I’m not talking about a vacation. Yes, you need to take vacations, but this is different.
Every now and then, you need to step back and ask yourself:
- Do I like what I’m doing?
- Do I like where I’m doing it?
- Do I like the exchange of benefits for my work?
Every quarter for over ten years, I’ve gone to a coffee shop or bar and spent the day thinking through the above questions, my Getting Things Done 50k foot goals, and my Epic Life Quest. The rule: no network connectivity: just me and a notepad, thinking.
It usually takes me at least an hour just to unwind my brain because I keep remembering tactical things I need to do. A couple pages of the notebook end up filled with to-do items like “get the garage door opener fixed” or “build a better download form.” But after an hour or so, I find myself more relaxed and more willing to let my brain think big picture. I learn a lot about myself on those days.
But the real magic starts with multiple days.
A while back, I happened to take a cruise by myself. I sat on the back deck with my notepad, and had just one peaceful realization after another. I asked myself lots of tough questions, and with nothing breaking my thoughts, I was able to really get to know myself and my goals better.
So now, once a year, I try to take a personal retreat.
No, not just go get drunk on a cruise ship or go skiing somewhere – a retreat does have some unwinding aspects, but you’ve also got homework to do.
Your homework comes from the book “The Zen Founder Guide to Founder Retreats” by Sherry Walling, PhD (who cohosts the good ZenFounder Podcast.) It’s written for startup founders, but if I could go back and give it to 2004 Brent, I totally would, and he’d get value out of it.
Sherry gives you homework questions like:
- What energized me this year?
- What am I most proud of?
- What events or tasks seemed to suck the life out of me?
- What do I regret? What am I embarrassed of?
She asks further questions to help you drill down into those details, then helps you zoom out and ask bigger questions like whether you’re in the right job or relationship.
The book offers several different retreat strategies, and reading it, you might think you’re going to pick one when you start the retreat. I can’t – before the retreat, I’m just too absorbed in my day-to-day tactics to understand what’s going to happen on the retreat. However, by day 2 of the retreat, I’m able to look at her strategies list and say, “Now I get it. Now I see what question I really need to ask myself.”
How to prep for your first retreat
Here’s what your first year looks like:
- Quarter 1 – day to think: read the first several chapters of Getting Things Done and/or Time Management for Systems Administrators and decide whether that approach makes sense for your life. Start brain-dumping your tasks into some kind of task management system, whether it be RememberTheMilk, EverNote, or a text file.
- Quarter 2 – day to think: dump your brain into the task management system again. This is harder than it sounds when you’re first getting started because your brain really wants to hold on to a lot of baggage, and you may not have kept your task management system up-to-date.
- Quarter 3 – day to prep: reread GTD’s chapter on 50,000 foot goals, and think about what’s most important in your life. What’s most important to you? What would really bother you if you didn’t achieve it over the next 5-10 years?
- Quarter 4 – 3-day retreat: print out your GTD 50k foot goals, your current task list, and a copy of Zen Founder Guide to Founder Retreats. Buy a notebook and a pen. Go somewhere – it doesn’t have to be an amazing destination, just an easy place to drive to where you won’t be interrupted by day-to-day life demands. Check into a hotel, find a really comfy place to sit, and follow Sherry’s instructions.
It doesn’t have to be expensive – and indeed, if you’re really trying to focus on your career and your life goals, you shouldn’t be spending a lot of money. The value in a retreat like this isn’t about amazing selfies as you skydive from a plane – it’s about quiet introspection to help you start focusing on what matters to you, and how you’re gonna get out of the rut.