.5 to 3 hours to be a nice amount of time for the trip there.

Start with Fun – When you get where you’re going, start by doing something fun and different. For instance, after grabbing some groceries and unpacking after we arrived yesterday, we took a long walk on the beach on a beautiful sunny afternoon.

Take Time to Review and Reflect – When we get down to the planning part, Diane and I each have our favorite approaches for reviewing and reflecting on the year that’s ending. I like to read through books, articles, old journals and things like that that are food for thought. She likes to immerse herself in things like art and other creative resources that give her energy and remind her of her version of living at her best. However you like to do it, starting with nourishing content gets your creative juices bubbling.

Have Some More Fun – Your brain can only do one thing effectively for so long so you want to break up the think time with fun time. A few years ago on a retreat in California, we took a half day trip to a favorite vineyard. One year in Baltimore, it was a Ravens-Patriots game. Back in Pocahontas County, it was a long walk on a country road. The point is to give your brain some regular breaks. Some of the best ideas come during the breaks.

Brainstorm with Yourself – Take a few hours to sketch out a vision of what you need and want in the coming year to live at your best. Diane likes to play a game of “What If?” around big goals and dreams. She journals her thoughts and that opens up possibilities and clarifies action steps for her. I’m a fan of taking blank sheets of paper and writing down the headlines of categories I want to factor into my plan. Over the course of the retreat when I have a thought about a category, I write it down. I eventually see a lot of dots that I connect into bigger patterns of things I want to focus on in the coming year.

Have Even More Fun – Keep taking fun breaks. Exercise. Take a walk. People watch. Look at art. Listen to music. Do things that give your brain a break.

Create Your Life GPS® – The highlight of our annual retreat is writing up our individual Life GPS® for the upcoming year. You may have read about the Life GPS® in my books or on my blog. It’s the one-page personal plan that becomes your reference point for how you’re doing on three key questions: How are you at your best? What are the routines that will help you live at your best? What outcomes do you hope to see from living at your best? If those questions resonate with you, you can follow this link to get your own Life GPS® worksheet.

Do a Reality Check – Before we leave the retreat, Diane and I talk through our Life GPS® with each other to do a reality check on alignment with what we know about each other and to talk about how we can support each other in the coming year.

Those are the personal retreat best practices that have worked for Diane and me over the years. What works for you? Do you have a routine of personal retreats in your life? If you do, I’d love to hear about your own best practices. If you don’t, it would be great to hear what your takeaways are from this post. Please leave a comment if you’re reading this through LinkedIn or send me an email if your reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog.

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