I wanted to share some quick insights about my recent solo retreat and what made it so effective. This is the first time I’ve done this, so I’m not an expert, but here are my takeaways.
I kept finding myself saying “I’d really like to spend more time working on X concept," but that time never magically appeared. My days are full of lots of little tasks, jumping from one thing to the next. All of these little tasks are important, but it doesn’t leave space for freely exploring bigger creative and conceptual ideas.
Inspired by Cal Newport's book, I wanted to carve out some uninterrupted "deep work" time to finally focus on a product concept that I’ve had simmering for several years, but haven’t been able to launch.
One of the main things that made this retreat so effective was the pre-planning. I put quite a bit of thought into my game plan so I’d have a concrete idea of what things I’d be working on and where I’d be working from.
I had about 36 hours (including sleep) to work with. It’s not a lot of time, but this was enough time to get some deep work done, without being away from my family and daily responsibilities for too long.
I can work from almost anywhere, but choosing a different physical location for this retreat definitely helped me to get into a different mindset. It also eliminated distractions that I have when I work from my home office. Working from home has a lot of perks, but it’s hard to get long stretches of uninterrupted time (especially with young kids at home). For this retreat I chose to stay in Philly, which is a short drive away from where I live.
I booked a cheap room in a shared house on Airbnb for $60. It had a small desk and comfy bed so that’s really all I needed. I knew I’d be spending most of my time working from coffee shops during the day so I didn’t need to splurge on an elaborate place.
I created a simple time-blocked agenda and assigned each time block a specific task. I’m terrible about keeping track of time, so this really helped me stay on track. I used Dropbox Paper (still one of my favorite apps) to write this out. Here’s a screenshot of my schedule:
Setting realistic goals
Originally I had several big projects that I wanted to accomplish on this retreat. But after reevaluating my list I knew there was no way I’d get to everything and would leave feeling guilty that I didn’t get to everything. So I deleted 75% of my original goals and went in with a very specific focus of what I wanted to accomplish.
Staying on task
I’m easily distracted and have always struggled to stay on task. Technology makes it so easy for us to get a quick dopamine hit from checking social media or watching a Youtube video. In order to minimize distractions, I spent most of my time working from a coffee shop that didn’t have wi-fi. This forced me to focus on writing, brainstorming, and sketching. I also put all of my social media apps in a folder on the second screen of my phone so I wouldn’t be tempted. I always have social media notifications turned off, but moving the apps off of my home screen helped.
It was a huge success. I was able to get in a flow state to think through the “deep work” that I’ve been wanting to get to for a long time. I left feeling energized and excited to keep this project moving. Now I’m thinking through how to apply some of these same principles to my daily work. If I could be as focused and productive as I was during this short time away, I could probably accomplish 4x the amount of work.
I’ll definitely be doing this again.
I’d love to hear your tips or experience if you’ve ever tried something similar.